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Life In The Peace Corps  
User currently offlineAirplanetire From United States of America, joined May 2001, 1809 posts, RR: 2
Posted (13 years 8 months 4 weeks 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 2741 times:

For any members who have been in or are in the Peace Corps, I have a few questions for you. I would really like to join the Peace Corps when I grow up and have a college degree. I am a US citizen, so I em eligible to join. Anyway, what did you think of the experience? How much influence did you have on the country you went to? I would really like to go to one of the former USSR countries that is not in Europe (i.e. Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kygyzstan, Kazakhstan, etc.). I have a reasonably good knowledge of Spanish and by then hope to be fluent (I can get around with it now pretty good), but I'm also studying Russian on my own right now and hope to be fluent in it by then, or at least pretty good with it. Would my knowledge of Spanish get me placed in a Spanish speaking country? I don't really want to be. Would my knowledge of Russian help get me placed in one of the former USSR countries? Any other information would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!

11 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineHeederA380 From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 165 posts, RR: 1
Reply 1, posted (13 years 8 months 4 weeks 12 hours ago) and read 2699 times:

Geez, on the language thing, if you're really, really interested in going to a specific country (like Georgia or Armenia, etc.) my guess would be that it would in fact help in your placement in that country if you are familiar with the language spoken by the majority. You may want to get some "real" information about what those languages are -- what I mean is that just because a country was formerly a part of the USSR doesn't necessarily mean that Russian will be spoken by the majority. Check out the CIA Factbook online (sorry, no link, but just type it in a search engine and that should get you where you want to be). You can find out all kinds of stuff on a given country. When I looked up "Georgia" there, I found out that more than 71% of the population speak something other than Russian.

I wasn't in the Peace Corps, but I do know a few people who were: a college professor spent several years in Cameroon, and my brother-in-law worked in Kenya and India for a long time. I think it would be accurate for me to say that they both came away from the experience feeling like they were better people for having served the less fortunate peoples of the developing world, and believe that they genuinely improved the lives of those peoples. (Their words, not mine, remember!  Big grin

Hope this helps, or at least gives you another thing to think about.  Smile

User currently offlineKolobokman From Russia, joined Oct 2000, 1180 posts, RR: 6
Reply 2, posted (13 years 8 months 4 weeks 10 hours ago) and read 2700 times:

CIA Factboock, eh?
I have not been to Georgia, but a few people I know who have been would put the percentage a lot higher. 60-70%

What is Peace Corps and what do they do?


I can neither confirm, nor deny above post
User currently offlineBarcode From Switzerland, joined Dec 2001, 678 posts, RR: 10
Reply 3, posted (13 years 8 months 4 weeks 10 hours ago) and read 2687 times:

Good question. I've wondered about doing something like this - what's the British equivalent ?

User currently offlineAirplanetire From United States of America, joined May 2001, 1809 posts, RR: 2
Reply 4, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 2671 times:

Thank you for all of your help! The Peace Corps is an organization that tries to help developing countries to develop. They work in areas like business and medicine, agriculture, and a lot more. They help out the communities. It is a volunteer organization and your time in it is 27 months (3 months for training, 24 months in the country) per assignment. You have to be an American citizen to join the Peace Corps, but I'm sure there are other organizations that are similar that you don't have to be a US citizen. I don't know of any though. Sorry.

User currently offlineLindy field From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 3170 posts, RR: 11
Reply 5, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 6 days 12 hours ago) and read 2661 times:
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I served a full term as an English language teacher with the Peace Corps in Poland from 1997-1999 and had a fantastic time. You really don't need to worry about your language skills so much as your technical skills. For example, if you're planning to teach with the Peace Corps, you'd better have some teaching experience on your resume; if you hope to work with a local environmental non-profit, you should have some non-profit or environmental science experience. However, the Peace Corps doesn't expect their volunteers to be fluent in Swahili or Ukrainian when they sign up. In most countries, the Peace Corps runs training programs to teach their volunteers the local language and to familiarize them with daily life and potential difficulties in the host countries.

I arrived in Poland without any knowledge of Polish, but I had a decent grasp of it after 11 weeks of intensive lessons together with the other 84 members of my group. We also had lots of sessions about the work environment in Polish schools, a series of classes on Polish culture, and were advised about potential hazards. During the 11 week period, I lived with a host family and got to practice my Polish a lot. I was also initiated into Polish drinking rituals and ate more potatoes than I believed humanly possible.

