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10/22 Leaving Peace Corps ... The Rest of the Story

Sha-Hal aya (A long time ago), I wrote about the four ways by which Volunteers can leave Peace Corps service. In order of frequency: COS, MedSep, ET, AdSep. (All are used as both verbs and nouns.)

But when I wrote it, it was mostly theoretical information. I had one friend who had ET'd, two or three who had been MedSep'd, and none yet who had COS'd.

From where I'm sitting now, about 3/4 through my service, I feel like there's more information I need to share.

When you and Peace Corps finish with each other, it can be abrupt.

Almost painfully abrupt.

This is not so true for COSers, who get to attend their COS Conference when they have 3 months let, then COS Medicals when they're about a month and a half out, and then have a final three days together in Rabat for their "72-Hour Checkout". Three months is enough time to prepare yourself to leave, both logistically and emotionally.

But if your service ends early - due to an ET, MedSep, or AdSep - you don't get a nice, gradual, phased departure.

You get streeted.

It seems most violent in the case of a Medical Separation. Most MedSeps start as "MedEvacs". Peace Corps will fly you to Western Medicine (usually in DC, but sometimes in Europe) and call it a Medical Evacuation. As long as they can get you shipshape and ready for service in less than 45 days, they'll fly you back to your country and your service continues. If you need more than 45 days, they just make a notation in the paperwork, and suddenly your MedEvac is a de facto MedSep. Your service is over.

And once it's over, Peace Corps washes its hands of you. Safi, see ya, sayonara...buh-bye.

One friend of mine, who found himself MedSepped outside a DC hospital, said that if he hadn't had his American ATM card (because our in-country assets aren't available internationally) and/or friends in DC, he'd have been at a total loss. As it was, he pulled funds from his pre-Peace Corps account and got a taxi over to a friend's apartment. Everything he owned was in his parents' house a thousand miles away or in a small mud house on the other side of the Atlantic. A house which, by the way, Peace Corps would no longer pay rent on. They do have funds to ship some of your things back to you - some - but you need to be in communication with whatever neighbor/PCV has your house key and is able to pack your things for you. If your village doesn't have cell phone coverage, let alone land lines or internet, this is a daunting task.

Volunteers who choose to end their service early - Early Termination, or ET-ing - don't have quite as shocking an experience, since it was their decision to go, but still, the timeline between informing the Country Director of your choice and when you fly out of short. Usually 5 business days. In which you have to pack everything you're taking to America and everything you're returning to Peace Corps (including unweildy items like bikes and library books and fully stocked medical kits), give away or sell everything else you have in-country, get signatures on various forms from your counterpart and delegue (whose office could be in your site or in the regional capital, 3-5 hours away), and still make it to PC Headquarters for your 72-hour check-out. (The 72 hours is non-negotiable: PCMO has to check you for tuberculosis, and the skin test can't be checked till the third day after the needle-stick.)

For someone who has made the decision to leave their service, their village, their PCV community, and everything else - never an easy decision - such an abrupt departure is often wrenching. You have little time to say goodbye to your friends or neighbors, and virtually no time to emotionally prepare yourself to leave your service country and return to the US.

Volunteers find themselves back in America, cut off from everyone they knew or saw for the past X months, with so little connection between their new lives and their old lives that their service quickly begins to feel like a dream.

I've heard this from so many RPCVs, regardless of how their service ended: there are no points of commonality between their service and their post-service life, nothing to form a bridge from one world to the other. Cut off from their past experiences, Volunteers struggle to hold onto their months and years of service. Their language skills fade away; their memories attain the shimmering implausibility of remembered dreams.


  1. I'm sorry to read about the difficult and abrupt end of your time in Morocco. Even though many things fade, many endure, especially friendships. It's also possible to maintain some connection with the country if you wish. Not only are there a surprising number of Moroccans in the States, but also organizations like Friends of Morocco, TALIM, the High Atlas Foundation, and the Morocco Foundation can help maintain some connection. Finally, I still correspond with some of the people I knew in Outat El Haj twenty years ago. The pain will fade; hold onto the memories. Bill Day, RPCV Morocco 88-90.

  2. What volunteers call ET PC/HQ call resignations. For HQ, ET is any of the four ways of not completing the full service, of which one is Resignation (which volunteers ways usually just call ET). There is another way; interrupted service.

    In FY2009 Morocco had 35 ETs; of which 25 were resignations, 7 medical, and 0 for admin sept. and interrupted service.

    Worlwide there were 1,155 ETs:
    844 Resignations (73% of ETs)
    213 Medical (18%)
    88 Interrupted Service (8%)
    13 Admin-Sept (1%)

    FY2009 data:

    More info:

  3. [[I swear, I posted a response to these comments a week ago - I guess some sort of technical glitch ate the comment...?]]

    @Bill - Sorry for the confusion: I'm sharing the experiences of some friends. I'm still a serving PCV. I haven't updated in 10 days because I'm on vacation, touring Europe with friends for Christmas and the New Year...not because I'm no longer a PCV. Again, sorry that was unclear!

    @Mike - Thanks for the info! That number of MedSeps seems really low to me, based on the number of friends who went home for medical reasons. I suppose some of them chose to ET because they were sick, and are therefore down on the books that way? Hm...


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