Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peace Corps Application Advice

I'm not all the way through the process yet, but on the off-chance that someone does manage to search something related to Peace Corps and find this blog (although it's fairly low-profile as far as I can find--unless you Google me or the blog title), here are the things I've learned so far. Also, if any current PCT, PCV, RPCV, or other applicants are reading this and have more advice, please add comments!

1. Don't be afraid of sounding super-idealistic in your application essays. Also, though, don't be afraid of sounding a little selfish; "I want to go to Africa to broaden my horizons and have amazing cross-cultural experiences" is not something that will get you kicked out, or even looked-down-on by the person who'll be interviewing you.

2. The same goes for the interview. But just as importantly as being honest, don't feel like you have to give sound-bites. Be ready to talk slowly--your interviewer has to transcribe your answers verbatim (probably typing, but still). This is nice because it makes the interview something enough slower than real-time that you have time to think about what you're really saying, but not so slow that you feel like you go on pause or have to fight to keep from zoning out. Thinking about the kinds of probable questions and your general answers ahead-of-time is fun, if you're a planning freak like me, but not necessary.

2. a. Some questions I got were
~"How do you deal with feeling stressed or emotionally worn-down?"
~"What would you do if none of those methods and outlets were available to you?"
~"Why do you want to volunteer with the Peace Corps?"
~"Describe a time or a situation in which you interacted with someone who you did not like constructively."
~"What would you do if confronted by a situation that overtly conflicted with your reasons for being in the Peace Corps?" (e.g. You're in Girls Empowerment and Education, and your host father treats at least one of his wives as a subordinate. Or your education allows you to make corrections to some mistakes that your co-worker is making, but your co-worker is related to the boss, and the boss tells you not to correct things anymore, because it makes said relation look bad. What do you do in those situations?)
~"How much of your lifestyle, and what aspects, would you be willing to change or alter if you were in a place that made it culturally necessary?"
~"How open are you to going to such a place?"
~"Are you aware that you may have next-to-no contact with family and loved ones during your period of service? How do you feel about this, and how willing would you be to accept an assignment that entailed that sort of isolation?"

3. Don't be afraid of applying even if you're not 100% sure that you actually want to go. You can always change your mind, [EDIT, November 30, 2008] or you can de- and then re-activate your application. Even if you're not sure you can make it through the entire service period (e.g."What if something really bad happens at home while I'm gone?" and/or "What if I discover 13 months in that I really can't do it mentally/emotionally/physically?"), but really want to try, go ahead and apply--there is such thing as coming home early, and though it doesn't make the Peace Corps admin very happy (and I don't think you get the same benefits--or maybe any benefits--that RPCVs get), they will not keep you in-country against your will. You are, after all, a volunteer.

4. Everyone says "be patient!" There are a lot of being-patient stages.
i. Between the submission of my application and my interview, but it was only a few weeks.
ii. After my interview, I had to wait to get nominated, and although originally that was supposed to happen within a month, the Peace Corps Bureaucracy (something that as a PCV, one apparently comes to regard as inevitable) didn't actually nominate me in late October or early November, but in early February.
iii. It takes a while to get doctors' and dentist's appointments. Also, be patient with your doctor and dentist, and make sure they fill out every little part of the forms, because Peace Corps will send them back to you (and you'll have to get another appointment) if they're not completely...completed.
iv. After you've sent your medical stuff, you have to wait for clearance. [EDIT, November 30, 2008] For me, that was half the summer for both medical and dental.
v. After your medical clearance, you have to wait for contact by your Assitant Placement Officer, which for me took over a month.
vi. After that, you wait to be contacted by your Placement Officer, which for me took two months, although after contact, I got my invitation within two weeks.

5. For medical appointments, I'm not sure of the cheapest place to go, but for dental appointments, you can get them for free: USA section of the International College of Dentists. Also, this.

6. After getting your invitation, they start to really get on your case about getting paperwork in. For me, having waited over 13 months to be invited from the time I applied (although admittedly I've gotten an extremely long lead-time from invitation to leave-date), and then to be chivvied along so insistently was kind of annoying. But, it's important to remember that it's their show, and just because applicants have to wait doesn't mean we get the same privilege.


Meira said...

hi, i found your blog while i was doing some research. congratulations on your nomination! i too have just been nominated and accepted (today!), March 2009, The Caribbean, for Information Technology. Thanks for posting about your experience.


Katherine Crocker said...


Congratulations on your nomination and acceptance! Let me know if you run into any cool information / want any information I might have. Also, another helpful resource is the yahoo group peacecorps2...


Beth said...

Do I still have a chance in the Peace Corps? Or is additional volunteer work a waste of time?

I received my response to my Peace Corps application today," We are interested in your application; however, there are currently no available programs that fit the skills you bring to Peace Corps"

I have already started looking into volunteer tutoring for English as a Second Language with 3 organizations. I actually go to an orientation tomorrow. I will be beginning volunteer work with the Boys & Girls Club next month. I also found free Spanish classes to take on Craigslist.

My questions is... What are the odds that I can get in with all this additional volunteer work? Has someone done this before? Were you able to proceed with the application process after about three months of all the extra volunteer work? Are there just too many applicants, and they don't need me at all even with the volunteer work?

I'm kind of devastated that I didn't even get an interview, but I don't want to give up. I really really want this, but I also don't want to get my hopes up if this isn't going to work. I realize volunteer work will never be a waste of time. I absolutely love doing it and that's why I want to be a part of this organization, but I just want to know if anyone else has been through this. I don't know what on my application would have caused me not to even get an interview. I'm healthy, have a lot of volunteer experience, cross cultural experience, and I made good grades.

Any advice? Recruiters/Peace Corps Volunteers are you out there?

Katherine Crocker said...

Hi Beth,

First of all, I don't know if you just cut-and-pasted your comment from a message board, but my blog is not the best place to find PC recruiters. Try the yahoo group peacecorps2, though, if you haven't already.

I have some experience navigating the massive bureaucracy sort of inherent to the way Peace Corps runs (I had a 2-year application process), so I'll do my best to answer your question. That said, though, I'm not a recruitment employee, so I really don't know the official stance on any of this.

If you filled out the entire application online (didn't forget about any essay or anything like that) and were denied an interview based on lack of volunteer experience SPECIFICALLY, I'd say the increased volunteer experience could make your application more competitive. However, because of the economy, Peace Corps is getting a lot more applications than they can possibly accept, which lets them be as selective as they want about who they want to interview. Things like a criminal record (even minor things), poor (or even lukewarm) recommendations, or just a lack of general experience with anything in the ag/education/business/development sectors can all kill your application dead enough that more volunteer experience might not be a good way to revive it.

If international development work is what you're after, I'd advise you to look into other options--there aren't a ton, but there's more than Peace Corps out there. Best of luck, and sorry I can't be of more help. Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.