If you have ever thought of volunteering abroad and started to get lost in the endless options while you begin to search – you are not alone. I have been there too.
In less than five minutes your volunteer search can completely swallow you whole and fill your mind with questions. The biggest one I faced while researching was, “Why am I dedicating my time to volunteer AND seeing that I need to pay insane amounts to do so?!” Yet, completely consumed in research, I found myself weighing the reasons why fees were so high and trying to find a way to make my dream of volunteering a reality.
As time passed, I found myself distracted on Insta after a day of researching options feeling defeated, confused and would say to myself, “I’ll get back to this thought later.”
There I was, tied down to a corporate job and my over-priced lattes, when I decided to apply for a volunteer position with The United States Peace Corps (PC). If you’re anything like I was, and the idea of paying to volunteer your time and service just doesn’t seem right, PC might be a good fit for you.
1. Know the Requirements & Preferred Skills
- US Citizen
- +18 years of age
- High School Diploma
- 4-year Bachelor's Degree (preferred)
- Pass Federal Background Check
- Pass Medical Exams and have no recent surgery prior to applying
- Can commit to 27 months of service
- Attitude to go anywhere asked of you
- Opportunities are also available for those with significant hands on experience in: agriculture, carpentry, construction, and woodwork
- At least four years work experience in business/management (preferred for business mgmt positions)
- Have worked with at risk kids for at least five years (preferred for education/youth & development)
2. Know Why You're Choosing the Peace Corps
While most people I encounter are familiar with the Peace Corps, many don’t understand how important the mission of the organization is, and how lasting the impact is that PC volunteers make through this well-established organization.
PC was established in 1961 by President J.F. Kennedy with the mission of “promoting world peace and friendship” through the service of trained and skilled men and women abroad. Volunteers are put through rigorous medical screenings and sent into countries that have requested their service all over the world.
PC volunteers are sent to live and work in “some of the poorest areas of these countries” and may serve “under conditions of hardship if necessary."
All posts, even within the same country, can be distinct, ranging from urban cities to remote villages.
I am currently serving as an education volunteer in what’s said to be the “greenest part of Madagascar.” In all realness, it's a jungle out here; the humidity, the heat, the mud and the jaw dropping scenery that makes you feel like you’re in a movie.
I have my own tiny house on the high school compound where I teach tenth and eleventh grade English to 300 students. My school has only few neighboring homes and is a twenty minute walk outside of a village.
In my village I usually have access to seasonal fruits, vegetables and fresh fish daily; yet there are week spans when rice is all I can get my hands on. As my village and school have no electricity, I run two dim lightbulbs off a small solar panel that can sometimes even charge my phone!
My little home is also free of running water and of course plumbing, but I do have an open roof shower below some dewy palm trees. When I’m not teaching or hosting my English club; I have a full house of kids learning English, playing with puzzles, coloring and getting into whatever they can find.
I never have a dull day in the jungle and have enjoyed adjusting to this simpler, slower pace of life.
Most countries, but not all offer volunteer work in agriculture, health, education and youth and development. During your 27 months of service; volunteers work to support PC’s mission through three goals;
- To help people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women.
- To help promote a better understanding of the American people on part of the people served.
- To promote a better understanding of other people on the part of American people.”
In an effort to fulfill this mission, trainees are expected to follow 10 core expectations. Here I’ll share a brief overview, but if you made it this far please visit the official PC website for ALL information before you decide PC is the right option for you. It’s important to commit yourself to the full term of service as space is limited and the application process is highly competitive.
Know that once you swear your oath you are responsible for your personal conduct and professional performance 24-7, a fact I can’t stress enough to applicants. Be open to any and all locations and programs when you apply and willing to learn new skills, adapt personal practices to meet the needs of others and to work with an open mind, mutual respect and integrity alongside host country nationals.
As you serve, you will be setting an example of Americans as you share your culture and integrate into your “site.”
You are like a walking American Flag and what people see of you is how they will likely forever perceive Americans.
During training, you will be screened for “site placement.” This is a process of determining where you are best fit in your country of service. Depending on your country of service you may live with a family or on your own. If you are choosing a country where you will live alone, it’s smart to consider your budget, cooking and safety.
PC has a strong network of doctors and safety measures in place, but you are ultimately on your own. Every month you are supplied with a stipend for food, clothing and general expenses; but it is up to you to budget wisely. It may also be up to you to do all your own cooking if you are living alone.
Post-service you are also given a small stipend to get yourself back on your feet wherever you end up.
3. Know How to Navigate the Application Process
The application process was rather quick after I researched all possible options of service. I recommend taking your research serious and consider what you’d like to be doing for 27 months. Once you have a clear understanding of the type of service work you want to take part in, the application falls easily into place.
Official documents including fingerprints and forms are required, so expect some running around.
Once submitted, expect to wait a few months for an interview invitation.
If you were one of the chosen ones and invited to the interview process, expect a short video chat with a recruiter. A variety of questions will be asked to screen applicants and to be sure the best-suited individuals are chosen.
It’s helpful to write out answers to questions provided in your interview invitation and fully prepare yourself as time is limited. Leading up to your interview, be sure your decision to go forward in the process remains the same. Once there, relax, focus and remember what brought you to this point.
Expect another period of waiting for your formal invitation to serve as a PC volunteer. Part of the invitation to serve includes a limited time allowed to accept the position. If you were not given your first choice, I urge you to research the position you were selected for again.
Once you’ve accepted the formal invitation in a timely matter, paperwork and “medical clearance” begins.
You will undergo serious medical and dental screening and be expected to complete all forms on a timely schedule.
At this stage, if you were honest on all prior application questions, assume you are on your way and start to consider the comforts from home you want to bring with you on your journey.
Is the Peace Corps for you?
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4. Know What to Pack
As it’s not always easy to locate things abroad and shipping can be expensive; plan and pack accordingly.
You are given the option to take two 50 lb. bags free of cost with you. Once you have passed your medical clearing, you will be invited to “staging” where you will meet other volunteers about to embark on the same journey.
This is a quick briefing in America prior to your flight and then you are on your way.
For three months you will train alongside other volunteers intensively. Here you will learn new skills to assist in your service, language training if necessary, and your countries culture and expectations.
Training is no joke, days are long and some countries abide by a strict zero-tolerance alcohol policy during this time.
Some countries also require you to live with a host family for the majority of training. You will be given a chance to see your selected site during your training period to get a feel for your upcoming service.
As stressful as this time can seem, keep your eyes on the prize and try to take part in any cultural events your family invites you too. Make sure to involve yourself in cooking and practice your language skills.
5. Know That It'll Go Quickly
You and your fellow volunteers will pledge your oath to PC and your host country, gather up some essentials and be on your way to site. Once you have reached your site, you will hit the floor running and your integration into your host community will begin.
If you’ve made it this far, I urge you to do your research and consider the commitment you are making.
And as us volunteers say, “this is the toughest job you will ever love.”
Best of luck in your Peace Corps journey!