The Peace Corps

a Catalyst for Positive Change

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The Kyiv Pechers’ka Lavra- Mr. Post visited this building during his time in Ukraine.

The Peace Corps is a volunteer organization based in the United States that provides international social and economic assistance to struggling communities. For years I’ve greatly admired the program and people who join it because of their compassionate nature and determination to make a difference. The volunteers give up their comfortable way of living and venture to places in need of assistance and have the chance to become a part of the community and adopt their lifestyle, meeting amazing people and having notable experiences along the way. The Peace Corps offers multiple fields of work that tend to interest many people. Their “sectors” include agriculture, environment, health, education, youth in development, and community economic development. “Peace Corps service can be the first step toward a career or the continuation of a life’s work. Sharpen your skills in a field you’ve always loved, or challenge yourself with a new opportunity” (peacecorps.gov). If you’re interested in traveling, passionate about service work, or even just curious about an alternative path in life, stick around. 

Let’s get the basics out of the way- the requirements and preparation. To enter the Peace Corps, you must either have a Bachelor’s degree or four years of concentrated job experience in one of the qualifying fields. The minimum age requirement is 18, but there is no age too old to lend your help. You may be required to speak an alternate language depending on what region you volunteer in. Going into service with a basic understanding of their country’s native language is very important to more easily transition into the culture and community. You’re not expected to learn a foreign language by yourself, so you’ll attend classes with a small group of other volunteers on the same journey as you. The training process takes about 3 months and covers everything you need to know before essentially moving across the world. In addition to language training, you’ll be expected to go through technical, health, safety and security, and cross-cultural training to help prepare you for your work duties and feel more integrated into your new community. 

Now I’m sure you’re jumping at the bit to know where you’d be able to travel to. Currently, there are 7,367 Peace Corps volunteers serving worldwide in over 60 countries. When applying to volunteer, you’ll be asked to pick your top three destination choices which will be taken into consideration, among other factors. Your top pick may not come to fruition, but each location has something special to offer and wouldn’t be a less than sufficient choice. The top regions include South America (Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, etc), Africa (Kenya, Botswana, Liberia, etc), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Ukraine, Albania, Armenia, etc), Asia (Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, etc), and the Pacific Islands including Fiji and Samoa. There are also volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. This organization works globally and acts as a catalyst to bring people together and make a change. Two years (plus 3 additional months for training) is the average amount of time that volunteers stay in the region they’re stationed in, but some people wish to extend their service by one or two more years, and on the flip side, some volunteers have trouble adapting considering there are so many psychological and physical challenges and request to finish their service early. 

Don’t be detoured from this opportunity just because you hear the word “volunteer” and don’t think you’re financially secure enough to explore this path. Every month you earn a stipend. In the local currency, it’s enough to pay your rent (or to pay the host family you stay with), buy groceries, and a little leftover for minimal local travel/ spending money. So, you don’t have to go into the Peace Corps with a large sum of money, but be aware that unless you live very frugally, you won’t be making a profit. That is until the end of your service when the Peace Corps generously gives you a few thousand dollars to help get you back on your feet and reintegrate into life as you knew it. 

When it comes to staying in touch with your family and friends, it depends on where specifically you’re sent to. Some places could have access to Skype, text message, and calling every day, where in other parts of the world, you may have to walk to the nearest post office to send letters as your form of communication. Friends and family can visit you during your vacation time (~2 days a month- stackable) and you can explore nearby places together. Although it’s relatively easy to keep in contact with your loved ones, it can take a real toll on your emotional health to not see or hear from them as often as you may be used to. 

Even from all the research I’ve done about the Peace Corps and the podcasts I’ve listened to, I wanted to know more. There’s so much that a website doesn’t tell you and I desired to hear personal stories, the destructive struggles, and the light at the end of the tunnel- what people have taken away from this unique experience. Luckily, I didn’t have to wander too far because one of our very own, Mr. Post, served time in Peace Corps Ukraine and was an English teacher. He shared a lot of insight into what life is like during the Peace Corps and what he gained from it. When asked what the most challenging thing he faced was, he replied, “You know, there were many challenges which of course equal many rewards with the right mindset. Homesickness was very real. It’s not just being physically isolated, but culturally. Linguistically. Granted I came out of my three months of training with very strong language abilities as most people do, but nonetheless, I was maybe at a 35% capacity if fluent was 100%.” Fitting into a new way of life, taking into consideration both language and societal norms is difficult but is a beautiful thing once the initial uncertainty is over. Mr. Post would agree with this and had amazing things to say about the Ukrainian people he met and the other volunteers who he grew close to. When asked what the biggest lesson he took from the experience was, he responded by saying, “I feel like the wonders of Ukraine, the people that inhabit it, the Peace Corps itself still unfolds itself to me. I’m still discovering things that maybe I didn’t at the time. Humility, perspective, and appreciation. Those three words encompass all of the good and all of the bad. The kindness of the Ukrainian people still stuns me. Because the Ukrainian people had so much less, they were willing to give so much more… I’ll still sometimes appreciate having my own pick-up, I’ll still appreciate a hot shower, a comfortable couch, the variety of meals we have.” 

I whole-heartedly believe that the Peace Corps is a fascinating organization and provides both volunteers and distressed communities with amazing opportunities. The information and skills you take from volunteering can help kickstart your dream career, provide you with contacts to reach out to, give you needed perspective, teach you how to be mindful with money, and much more. If you’re interested in this, I’d recommend checking out the podcast “Peace Corps Tales” to dive more in-depth about returned Peace Corps volunteers’ stories. For more technical information, visit peacecorps.gov.