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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Email to Applicant

Just wrote this long response to a couple from NYC interested in applying. Since I spent so much time on it (they had a lot of questions), I figured I'd post it here:
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Hey, sorry for the delay- we've been crazy busy (things started picking up after swearing-in). Anyway, I'm glad to see someone read my stuff! Ok, so let me try to answer some of these questions.


Marriage:
-You're supposed to be married for a year before you can leave. We actually applied before we were married and they were happy to get the process moving. What happened, though, is that they waited until we were actually married to have the Interview, which was about a month after our wedding.
-We actually had a fantastic, small wedding in Central Park with about 80 people. Since you're wondering, though, the problem with having a wedding versus going to the courthouse is that we had to wait almost 2 months before receiving the marriage certificate from the City Clerk. (I think if you do it at the city chapel, you get the marriage certificate right away??) Peace Corps held our nomination until they had a copy of the actual certificate. In the end, however, this didn't matter because it still took about 8 months for us to be nominated. Regarding newlyweds, there are tons of newlyweds joining the PeaceCorps all the time, so I don't think they cared much- at least not on an official level.

One other issue regarding marriage that we didn't think about was our surnames. Stephanie kept her last name, and so Peace Corps has repeatedly thought we were two separate people. When we arrived at Orientation, they had us in separate rooms! Our APCD, too, had us in separate home-stays, apartments, etc. Ridiculous right?? That's the PC, though. I obviously wouldn't make the decision based on this, but just be prepared for confusion.

Process:
We didn't really attend any informational meetings, but we did read a couple books: Nine Hills to Nambonkawa, So You Want to Join the PC? (highly recommended), as well as literature from the PC office, online, and blogs. We did attend a couple events in the NYC area that were held by RPCVs. I remember one that was about writing in the Peace Corps that made us aware of some of the sites out there and the rules for blogging. (btw, check out http://www.peacecorpswiki.com, if you haven't already, and PeaceCorps2 is a great Yahoo group).

Timeline:
We thought we would leave within a year, but the process for couples is a bit longer. (However, most of the other volunteers here in Grenada took over a year.) It especially felt long during the 8 month period before we were nominated because we heard almost nothing about it. Every month or so, I'd email the recruiter (who wasn't very helpful) and would get short responses back, seemingly bothered by our persistence. Don't worry about that, though, because if you don't bother them you may never hear anything, ever.

Also regarding the timeline, don't tell ANYONE you applied until you get nominated. Ok, maybe your parents. But seriously, it only added to our anxiety when everyone was- naturally- asking for updates once a week. You won't know anything for quite some time, so there's nothing to tell your friends, co-workers, and relatives anyway. After nomination, too, you'll be around for another 7 months or so to answer questions.

Training:
Training was tremendously different than what I imagined. I expected that we might be split up since we have different jobs, and I imagined us living far from where our assignments would be (ie. in the capital). That may be so in Africa and such, but in the Eastern Caribbean, the countries are super tiny. Ideally we were supposed to be living with a host family in the actual community we were assigned for 2 years. (We weren't, but many of the others were.) Hence, you get to know people in the community before anything even starts. During training, too, (and I believe this is worldwide) once a week you: work in a school, shadow someone in your field of work (to learn the general work culture), and (at least in the EC) go to your assigned work site. So training was only 2 or 3 days a week, for 7 weeks. We were even encouraged to start projects if they presented themselves.

In general, too, training was incredibly boring and, at times, painful to get through. From the PC stance, there may be people with only a high-school diploma (though rare), so they have to include very basic stuff just in case. For instance, Stephanie has a Master's degree in Special-Ed and 4 years teaching experience, but she still had to sit through sessions on managing classrooms and making lesson plans. Same thing with a guy on St. Kitts who had a PhD in psychology and 20 years experience in domestic violence counseling. They simply don't tailor the curriculum to anyone's qualifications.

Placement:
We didn't even realize the Peace Corps was in the EC (though they have since 1961). The thing about this region- and Grenada in particular- is that it's pretty well developed. There are plenty of issues (domestic violence, poor educational system, etc.), but they're way beyond basic need fulfillment. Our house is very nice, and totally different than the yurt in Mongolia we originally imagined. That said, you may very well end up in such a place. This was just our experience and everyone's is different.

Also, there's a rumor that if you request a place (for instance, Latin America), you would be purposefully sent somewhere else. Not sure how it works, but you're supposed to be willing to go anywhere. And for couples, I think it's just wherever they can find a community requesting your two different skills and backgrounds (which can be very hard to do).

So, the bottom line is that you should apply right away, since it takes so long for couples, but don't tell anyone you applied until you get nominated. And keep reading and asking questions, but know that the experience is different for everyone.

Hope all this helped, and feel free to ask me anything else. I'm sure you'll be great assets to the PC, and I wish you the best of luck! You won't regret the decision, I promise.

-JH