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10 Things to Consider Before Joining the Peace Corps

Posted by Abby Bryant on Tue, Feb 11, 2014 @ 03:36 PM

After I started blogging about my Peace Corps experience, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people who are considering joining the Peace Corps, all of which I’m more than happy to answer. However, while I love sharing all of my inspiring and happy moments, I think it’s really important to share the tough times too. If you’re thinking about becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, it’s best to be prepared!

Panamanian girls

As a full disclosure, I’m drawing on my own experiences for this list. Each Peace Corps Volunteer is different, and some even live in apartments with wifi! In any case, it’s better to be the one who expected the hut and got the apartment than vice versa.

1.  Are you ready to be sick?

When I mentioned not wanting to be sick during my interview, my interviewer actually laughed. While Peace Corps has an excellent medical team and does everything in their power to keep volunteers healthy and happy, there are sometimes things that simply can’t be avoided. I’m one of the rarities in my region that has gotten off pretty lucky in terms of stomach issues (no worms or giardia! Yet… 1-31-2013 Edit: I must have jinxed myself. I am now the proud yet temporary owner of a stomach full of amoebas!)

I have, however, been plagued by skin issues: mystery rashes, grotesque abscesses, and the general cuts, scrapes, and bruises. 

2.  Can you be productive and happy in an unsupervised environment? 

If you’re like me, your boss might live at the other end of the country, so all of your work is up to you. You will need to assess needs, plan projects, train locals, evaluate your progress, AND ensure that your projects are locally sustainable, all without the physical presence of a boss or coworkers. 

Peace Corps Panama

3.  Are you ready to work and live in a location with no English speakers?

Peace Corps will give you excellent language training, but it’s still tough. As silly as this sounds, sometimes I talk to myself in English sometimes just because I never hear it anymore! 

4.  Do you understand that you will not like all aspects of the local culture? 

Of course you’ve heard about culture shock, but are you ready to really be shocked? Before arriving in Panama, I reflected on my experiences studying abroad and considered myself prepared… wrong. While I may get frustrated with so many aspects of local culture it is also important to remember that we aren’t here to change people, we’re here to help them help themselves in ways that they value and want. 

5.  Can you handle living in an area where sanitation might be scarce, at best? 

My host family’s baby didn’t wear diapers and pooped wherever he happened to be standing. Also, I am the only person in my community who uses a latrine instead of the creek. Also, one of the latrines doesn’t have a roof. Also, I once got sick during a thunderstorm and only had access to the roof-less latrine. Think about all of that. 

6.  Are you ready to be poor? 

For us to become respected members of the community, we have to live like the community. Thus, you’ll be paid enough for your expenses with not a whole lot left over. I make less here than I made working for the Saint Vincent Admissions department a few times a week- and I’m responsible for rent, food, transportation, vacations, etc. 

house in Bocas del Toro, Panama

7.  Are you willing to do what needs to be done? 

Despite what your job description says, we’re here to work in whatever capacity the community needs. If I turned up my nose at the work that didn’t involve business, I would never, ever make it. Instead, I work in the schools, on the farms, and with youth and gender development.

8.  Can you put America on hold? 

While I can still call home and use Facebook every once and awhile, there are some things you just miss out on. I have no idea what is going on with current music, am still clueless to the new social media apps, and don’t find out about big news until several days or weeks later. I can’t even imagine what coming home in 2015 is going to be like. 

9.  Can you put the glamorous vision of Peace Corps away? 

Sure, we still have a lot of great perks to our job, but it’s a lot less traveling and a lot more cold bucket water showers than you originally think. There will be great “Peace Corps” days where you dance around with little kids, a local businessman asks for your advice on a project, and your head is busting with ideas. However, there will also be days when every other neighbor tells you you’re getting fat, some kids broke some part of your house, your water ran out, you get sick and fall while walking to the latrine in the rain, AND your neighbors claim your rat poison killed their dog. And yes, both of those scenarios happened to me.  

10.  Are you really ready to commit to a full 27 months of service?

Think about everything that happened from the time you entered freshman year to the time you entered junior year. A lot, right? Now imagine being out of the country that whole time. You’ll miss your friends and family, you’ll dream of ice cream and Chick-fil-a, and you’ll have breakdown moments where all you want is your bedroom and a hug from mom. Despite all of that, you’ll still be committed to the full term of service. *Legally, Peace Corps is not binding, and should you decide to leave you will be free to do so. However, please don’t join If you don’t plan on staying. Your community and training team will have worked very hard to have you!

 Abby and a Ngabe woman

Before joining the Peace Corps, I felt as prepared as I could have been, and yet I never expected life to be as it is. The challenges that scare you before you get here usually end up being the easiest ones to get over and are only the tip of a very big iceberg. I have never in my life felt as physically, emotionally, and mentally challenged as I do as a Peace Corps volunteer. On the other hand, as cliché as it sounds, I have never felt more fulfilled or happy. Cold bucket showers and all, I know this is exactly where God meant for me to be. 

I hope that I haven’t scared you away from Peace Corps service. It really is great if you’re fully prepared and fully committed. If you’re still considering Peace Corps as an option,  I’m always here to help out a fellow bearcat- send me an email at AbbyExplores@gmail.com.

If, however, you realize that Peace Corps isn’t for you, Saint Vincent College has some great alternatives!  

Study Abroad.  This is a great way to travel and experience another culture, plus you’ll be able to cater the experience to your exact desires and goals.

Go on a Service Trip.  Saint Vincent College has several organized trips that are not only a great experience for you as the student, but also truly benefit the sites they visit.  Check with the Office of Service Learning for Upcoming Trips! 

Seek out a long term service project.  You'll develop a sense of community over the course of a semester or year, and you'll be able to see much deeper results from your work.  

Topics: study abroad, Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant

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In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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