peace corps
Since it was established by J.F.K in 1961, the Peace Corps has been fighting first-hand the systematic effects of global poverty. Beginning as a small handful of good samaritans in only six participating countries, it has since then extended its humanitarian influence to 139 countries with the help of more than 210,000 volunteers. If you’ve ever been curious about joining the Peace Corps yourself, here is some information you must read.

How to Apply for the Peace Corps:

The process of becoming an advocate against global poverty is not as daunting as it might seem. The first step is the online application, which asks for basic information and some statements regarding one’s motivation to volunteer abroad. This is then followed by a personal interview with a local recruiter, to see if the Peace Corps seems like a good fit. If all goes well, this could lead to a formal invitation, complete with destination, departure date and project assignment information.

Then comes the fun part – preparing for departure. In the weeks prior to leaving, the Peace Corps will request the volunteer receive comprehensive dental and medical exams, as well as an array of immunizations, to make sure they are good to go. On the day of departure, volunteers head to training at an orientation site within the United States. The training continues in the volunteer’s assigned country, where they will train for three months while also living with a host family to establish skills for their cultural and linguistic adaption.

What the Peace Corps Looks for:

It is true that the demands of being a Peace Corps volunteer require a specific type of person, and thus the application process is very selective. Living and working in another region of the world, often in extremely dire situations, is a job for those with an abundance of determination, adaptability, independence, social sensitivity and emotional maturity. Those who already have some experience with volunteer work usually make the best candidates, as they have probably developed the previously mentioned qualities within themselves. The Peace Corps, furthermore, has many partner organizations such as City Year and the Special Olympics which interested volunteers can explore.

There are also some logistical pre-requisites, concerning the volunteer’s education, skills and ability to deliver aid to a community. While it is still possible to join without one, 90% of Peace Corps jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many jobs require pre-existing skills, such as special education, engineering and urban planning as well as agroforestry. Others can be developed on site, such as a teaching English, youth development and health education. The Peace Corps looks comprehensively at every applicant, however, and there are opportunities for non-degree volunteers who have experience working in construction, agriculture and with other non-profit organizations. By and large, the most promising candidates are those with some understanding of another language.

The Life of a Volunteer:

There is not one, quintessential Peace Corps experience, as the regions and types of work are all so diverse. The Peace Corps works in many countries and continents worldwide, in both rural and urban areas, and volunteers are expected to immerse themselves entirely so as to best serve their assigned communities. Although it is possible to have a preference for a location, flexibility helps during the application process. Regional availability also varies quickly based on need. For example, the Philippines are asking for significantly more volunteers than usual, due to the effects of typhoon Haiyan. Once there, a volunteer will be assigned to one of six main areas of specialized aid, which are: education, youth in development, health, agriculture, environment and community economic development. The commitment is 24 months, plus three months of training, thus totaling 27 months. Living accommodations are provided by the Peace Corps, and also vary greatly depending on the norm for that region.

Why Volunteer:

Helping a community build a more sustainable future for itself is an incredibly rewarding experience, as many veteran volunteers can attest to. All countries where the Peace Corps works have requested the presence of volunteers and aid programs, thus proving that the need is strong.

The benefits of joining the Peace Corps extends after service, as well. Upon return, volunteers receive $7,425 as an “adjustment” allowance, to help re-establish their lives in the United States after over two years abroad. Eligibility for student loan deferral is also provided, as well as a number of scholarships and financial aid packages to graduate degree programs. Over 70 graduate schools are partnered with the Peace Corps, and seek out returning volunteers who wish to incorporate their development experiences into their course work, such as the Paul D. Coverdell Fellow Program. For those wishing to enter directly into a career at home, the Peace Corps is invaluable for its professional connections in fields like federal employment and other non-profit organizations.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Peace Corps, Time, National Archives
Photo: Salon