So, you’re applying to the Peace Corps? First of all, congratulations! You are making potentially the biggest, scariest, and BEST choice you will ever make. The application is long, but consider it practice. You’re signing up for years of challenge and exhilerating change. Maybe you’re all done, and ready to click submit? Good on you; you’re at an exciting crossroads and are setting your potential future in motion. You’ve got a wait ahead of you, so in the meantime here are my five best tips for applicants, compiled from my own experience and those in my intake. Happy waiting!
Tip #1: Think It Through
Peace Corps isn’t just a thing you do with your life. It shouldn’t be something you do because, well heck, you’re not doing anything else! It’s a choice, a decision, made deliberately and with care. Peace Corps can be something that changes and defines your life, and indeed, it should be something your pursue with the intent to welcome that change into your heart and life. Sure, the application process is long and there are months of waiting and decision making ahead of you. But think it through, and be realistic with yourself. KNOW that this is what you want in your heart, and do your very best to consider all that Peace Corps service will mean for you. I’ll tell you right now, it’s nearly impossible to consider it all; but try, and then click submit.
Tip #2: Get Patient
The Peace Corps application process is long, arduous, and wrought with frustration and occasionally disappointment. The best practice would be to go to your local DMV during the lunch hour and try to do your whole transaction is Swahili. Thankfully (and unlike the DMV), it’s possibly to exit the process with feelings of hope and joy; the biggest difference will be in you and your ability to wait. And wait, and wait, and wait (and wait). Trust me and the thousands of other people who have finally gotten that long-awaited email in their inbox: the invitation is worth it.
Tip #3: Get (and stay) Busy
Hidden in the tedium of the application process is an excellent opportunity for the eager applicant. In between reminder emails to Peace Corps recruitment and placement staff (read: borderline harassment), an applicant an busy themselves with the plethora of blogs, wikis, and other sources of information for the Peace Corps applicant, by the applicant/trainee/volunteer/returned volunteer. I myself probably read at least a bajillion blogs (really) before getting my own invitation, and it was helpful to feel kinship with other people going through the same stress and waiting as myself. But, a word of caution: not all blogs are helpful. Some may scare you away from service, some will be woefully out of date, some may give you unrealistic expectations, and some may crush your Peace Corps dreams before they’ve even begun. Read them all, but only with a bag of salt under one arm. Every service and experience is different, just as yours will be.
As you move through the application process, also keep in mind that your life isn’t on hold at Peace Corps’ beck and call. Continue to grow, learn, and develop yourself up until the day you (hopefully) leave for service. You will not regret those extra volunteer hours or skill sets learned, and they will not go unnoticed by Peace Corps staff as they work to place you in a country of service.
Tip #4: Stay Up with Your Paperwork
Peace Corps will redefine the way you think about paperwork. They will ask for many, many forms to be filled out, stamped, sealed, and sent back on very particular deadlines. Sometimes that paperwork may seem innocuous, and something you can put off. DO NOT DO THIS. Your life will be made much, much easier if you stay on top of your paperwork from Day 1. This means hacking through the red tape of American government beauracracy ASAP, and not waiting until a week before things are due to start reading the application directions. Thankfully, today’s applicant can do most things online which significantly simplifies the process. Word to the wise: read directions carefully, be honest with your medical questionairre (seriously; this will be important later on in the application process), and double check to make sure everything has been received with the appropriate PC staff.
Tip #5: Be Yourself
If you’re like me, then you’ve been trained to always put your very best foot forward in applications, even if that means maybe talking yourself up and over the top. In a job application, this makes sense. You want to outshine your competitors. In Peace Corps, your ability to type 110 words per minute doesn’t count for nearly as much as your ability to communicate, appreciate other cultures, or overcome adversity. When writing your application, essays, and even answering medical questions, repeat after me: Be Yourself. Don’t exaggerate yourself, try to oversell your abilities, or create a new personality for yourself. Once you get your invite and begin training, you’ll find that everyone’s true colors show eventually. If you’re not sure what those colors are just yet, that’s okay. Just don’t make yourself up on the spot. Share your best aspects in your application, but also demonstrate your ability to practice self-introspection by admitting to your weaknesses as a person. The more honest you are with yourself and on your application, the better Peace Corps will be able to place you in the right country and job sector for you. Plus, this is the first of many chances you’ll have to get to know yourself better – something you’ll encounter over and over again during your service.
The application process to Peace Corps service can be tough, and it’s meant to be. It’s just the first step in what will be the hardest job you’ll ever love (cheesy but true). Don’t give up, and remember that you’re joining a giant family of applicants, trainees, volunteers, and those who have returned home from their service – and we’re here for you. Reach out to us, attend Peace Corps events in your area, and if Peace Corps service calls to you, don’t let anything (especially an application) stand in your way.
*If you have questions about this post or anything about Peace Corps service, please feel free to contact me using the “Contact Me” tab. The only terrible question is the one that goes unasked. If I receive enough similar questions, I’ll write a FAQ post. In the meantime, please give me a few weeks to respond to any questions as I will be less connected than usual over the next several weeks.*