What are the cons?
While the Peace Corps does everything in its power to keep its volunteers safe by offering excellent medical services when needed, volunteers' safety going into a foreign country cannot be 100 percent guaranteed. Recently, ABC News aired this story about a large number of women coming forward with stories of sexual assault while abroad and their feelings about the Peace Corps' handling of the incidents.
“A large part of being a successful Peace Corps volunteer is dependent on cultural integration,” said Alyssa. “Along with that, many may feel lonely and isolated from friends and family in the U.S. Depending on the host country, volunteers may have cell phones and Internet access, but communication with friends and family back at home and the news from the U.S. can be spotty. Volunteers are often challenged by the cultural or religious norms of other countries.
- The language you learn could be only useful to the specific region you live in, and may not be practical in your later life.
- The culture you live in could be overwhelming, and the living conditions will most likely be much lower that you’re used to. (While this is a good opportunity to gain worldly experience, culture shock can be very real! The Peace Corps’ living stipend provides enough to live in that community, i.e. you won’t starve.)
- You have to say goodbye to loved ones (and even go through annoying things like selling a car, etc. to plan for a two-year absence) for two years, and then have to say goodbye to the people you befriend in your time of service.
“However, with the isolation and cultural challenges comes a greater sense of self and personal growth,” said Alyssa. “Overcoming two years of challenges and hardships helps people become better problem-solvers, as well as more tolerant, flexible and open-minded citizens of the world.”
What is it like to be in the Peace Corps?
What is it like to be in the Peace Corps? Generally, the experiences of volunteers widely differ depending on the job and country you live in. Every Peace Corps volunteer undergoes three months of training—mostly language training—before they begin their two years of service. The training takes place in the host country before the volunteer finds out what region and specific job they will be working.
Check out photos, journals, and stories on the Peace Corps website
Nicaragua Notes – A blog by Alyssa Eisenstein, training in Nicaragua
Waid’s World – A blog by Michael Waidman, volunteering in Ethiopia
What happens after my service?
Volunteers are given “transition funds” after their service—generally $7,000+ (pre-tax)—to help in finding a new place to live and to pay bills/live on until you find employment. Volunteers are also eligible to keep an affordable medical plan for up to 18 months after coming back to the U.S. Education loans such as Stafford and Perkins can be deferred while you volunteer. Perkins loans can also be potentially cancelled—the percentage that will get cancelled depends on the amount of time you serve. The Peace Corps can also assist you in finding a job after your service, through networking events and an online newsletter with job announcements.
“In my opinion, the best thing about the Peace Corps is the endless learning for everyone involved. It doesn't matter if you join right out of college or are a 65-year-old retiree, whether you've lived abroad your whole life or have never left the U.S., everyone has something to learn from another culture,” Eisenstein said. “Because other countries must request volunteers to come to their countries, people from other countries can learn a lot about the U.S. as well. Personally, I am looking forward to becoming fluent in a second language, making Nicaraguan friends, learning more about development work and global health, working with people from another culture to cause sustainable change, trying new food, sharing my (American) culture with Nicaraguans, living in new surroundings, traveling, and learning more about myself. And hopefully I'll make a difference or two along the way!”
Deciding to dedicate two years of your life to service is a HUGE decision, so if it’s something that at all interests you, talk with your friends, family and local Peace Corps recruiter to aid in your decision! Best of luck, collegiettes!
Peace Corps website [peacecorps.gov]
Danielle Rhodes, University of Minnesota Duluth ‘11
Alyssa Eisenstein, Northwestern University '10