Daria Preston is a 2012 School of Diplomacy and International Relations graduate and is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala as a District School Health Coordinator. Prior to her current placement with the Peace Corps she worked as an associate at AmeriCares, a humanitarian health nonprofit, handling corporate donor account relationships and assisting in emergency response initiatives. If you have any questions or comments about the post, feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her LinkedIn page.
If you are considering submitting your application to serve with the Peace Corps, you have probably recently read some impressive statistics. Reporting a 70% application increase thanks to the newly updated application process and an encouraging public announcement made by President Obama, over 17,000 submissions have been made in fiscal year 2014, the most since 1992. While the application has changed, and the fervor to serve abroad has been invigorated through the empowerment of choosing placements and countries, the preparation process outside the ‘application portal’ has remained relatively the same.
Choosing to serve as a volunteer with the Peace Corps is far more than committing to serving for the full 27 months and making some local friends along the way. While the actual length of service itself seems long, in the reality of working in the field as an international development professional you quickly realize that the time commitment is rather short. Taking the time to set both personal and professional intentions during the application process is just as an important step in creating an impactful and meaningful term of service as it is to complete and hit submit on the application.
While writing comfortably from my pueblo in Guatemala, below are some suggested considerations and tips for what will be a long yet exciting application process.
- Stay on top of your forms and carefully read instructions. If you’re submitting your forms on time, you’re already late when it comes to the form game of the Peace Corps. Do yourself and your nerves a favor and start completing forms as soon as they land in your inbox after carefully reading all instructions. This will not only provide plenty of buffer space in case Peace Corps requires more information from you, but will absolve you from making any potentially disastrous mistakes (such as mailing in your passport application incorrectly).
- Embrace the wait. Although the application process has been shortened, the standard time between hitting the ‘submit’ button on your application and the moment you board the plane remains about 9-12 months. While this is a case by case basis (my entire process extended to only 7 months before deployment), take each step of the application and month of waiting as an opportunity to reflect and assess your commitment to completing your 27 months of service. While you may be enthusiastic to leave as soon as possible, taking the time to reaffirm your decision each step of the way will help you feel more prepared and ready to make the commitment a reality.
- Understand you will not ‘save the world.’ If you take a look at the Core Expectations of Peace Corps, you’ll find little that suggests that you are the key to the end of poverty or malnutrition. However you will be expected to adapt culturally and integrate into your community to create ‘successful and sustainable development work,’ (see Core Expectation # 3) which is amazing. Your ability to become a facilitator and an educator is a powerful tool, and is professional investment which will grow exponentially in your community. You will become a partner in finding and developing solutions and become an agent for change, not to mention you will gain the benefit of a profound and changing life experience within yourself.
- Reach out to potential, current, and returned PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers). The Peace Corps is an incredible network, and you are bound to find someone quickly who has served in the past. Take the time to reach out and talk to former and current volunteers, and don’t be shy to ask the more personal questions – everyone was once applying, too! I went so far as to email volunteers after viewing their YouTube videos, and it was a great way to connect and share perspectives.
- Read, read, and then stop. While the phrase ‘you can never be too prepared’ is applicable in many instances, your Peace Corps service is not one of them. I read dozens of PCV blogs, articles, pamphlets, and reached out to current PCV’s to hear their stories (both good and bad) in my own application process. In the end, after all of the research, it came back to me. You can read to your heart’s content, but in the end it will simply come back to you to make the decision.
While the Peace Corps for many is an opportunity to expand their world views, become global citizens, and to personally challenge themselves, it is as equally an incredible professional opportunity. Field work is an exciting and an amazing experience, and while it is not always comfortable or easy, Peace Corps service does provide you on-the-ground experience needed for many international development positions, as well as excellent professional support post service. I wish all applicants the very best of luck in what will become ´the toughest job you´ll ever love´ and hopefully with some forward planning and considerations, your transition will be smooth and ultimately successful.