Monday, September 21, 2009

Reasons for joining Peace Corps

When I realized I'd been chosen for one of the most difficult posts in the Peace Corps (actually nicknamed the "hard corps" along with Mongolia because its cold and Mauritania because it is hot and has a lack of natural resources [currently closed to the Peace Corps due to unstable political climate]) I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. To get an idea of Niger take one of the poorest countries in the world, add dust, poor soil quality, extreme heat (over 120 in the hot season), and subtract water except for the monsoon season when Malaria kicks in and color me intimidated. If a change is what I'm seeking then surely Niger will suffice. Coming from the land which coined the term "urban sprawl" it can't get much more different. Niger is also known as a difficult post due to the amount of people who early terminate (ET) their service. While intimidated by this country I'll probably do what I always do when intimidated, stand up a bit straighter, put my game face on and make loud noises...hmm wait, no that's what to when intimidated by a mountain lion...I guess I'll figure something out.

Since going to Niger seems like a rather crazy notion to most Americans I guess I should explain myself. Well my first reason for joining the Peace Corps is because I've always wanted to blog but never had a good enough subject. By joining I now have a web address and reason to blog. Okay, not really.

I'd like to say that I've been dreaming of joining since I was a little girl and only now am able to fulfill my destiny, alas that is not the case. The Peace Corps became a blip on my radar earlier this year and I applied on a whim. That whim became more of a whirlwind and I find myself a month away from leaving, trying desperately to find some solid reasoning with which to write my aspiration statement.

While the state of the economy is rather unpleasant at the moment, escaping a job hunt or the idea of working for low wages for 27 months is not enough of a reason for me to join the Peace Corps (though it certainly isn't motivating me to stay). I do like that while serving I will not have to worry about being able to afford necessities and that I will have a little bit of money at the end of service.

I've also suffered from wanderlust for many years, yet the ability to travel to a foreign land isn't restricted to the Peace Corps so that can't be my sole reason for going either. I like the idea that instead of simply traveling to a different place that I will be able to integrate into the community and get a sense of the culture. Serving in the Peace Corps is allowing me to do this while also giving me a feeling that I am needed in the same way that America often makes people feel they are unnecessary. While going to Niger is sure to be a struggle and I'll occasionally feel like I'm not making enough of a difference, I will never have to feel like I am one of millions working a job I don't love while making no positive difference in the world, simply filling a position. or many volunteers I think that the Peace Corps provides a place in a community that often large cities lack.

Along with these things I get to experience a new culture, become proficient at another language, gain job experience and pad my resume, be able to improve environmental practices in other countries, become an educator and improve sanitation and health, learn to become a light packer, obtain a greater appreciation for what I have, and maybe own a camel or horse. If I'm lucky I might even have the opportunity to go duneboarding and that in itself is a pretty good reason.

I wonder if my reasons for coming back to the home at the end of all this will be the exact opposite as my reasons for leaving...we'll see I guess.

To my family, my reasons for leaving are partly because you raised me with enough independence that I feel strong enough to do this and I thank you for supporting me in this since I know it is hard on you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Peace Corps Timeline

Comparing my timeline to that of most volunteers, the process of moving from an applicant to an invitee was very quick for me. Since I know that I spent much of my time as an applicant looking at blogs of Peace Corps Volunteers I hope that this in some way can help another applicant. If you have any questions please comment and I will reply when internet is available.

April 6, 2009-Started application online.

April 24, 2009- Completed first section of application. Later that day I finished the medical and legal questionnaires.

April 30, 2009- Received my first contact from my recruiter to set up an interview.

May 12, 2009-Realized that the questions to the interview (or similar questions) are posted online at and spent an hour or so going through them.

May 13, 2009- Had an interview on the UCLA campus (now my Alma Mater). Was far more relaxed than I had expected and my recruiter (whom I had thus far not met) was very nice. The interview took a little over an hour including fingerprinting which got us a few awkward glances.

May 14, 2009- Was informed that there were no positions for science teachers and that I did not exactly qualify for any other position than science teacher or community development volunteer.

May 30, 2009-My final recommendation was submitted. This had held up my application for a few weeks longer so if you are applying try to send the requests for a recommendation early and to individuals who will submit them in a timely manner.

June 3, 2009-In the morning I got a voicemail from my recruiter telling me she nominated me for a position in Africa leaving in October as an Agriculture Extension Volunteer. (Had I called the Placement Office I also could have learned that it was for francophone Africa leaving mid-October, information I only found out at the end of August) Filled out a skill addendum regarding my experience with animal husbandry and farming.

June 8, 2009-The mail arrived carrying my medical packet. I occupied with finals and graduation at the time and when that was done I went on vacation.

June 22, 2009-Began setting up appointments with doctors. There are a few clinics or VA hospitals that will do these appointments for free as well as a list of dentists that can be found online.

August 6, 2009-Mytoolkit updated to say that I had gotten my dental clearance

August 13, 2009-Mytoolkit updated to have a very vague message about my clearance. This apparently is normal and it says to look for a decision in the mail. A few days later I learned that I was cleared.
My account was then transferred to the Placement Office where I had no placement holds.

August 14, 2009-Received an email requesting a final college transcript (no grades).

August 16, 2009-Received an email requesting a final college transcript (with grades). Had to pay for the transcript without grades as well as the new one.

August 19, 2009-Had my UCLA transcripts faxed to the Placement Office.

August 24, 2009-Tried to contact the Placement Office to find out what was going on. Was informed who my Placement Officer was and later emailed her.

August 25, 2009-My Placement Officer called me to talk about the nominated position and that she would rather nominate me for animal husbandry. She also said she had to contact the nominated host country to make sure my limited qualifications would suffice.

September 2, 2009-A call from my Placement Officer to chat about the animal husbandry position I had been nominated for being available, though perhaps not what was originally discussed. She also told me that the host country had agreed to have me. Since I agreed she told me I was invited to serve.

September 3, 2009-Toolkit updated to tell me that I had been invited.

September 8, 2009-My invitation packet came in the mail. The winner was Niger staging October 17, 2009 for Sustainable Agriculture and Small Animal Husbandry. This is technically passed the 6-week deadline but since I was informed of my invitation before the deadline I guess it counts.

September 11, 2009-Sent my forms out for a new passport and visas.

September 14, 2009-Called to accept my invitation to join the Peace Corps.

September 20, 2009-Turned in my updated resume and aspiration statement.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to pack and doing everything I wont be able to in Niger. Also have found a group on Facebook for future volunteers and another group more specifically for the people in my staging group. Its nice to be able to meet some fellow trainees as well as get advice from current and past volunteers.

Edit: Staging postponed until October 20, 2009