November 23, 2010

My Path to the Peace Corps

This is a kind of common thread among volunteers and those interested in volunteering. How did you go from a thought about serving to having an impending departure date? I'm probably not as concise about having exact dates, so this is a more fuzzy outline of the progress I've took. My best advice about the Peace Corps is to apply in advance, even before you're certain you want to volunteer. There's lots of steps, and can be big delays in between each one.

Sometime in 2008: Thought about volunteering. Opened an application and didn't get past the first few pages. Decided to go to Graduate School instead.

January 2010: Looking at the current job market, the idea of earning local wages in a rural village in a developing country doesn't seem like a bad idea. Discovered student loans can get deferred during service. Resumed application.

February 2010: Got three references for the application (one friend, one former employer, and one professor). Wrote an essay about why I would pursue volunteering, as well as one on how I would deal with cultural change. Jumped through other loops of the application.

March 2010: Submitted application. Waited.

April 2010: Received a phone call from the local recruiting office, set up a date for an interview.

May 4, 2010, 1pm: Prepared for interview by watching a YouTube video where a Peace Corps recruiter offers tips. My in-person interview, coincidentally, is conducted by the same recruiter. Some of the questions are easy to answer ("When's the last time you transferred skills to someone else?") others are more difficult. I get nominated on the spot (Primary Teacher Training), and the recruiter offers to call me later in the day with details about the region.

May 4, 2010: 2pm: Recruiter called me as I drove from the interview. She offers me Asia in November, Pacific Islands in December, Africa in February. I choose Africa.

May-June 2010: Received thick medical and dental forms. I attempt to decipher these, and set up appointments before my student medical insurance expires in September.

August 2010: After getting medical forms filled and practically living at my dentist to get a variety of fillings performed, I finish medical paperwork.

October 2010: Received a call from Washington confirming a few things with my medical paperwork. Apparently, my packet is on someone's desk and is about to be cleared. The application process consists of pockets of patient waiting interrupted by swift bureaucratic movement. My invitation packet gets sent the same day.

October 4 2010: Got my invitation packet. It's huge. The most important part: my assignment. Community Education Specialist in Zambia, departing January 31, 2011. After calling everyone who wanted to know my destination, and some who didn't, I decide to wait two days before responding.

October 6 2010: I respond to the invitation. I change my Facebook status to reflect this.

October-November 2010: I send off my Visa paperwork, take passport pictures, investigate discounts on travel and living gear, and set up a packing list. A few more things to do, a few more books to read before I go.

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