I did apply to Peace Corps with a fair amount of teaching and tutoring experience. I think I may have been assigned to Poland because I speak German, but I can't be sure of that. I did not state any preference whatsoever for any particular country, but in general it is possible to specify a preference of a particular region or continent. The risk of doing so is that you may delay your application. Most countries only receive a new group of volunteers once a year. Your Spanish and potential Russian abilities will probably help you get to whatever part of the world you want to work in, but be advised that the types of programs are pretty limited in some parts of the world, and that there have been consistent problems with the Peace Corps program in Russia. In fact, just recently the Russians refused to renew a number of volunteers' visas, complaining that the volunteers lacked sufficient professional experience. Unfortunately, the programs in the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia, and other parts of Central Europe have been closed--those countries are perceived as having graduated from the Peace Corps. Resources are now being allocated to countries in greater need.

I ended up teaching in a technical school in a town of 23,000 people in western Poland, and made a lot of friends with whom I still keep in contact. My Polish skills helped me get into a first-rate graduate program afterward, and I've found that a lot of people automatically assume that I'm a person of great virtue because I gave two years of my life to live in some hole earning a pittance. Actually, work was easy and I had all sorts of unofficial opportunities to travel. In my town I was a celebrity--most people were very kind to me. I really sacrificed very, very little to be there.

Hope that helps--I'll try to check this forum again later tonight or tomorrow in case you have other specific questions.


Yeah, there are somewhat similar British programs to the Peace Corps, some of which specialize in teaching (lang., business, or computer skills), but I forget their names. You can probably find some info at the local university or on the web somewhere.

User currently offlineAirplanetire From United States of America, joined May 2001, 1809 posts, RR: 2
Reply 6, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 6 days 7 hours ago) and read 2647 times:

You all don't know how much I appreciate your input on this thread! It's really kind of a dream of mine to join the Peace Corps (corny sounding I know, but I don't care). First and foremost, when I die, I want to know that I made a contribution to making someone else's life better. Secondly, I think it would be a great experience to get to live and work in a a place I may otherwise not go or live in. Those reasons are why I want to do it so much.

User currently offlineB744 From New Zealand, joined Dec 1999, 491 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 6 days 1 hour ago) and read 2631 times:

The CIA factbook can be found at:


User currently offlineAvilitigator From United States of America, joined Aug 2000, 214 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 16 hours ago) and read 2620 times:


Glad to hear that you're interested in the joining the Peace Corps. Lindy Field summed it up pretty well. I'll offer my perspective as a PCV in Africa -- Malawi to be exact from 1987-89.

I had six weeks of intensive language (Chichewa) and cultural training when I first arrived in Malawi, then spent two years advising farmer and employee groups throughout the country on cooperative finance and business practices. Almost every day I experienced something that made me so frustrated that I wanted to leave. For each of those instances, I experienced several things that made my stay there worthwhile, so on the whole my service was a positive one. I went straight out of college, but helped charter a credit union at college so that's what the Peace Corps really liked. The more technical training you have and can offer to the host country, the more likely the Peace Corps can find a placement for you. I think the statistics say that around 1 in 10 who apply actually serve in a country. The rest are winnowed away because of the long application process, medical problems, financial or marital/significant other ties, or background check problems (FBI fingerprinting and extensive checks of references). Others do not have skills that a host country can use.

Employers seem to like Peace Corps experience, in my opinion b/c it shows that you've got commitment and endurance, and valuable insight in people from other cultures. I think every job I've held the interview had some conversation about Peace Corps. I think it's well worth the experience, and it will last you a lifetime.

Speaking another language helps in your application, but it's not necessary. What is necessary is your commitment, and how you show that on your application. I used to help in recruitment efforts with the local Peace Corps office, and I can't tell you how many times people would come up to me and say, "I've always wanted to go to _____ country, so I thought Peace Corps would be a good way of seeing it." The recruiters and returned PCVs joked that we should answer with "Peace Corps is not a travel agency" but most of the time we just encouraged people to seriously look at their prior volunteer experience as a gauge of how they would make it for two years in a developing country. The more you limit yourself to going to a specific region or country in the world, the less likely you are to get an assignment there. Then again, there's always the opportunity to travel while you're in service, and especially after your service. I traveled throughout Southern Africa, then in Europe coming back. The thing is, I haven't stopped traveling. I try to go overseas at least twice a year and can't seem to get the travel bug out of me. Most returned Peace Corps Volunteers have the same travel bug.

