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Peace Corps Volunteer FAQ

Getting into the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Stories Section:

Main Page (Introduction and Contents)

PCV FAQ, questions about my experience and the Peace Corps in general

I Was (Almost) Tattooed by Headhunters

Quentin, the World Traveler

Stalking Extremely Small Game

The Christians and the Pagans

We Visit the Land Dayaks


Maps of Malaysia and Sarawak

Related Sections:
Pictures of Sarawak
Peace Corps Links
Sarawak Links

Other Sections:
Christmas News Letters
Misc. Essays
Web Design

This is page 3 of 6. If you came here directly from a search engine, you should read the introduction at the top of the Main FAQ Page. This page has these questions:

Q: What sort of qualifications does the Peace Corps want?

You can join right out of high school if you have a skill you are really good at and can teach - like farming or small engine repair. Note I said "Teach", not "do". The PC is big on "Give a man a fish, he'll be hungry the next day; teach a man to fish and he will feed his family for the rest of his life." So, just knowing how to do something isn't usually enough; you have to be able to teach it.

89% of all PCVs have a degree. The other 11% have a lot of experience. Your chances are much better with a degree.

Q: How difficult is it to get in the Peace Corps?

They take about half of all applicants these days.

The biggest factor is how many host countries have asked for the skills you have. All the motivation, desire and spirit in the world won't help if, for instance, you are a butcher, a baker or a candle-stick maker and the host countries want English teachers, nurses and civil engineers.

Talk to a recruiter, in your area (most large cities have one) or via the 1-800 number on the
Official Peace Corps Web Site
Most people with a BA can teach English. You may have other skills that a country has asked for.

Q: What is the Peace Corps interview like?

The big one is "Why do you want to work for us?", just like any job interview. The interviewer will be friendly. They want to weed out idealists with no skills and skilled people with no ideals.

If you are, say, a teacher, the answer to "Why?" will be more important than if you were interviewing at five different school districts in your county.

They will probably ask you if you have a boyfriend / girlfriend and how he / she feels about you leaving for two years. Two people in my training group of 30+ left during training because they could not bear the separation.

They are going to want to see if you would be a good fit with the PC; it is better for them and for you if they can eliminate problems early.

Q: Any advice for potential Peace Corps Volunteers?

Try for a country with a reasonably honest government. You'll be working for them, and if their main goal is to keep 90% of the wealth in 10% of the hands, you will be doomed to failure.

Try for a specific job, like nursing or teaching or farm advising. "Community Development" means you'll lack focus, IMHO.

Q: How can I best prepare myself to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?

The best way would be to graduate from college with a degree in Civil Engineering with an emphasis on sewage and water systems. 500,000 children die every year because they catch a disease from their water. You could save a couple of thousand lives. It would be a long, slow process, but extremely rewarding. I taught English. Two of my former students now have PhD's and write to me. Their parents were slash-and-burn farmers who only wore shoes for festivals. That is rewarding. I didn't save anyone's life.

Q: What does the Corps look for in an applicant?

Assuming you have a skill that Costa Rica or Malawi has asked for, (see above) they look to see if you can survive in a world with no take-out pizza or cable TV; in some cases, no electricity or running water. (Or maybe running bath and drinking water but an outhouse.)

Closely related to that but not quite the same, they look to see if you will be comfortable in a culture that isn't like your own. Different food, different attitudes towards women, children and animals, different body alterations, etc. (If you have piercings, you are strongly urged to get rid of them. My generation had to shave and get a haircut.)

There will be more of them than there are of you. Your job is to teach / nurse / advise, not change their culture. You will have to accept the fact that they, for instance, see nothing wrong in staging a cockfight.

If you have a piercing, you will have to conform to the fact that they think anyone who has an eyebrow stud is a stupid, lazy, degenerate, drug-addicted freak who should not come within 300 yards of respectable people. You could spend 60 hours a week trying to convince people that wasn't true, but your teaching, nursing or engineering work would suffer.

It isn't fair; you are not allowed to campaign against cockfighting but you have to take out your eyebrow stud. If you can't accept that sort of uneven situation, you probably won't be a good candidate.

Q: What are the pros and cons of going into the Peace Corps between college and graduate school?

Some of the pros are that you will be able to practice the occupation you trained for in college, you'll learn about another country, you'll learn about yourself, you'll have a lifetime's worth of stories.

Some of the cons are intestinal parasites, the fact you may get out of the groove as far as writing term papers and taking classes, and the attitude towards American women that many people in the third world have.

[The first question on page 3 is What problems do women Peace Corps Volunteers have?]

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This page updated: June 20, 2014