Home > Peace Corps > FAQ > Being a Peace Corps Volunteer

Peace Corps Volunteer FAQ

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer

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 4 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 problems do women Peace Corps Volunteers have?

Many third world citizens get their knowledge of our customs through TV and movies. Their tastes run to special effects and buxom blondes - in that, ordinary Kenyans and Peruvians are no different than ordinary Americans. In the movies, James Bond looks over his martini glass, raises one eyebrow at the blond knockout, and in the next scene he's in bed with her. Many third-world men think that's all you have to do to have sex with American women. (Some people in Iowa think that's all you have to do to have sex with women in California.)

In a searing exposé that aired January 14, 2011, ABC's "20/20" said that just over 44,000 women had served in the Peace Corps in the decade (2000 - 2010), and more than 1,000 of these women reported being raped or sexually abused. The stories ranged from being dragged into an alley and gang-raped to what we'd call "date rape". The Peace Corps, according to "20/20" doesn't make that statistic public, and, in some cases, tries to cover up the rape. Current and former PCVs were shocked and appalled.

Q: Is the Peace Corps intensive training difficult?

I learned two languages - Malay and Iban - enough to get along. I learned Hokkien later on my own.

We had language lessons 4 hours a day, six days a week for 6 weeks, except for Wednesday afternoon, when we had shots. After that I practice taught in the morning and had language lessons in the afternoon, for four weeks.

It was hard. Boring at times, interesting at times.

We lost about 25% of our original group during training due, in no particular order, to:

  • Realizing change was a glacial process and one PCV wasn't going to speed it up much
  • Inability to adjust to the culture
  • The girl he left behind
  • General homesickness, not romantic entanglements

If you can graduate from a decent University, you can learn another language, and you can complete a Peace Corps training course.

Q: Is the Peace Corps dangerous?

I taught English and English Literature. It wasn't dangerous. It wasn't pain-free, either.

I had food poisoning, with cramps, diarrhea and nausea, two or three times. I passed a 27-inch intestinal parasite a year after I came back. (The parasite was just interesting, not painful.)

When I was cutting pegs to lay out the lanes for a track meet, my machete slipped. The ones in Borneo are pointed. It dug a cube of meat about as big as a chickpea out of my leg.

One of our girl shot-putters shouted "Watch out" a bit too late at track and field practice, and an 8-pound shot hit me in the shoulder. (Track and Field accounted for most of my injuries.) It didn't break anything, but sometimes at night it aches.

I still have faint scars from leech bites that got infected while I was walking in the jungle on a week's vacation.

You can't buy memories like that!

Q: Any advice for serving Peace Corps Volunteers?

Brush your teeth religiously. In the USA you get some natural brushing every time you eat a good crisp apple or a raw carrot. Over there you'll be cooking everything except bananas and tangerines. Our school treated the staff to tea with sugar in it and cookies every morning at 10:30 am. I had 3 cavities after the first semester. I started brushing with just water in the staff bathroom right after elevenses. It helped.

Q: Is there anything like Peace Corps but not as long?

There are, but expect to pay them, not receive a living allowance. As an extreme example, if there was a school house in Peru that needed painting, it would make more sense to hire a crew of Peruvians to do it than to fly you down there for two weeks. If you want to drop in and fly back after a couple of months, you will be limited in what you can do. The PC training (Language, culture, history and vocational skills) takes three months. So, if you go somewhere for a short time, you'll either have to go to a place where you already speak the language, or hope someone there speaks English.

Q: Can you do the Peace Corps for just a few months?

It should be two years.

The PC will spend quite a bit of time and money training you to be a good volunteer - three months of language, history and culture, plus vocational training. They (and the country that is hosting you) want a decent return on their investment. The school, clinic or department you are working for wants some stability. You are free to leave at any time (See below). One person in my training group didn't get off the plane after it landed in Kuala Lumpur. If you leave early you don't get the benefits and for the rest of your life you will know that you let people down. You may have had a teacher who left in the middle of the school year. That's the sort of feeling your host country will have about you.

On the bright side, the two years are full of new and exciting experiences, so they zip by. When you are 22, 2 years is 1/11th of your life, so it seems like a long time. When you are 60, 2 years is 1/30th of your life. Do you remember how fast your junior and senior years of high school went by? Imagine you were doing something useful, in a foreign country.

There are hundreds of other volunteer organizations that accept shorter terms; the Student Conservation Association, for instance. You spend six weeks working to make a National park a nicer place.

Many churches have deals whereby you and a group fly somewhere (at your expense) to paint an orphanage or repair a church.

Most of the short-term volunteer opportunities cost you or your sponsors money. The PC does not.

Q: Can I leave early?

Yes; you can leave at any time. One person in my group didn't get off the plane that took us to our country. Six out of the original 36 in my group went back during training. One left after a school year. The rest stayed for the whole two years.

The PC will even fly you home. The only restriction is that you can't dilly-dally on your way home; you must go back in 3 days or less, or pay your own way. If you serve your full term, the Peace Corps gives you the cash equivalent of a regular-class airline ticket home and you can go home as slowly as you like. Several people in my group went home through India and Europe, instead of flying back across the Pacific.

Q: How much does the Peace Corps pay?

It varies with the country. They call it a "Living allowance". You live at a modest scale. It is higher in countries where the standard of living is higher, lower where it is lower. When I was a PCV, 30 years ago, it was $110 (US) a month, which put me in the lower middle class. I taught at a high school. I made about as much as my fellow (new) teachers.

You won't have color TV or cable. You may have a laundry lady, oddly enough. In the country I served, people with a regular cash income were expected to share with those who didn't have it, usually by hiring someone to cook, clean, do laundry or garden. (Not all of the above; I paid a woman to do my laundry and would sometimes "hire" a student who was short of cash to hoe weeds.) You don't starve - I could go out to the equivalent of Denny's once or twice a week for lunch or dinner. I worked my way through college and I didn't own a car in high school or college, so not going to fancy French restaurants or having a car was not a change.

Problems, comments or complaints? Need an opinion? Send E-mail to:
This page updated: June 20, 2014