I am Peace Corps and So Can You (my original title)
Ah, fall semester, senior year. I recall it well: carefree Thursday Night Pongs and Big Ass Drafts, True Blood on Sunday nights, Ultimate Frisbee tournaments (go Helpful Corn!), and of course, studying. But in every seemingly carefree senior, there lingers a hidden stressor, an unanswered question, a certain bit of, shall we say, uncertainty. The big question that lurks behind every flipped cup, every phone call to mom and dad, every Internet job search, is: “What the hell am I going to do with my life?”
It’s a tough question. The economy is less than favorable for recent graduates, who must compete against unemployed people who already hold advanced degrees. After graduating in May 2010, some of my friends went on to graduate school, some landed jobs they liked, others landed jobs they hated and still others, including myself, went in a different direction. I chose the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps is a government-run development program that sends volunteers to work in 76 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and Latin America, Europe, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East for 27-month assignments. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) work in several sectors, including education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture and environment. This means whether you are a community health major (like I was), a business student extraordinaire or an art history major with a philosophy minor, there is a place for you in the Peace Corps. All you need is the courage to follow your passions, determination to see it through and hopefully, the willingness to help a few people along the way.
There are several advantages to joining the Peace Corps. First and foremost, for those of you interested in development, global studies, heck, even medical school, the Peace Corps offers two years of international, ground-level experience, which is a requirement of most respectable graduate programs. Let’s compare this to the job I had while I was still stateside. I worked as a “Staff Assistant” (read: secretary) at a dental school in Boston. This job involved answering several phone calls and sending several emails daily. I wasn’t exactly developing the type of life skills most employers and graduate programs seek in their new hires, nor was I doing anything remotely similar to what I studied in school. Conversely, as a PCV, I am learning how to live in a new culture, developing leadership skills and practicing public health (my field of study) on a daily basis.
Second, the Peace Corps language program is one of the best in the world. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be proficient in a foreign language before you apply to the Peace Corps. Take my story as an example. When I applied, I only had high school Spanish under my belt, y actualmente manejo bien el Español. My success with the language probably had something to do with the three months of intense language study, which involved living with a host family while taking six hours of language class a day. It is also one of the biggest advantages I will take with me from the Peace Corps. I know I’m already an attractive person (there’s no picture, so just take my word for it), but think about how much better looking I will be to future employers when I can put on my resume that I have fluency in two languages.
Then there are the less obvious, intangible advantages to joining the Peace Corps. I’m learning self-reliance and independence like I never could have learned in the States, I’m developing some truly MacGyver-like home improvement skills and I’m making friends — lots of them. I’m learning the power of networking, the importance of listening and most notably, what I’m capable of achieving.
Here are some quick tips:
- Apply a year before you want to leave;
- Look for the Peace Corps recruiter at job fairs on the campus;
- If you are thinking about it, do it, and don’t look back.
- Check out my blog: http://www.lspigel.wordpress.com.
Lauren Spigel is a university alumna with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health. She currently serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua.