The thing about returning home from 27 months living and working as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that everyone wants to know what it was like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Anyone who has returned from traveling knows that it is impossible to summarize everything you have seen, learned and experienced after a trip but here is an attempt to answer some frequently asked questions.
What is the Peace Corps?
Founded by John F. Kennedy in 1961, Peace Corps is a United States government agency that promotes peace around the world by sharing one of America’s greatest resources: volunteers. (Read more about how Peace Corps started here.)
Today there are over 235,000 volunteers serving in 141 countries. The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Provide trained women and men to interested countries
- Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served
- Help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
What did you do in the Peace Corps?
I was a health and community development volunteer in Rwanda, Africa.
I was part of the first group to reenter the country since 1994. After three months of intensive language, culture and technical training we were assigned Rwandan host organizations.
We worked on a variety of projects from strengthening health systems to conducting basic trainings for health service providers and community members on various health topics. I worked mainly with People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) focusing on HIV prevention, treatment and care with rural and vulnerable populations in my district.
More importantly, the exchange of culture between my community and me was my main job.
Rwandans gained a better understanding of American women and I gained an understanding of Rwandans. Without trying too hard I became a role model, a diplomat and a representative for the United States just with my presence in a rural village in Rwanda.
What is a Typical Day in the Peace Corps?
I was recently in an interview when I was asked to describe a typical day as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The best and most frustrating part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is actually just that… there is no such thing as a typical day.
I can say, however, that it is a rewarding experience.
When I first entered the Peace Corps, I was worried I would not be able to pick up the language and how would I could I possibly use a latrine for two whole years.
It is always the things you worry about most that are the easiest and the things you never thought about seem to be the most challenging.
There is no typical experience as a volunteer, so if you join the Peace Corps, your service will be unique all on its own.
How do you apply to the Peace Corps?
You must be a US citizen to apply to the Peace Corps. You must also possess previous volunteer experience and/or education that coincide with respective program.
For example, as a health volunteer I had to have previous experience and the education in health related disciplines in order to be considered for the health program.
Before you apply, do your research!
Attend information sessions, check out current volunteers blogs (where you can find lists of blogs from every country volunteers are currently serving) and talk to RPCVs, (returned Peace Corps Volunteers) like myself, who have lived it.
We can give you a good idea of what you are getting yourself into and if it is the right choice for you. If you are convinced that you want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, then apply.
To apply you must first fill out an application that is posted on the Peace Corps website. The website is very user friendly and will explain step-by-step exactly what you need to include in your application.
Soon after you send in your application you will have to go to a Peace Corps branch to be interviewed by a recruiter. Then you wait to see if you will be accepted, and then where your assignment will be. You can give suggestions on where you’d like to go, but essentially you go where you’re needed.
My neighbors daughter is currently in Africa with the Peace Corps. and it does seem like a great organization. Thanks for the information.
That’s fantastic! I hope she is enjoying her time in Africa. Thanks for reading!
My boyfriend’s sister was in peace corps… so it’s always interesting to hear stories and compare.
I love to hear different Peace Corps experiences, good and bad. Everyone has their own story and like you said, it is interesting to compare.
I’ve actually looked into this when I first moved to the US but found out that the only accept citizens. I was sad when I found out but I think there are also other types of volunteering available out there for someone in my situation. I do, however, appreciate you sharing more insight into how it is like to be a peace corps volunteer.
Peace Corps is only one example of volunteer work but there are diverse organizations like Peace Corps that accept volunteers. Check out the Volunteer Service Organization (VSO) International. I have heard from previous volunteers that they have great programs abroad as well.
This was really interesting! I came very close to applying for the Peace Corps after college, but instead I got my masters degree and then immediately became a permanent digital nomad. I’m happy w/ how things turned out, but there’s still a part of me that wishes I had taken the plunge and applied…. 🙂
I had the same feeling, I always wanted to apply but I went to grad school first. It took a huge leap of faith for me to leave a job and join the Peace Corps but it was the best thing I have ever done. It is also never too late to go into the Peace Corps! 😉
Is it true that you do not get any say in where you go?
You get a preference by continent, not country. If you are qualified in a certain region they will cater to your qualifications. After my interview I knew that I would be going to a Francophone African country due to my education, my previous work experiences and my personal preference. It was a total surprise when I saw that I would be going to Rwanda!
I have to say, while there is some method to where you go (e.g., strong language skills increase your chances of landing in a particular region), the knowledge that you are signing up to go anywhere in the world is an exciting part of the adventure. It’s like throwing a dart at a map, except that where the dart lands happens to be where your skills are most needed.
American Red Cross in Springfield, MA is still looking for voeertluns if anyone is interested. The station in Monson, however, is not. But, they do need Tree Services and I think a couple of the local tree services are hiring or looking for voeertluns for this, as they currently are very busy. The Monson Red Cross station is at the town’s elementary school. If you go down to Monson, just ask some of the locals and they will be more than happy to help you so you can possibly help them. I don’t have the number for the tree service that’s looking for help, but the Red Cross does so I’m sure if you contact them, they will be able to provide the number for anyone who may be interested and that qualifies. Good luck, Good job, and Thank you.
My daughters and I would like to help out. I am a Registered Nurse. If I can help let me know. I also cook for large grpuos and am willing to do so and am willing to help prepare meals needed. Let us know what we can do. 413 2443429. The people of this town banded together to help us. It is our turn to help back. Please let me know if I can help. IF anyone needs anything, let it be known. Perhaps food collection or financial collection. Let me know.
Awesome article, Kara. It is really hard to answer the “typical day” question, especially since that day is what you make of it, for better or worse. Also, don’t forget that there are lots of events sponsored by Peace Corps to learn more about the organization and that provide the opportunity to talk to returned volunteers, especially as Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary.
I’d also like to know your answers to the fonwloilg. If you haven’t volunteered before, what keeps you from volunteering? Is it fear? The notion that you don’t have enough experience to contribute anything ? Unrealistic expectations? Do you think that, once you do one thing for your chapter, you’ll be expected to always do something for your chapter? Is it situational shyness? I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Your elected officers have stood in your shoes. At one time, we’ve decided that, ok, it’s not too scary to write a meeting review or suggest a meeting topic and the person to present it. Tell us just one thing that we can do to help you. We want to remove all obstacles between you and volunteering. You never know how much you can benefit from the experience until you try, right?