The British equivalent of Peace Corps is VSO, or Volunteer Service Overseas. The Japanese have Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, the Germans have GTZ (don't know what this stands for though), and the Canadians have a program that I can't remember the name of.

Let me know if you need more info, and good luck to you.


User currently offlineAirplanetire From United States of America, joined May 2001, 1809 posts, RR: 2
Reply 9, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 2616 times:

You say that there is only about a 1 in 10 chance of making it in. What do I have to do to make it, because those are not very good odds? If I can be patient and wait out the application process, then what are my odds? What kinds of degrees would they look for and what kind of kind of experience would they look for? Different things might be needed by different countries, so maybe there is no set standard, but just in general I mean.

User currently offlineLindy field From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 3170 posts, RR: 11
Reply 10, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 2594 times:
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I would say that the chance of making it in is greater than one in ten. The Peace Corps has been expanding over the last several years. Both Pres. Clinton & Pres. Bush have supported an increase in the number of volunteers up to 10,000. As a result, recruitment and efforts to recruit volunteers are up.

What you should do now:

Visit the Peace Corps website (www.peacecorps.gov) and see what sort of programs are offered and which countries have programs.

Figure out what sort of programs you'd like to participate in. Pick something that is related to your eventual career goals because you can make Peace Corps work for you. As Avilitigator mentioned, Peace Corps service, especially in your field, looks great on a resume or an application.

Try to meet some returned volunteers and talk to them about their experience. There are returned volunteer organizations in most cities. You could contact them.

Do some volunteer work in your field by the time you graduate from college. If possible get some educational experience in your field while you're in school.

Avoid financial obligations that might prevent you from joining the Peace Corps. Be very careful of taking on loans that cannot be deferred while you're in the Peace Corps. Fortunately, many loans can be deferred for reasons of poverty or hardship while you're in the Peace Corps. Don't rack up credit card debt!

Apply to the Peace Corps while you're still in school so that you can get your medical and dental clearance early. This is a real hurdle for some people and to a certain extent it comes down to luck.

When you apply to the Peace Corps, it may help to be friendly and open with the recruiters and some of the people in Washington who will make the decision of where to send you. I heard lots of stories of volunteers who were able to influence the decision of their posting by schmoozing with the admin.

Keep in mind that Peace Corps service can be very hard and unpleasant at times and that two volunteers in two different towns in the same country can have very different experiences, depending on local conditions. I wrote that I had a fantastic time in Poland, but there were other volunteers who were physically assaulted, exploited at work, treated like a pariah, etc., etc.

Anyway, it seems that you have lots of time to do these things, so there's nothing to worry about.


L. Field

User currently offlineAvilitigator From United States of America, joined Aug 2000, 214 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (13 years 8 months 3 weeks 3 days 17 hours ago) and read 2591 times:

The 1 in 10 figure I mentioned was the figure I heard back in the late 80s and early 90s -- could very well have changed since then as Lindy Field noted. Even then, don't be discouraged by that statistic. It relates to people who send in an application. I'm estimating, but I remember that about 2/3 get an initial screening interview (leaving 6-7 from the original pool), and from there the recruiter can make a recommendation for placement (perhaps 3-4). Once your file is recommended and sent to Washington, it's just a matter of waiting for all the clearances and an appropriate assignment. 1 or 2 will not make it b/c of medical or other problems, and the rest go. OK, that leaves 2-3, so maybe my figures were off! In my group of 23, one person dropped out a few hours before our overseas flight, and a retired couple dropped out during in-country training. The rest stayed the entire time, and we still keep in contact via a small informal newsetter and personal visits.

I think the most crucial steps are your application and the screening interview. Put as much relevant information on the application as possible. My application back then even asked for gardening or farm experience. Make sure to have done some sort of volunteer or community work, the more extensive the better. If you have computer programming/technical skills, for example, that's very desirable. Once you make it past the screening interview (be friendly and enthusiastic, as Lindy Field said), it's just a waiting game in Washington (a few phone calls now and then also help -- get the name of the placement officer assigned your file).


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