First, please accept apologies for the long hiatus in blogging.
Second, please also accept apologies for what is about to be a rather abrupt shift in blogging topics, as new things have come up in my life that are much more interesting to blog about than previous genres of subject matter. Plus, aren’t there enough “green” blogs out there that are generally far more interesting than my contributions? I’m happy to still mention my efforts at a Cleen lifestyle, but from now on, I’ll be focusing on a few other things, namely…
I have applied to join the Peace Corps. Phew. There. That’s said.
It seems like such a big deal! I have been thinking about Peace Corps since I was 17 and saw a PC poster in the halls of my high school. To finally have clicked the “submit” button (rather anticlimactic, I know) seems like such a giant step. It reminds me of that scene in Indian Jones where he is seeking out the Holy Grail and must step into a crevasse and trust that God will keep him safe. Of course, there’s a magical invisible bridge he can walk across, something PC has yet to offer applicants. Regardless, it took a lot of searching and thinking and personal faith in myself to submit the application and begin what is likely to be a year-long journey toward PC deployment.
So, to answer a few questions about upcoming blogs and Peace Corps:
What the heck is Peace Corps?
That is an excellent question. Peace Corps is a program created by President Kennedy back in the 60’s. It was originally born as an effort to create more harmony between Americans and other nations by sending educated and/or skilled Americans abroad to live in foreign communities, lend their skills and knowledge, and gain the appreciation of other cultures only possible through first-hand experience.
Peace Corps has since sent over 200,000 Americans abroad for 27 months of volunteer service. If you are invited to participate in the program, you spend three months in training learning local languages, customs, and practicing the skills and knowledge you hope to pass on to your host community. After your initial training, you’re sent to your host site where you will live for two full years, ideally as an integrated member of the community. Peace Corps pays you a monthly stipend to cover housing and food at an economic level similar to the average member of your community. They also cover all your medical and dental needs while you serve. If you successfully complete your two years, you are then awarded a large stipend (~7k) to help you get restarted in your “regular life”.
Peace Corps volunteers serve all over the world in a huge variety of conditions and communities. You are placed depending on your own personal experiences/education/skills/talents, hopefully to a community that wants you to be there. All that being said, Peace Corps is hard. Very hard. I’ve heard there’s something like a 50% attrition rate of volunteers who can’t handle it and leave part way through their service.
What does the application process entail?
– A medical evaluation to make sure I’m healthy enough to withstand two and a half years of possibly less-than-American-standards in available medicine.
– Lots of interviewing.
– A lengthy application in which I wrote two essays describing why I want to serve and a time where I was challenged by a new culture.
– Bringing your life in the US to a point where you can walk away for two years and not worry (much) about it.
– Most importantly: a lot of thought as to whether I want to pursue this path further. This is a big decision and a lengthy commitment if I am selected. Thus, not something to be taken lightly.
Why do you want to volunteer for PC, anyway?
Well, it look be seven or so years to figure out the answer to this question, but I’ll try to keep it short. I have always been happiest when challenged, when in a position of service/volunteering to/with others, and when I am free to innovate, create, and benefit from my own desire to self-start. Peace Corps demands those things of its volunteers. It also advocates for cross-cultural understanding and relationship building, something that I couldn’t find in more traditional forms of service (like the military, for example).
I spoke with several returned volunteers before deciding to look into applying, and the most important thing I was told is this:
“Do not expect to change anyone’s life. Do not expect to make anything better for anyone you work with. The only thing you can expect to do while you’re serving is to change your own life, to benefit yourself, and to open your own mind. A lot of people think PC is all about saving some impoverished people somewhere. It’s not. If you can come back to the USA with a balanced, realistic understanding of the world from your experience, you will have been a successful volunteer.”
This blew me away when I first heard it. It actually put me off applying for another two years. I wanted to change the world! I wanted to lift people up from abject poverty and make their lives better! What was the point of PC if their volunteers didn’t accomplish those things?
Since then, I’ve come to realize that the person who shared this wisdom with me is correct. PC is about learning, understanding, and sharing those things with your home country when you return. I think having very, very realistic expectations of what PC is and, perhaps more importantly, isn’t is essential before applying.
Finally, I am applying because I have a flightly soul and am not long content with comfort and regularity (well, with the exception of my GI). There are many more permanent dreams I have in life that may someday come to fruition (i.e. building a house, having offspring, etc.), but for now I am young and healthy and free of most obligations. I can’t imagine passing up this perfect time and opportunity for the sake of safety and comfort.
Anyway, thanks for reading and please post any questions you have about the PC process. In one last bit of news, I’ll be heading to the Republican National Convention tonight (!) for two weeks of seminars, workshops, and what I’m sure will be a culturally interesting experience. I’m very excited! This blog will chronicle that experience until the end of the convention.