How can I be a competitive Peace Corps Volunteer applicant?

Hello stonecldfox,

It’s no bother! No need to apologize for asking questions. Currently I’m sitting in my house eating a block of cheese and waiting for a local friend to take me to visit other friends in a different village. She said we were leaving almost 2 hours ago, so it looks like my day is going to finish with lots of sitting around… I also need to bake bread, so there’s an activity for the day. (Cheese sandwiches are far superior to just cheese.)

Wow, where are you volunteering? What led you to the decision to take a year off to go do that? Are you just finishing up now, or will you be starting this next year?

I took a semester off the middle of my college years because I had no idea why I was there and couldn’t get myself to do any of the work. After just those few months I did return because sitting in class was better than dealing with Christmas returns at Toys-R-Us. I don’t regret going back because having a 4 year degree is what allowed me to teach in Japan after graduating and then come here to do Peace Corps. But, if I could go back I would have waited longer to figure out why I was in university and just what it was I wanted to study.

I think the short answer to your question is, it doesn’t really matter what you major in. Just do something you really like and are passionate about. Think about how you spend your free time—what are the things you’re doing instead of completing that meta-analysis search for articles on the relationship between percentage of nitrogen in soil and the height of bean plants? (Maybe that is what you’re doing in your free time and if so…cool.) Don’t make university even more of a burden by not caring what you’re studying.

For Peace Corps in specific, your degree with help direct what sector you are placed in. I studied communication and had 2+ years of TEFL experience, so it was obvious that I would teach English. But, if your major is say Psychology, you could potentially end up in health, business or education (or agriculture, youth development or a few other sectors not in Kyrgyzstan). Your Peace Corps recruiter will look at not only your degree but your experience as well for deciding where you will be a great fit. Don’t be afraid to say what you want to do for 2 years of your life and communicate where you think your skills and interests would fit well in your interview.

I should mention again that Peace Corps has just undergone a big overhaul in how they place volunteers and now I think you apply for specific sectors in specific countries.

Remember too that once you get to your site, you will find all kinds of cross-sector projects that need help getting off the ground. You can really get involved in almost anything you like so don’t worry about getting “stuck” doing a specific task you don’t like for 2 years.

For the international experience question, one year is a lot. Recruiters are looking for that kind of experience rather than a three-week vacation in the Bahamas. But then again, it depends on what you do with your time. If you spend a year lying on the beach, it would be better experience to have spent three weeks teaching youth leadership skills at a community organization overseas somewhere. Peace Corps wants to know that you can be flexible, adaptable, open to change and have a willingness to do whatever needs to be done, growing and honing your skills all while integrating into a different culture. Call up a Peace Corps recruiter and ask these questions as well. They will have good advice for you too.

So, it sounds like you’re doing the right things! Keep loving it!

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