I have wanted to do Peace Corps (PC) since I was a child. I first learned of PC through my father and his colleagues. They all work in international agricultural research and many of them are Return Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). As I got older, my interest in environment, conservation and agriculture became more pronounced and I am sure it was my father who first put the idea in my head to join.
Yet from the moment I was eligible, it took another decade for it to become reality. I had all kinds of apprehensions and doubts: “What did I have to offer? Who am I to teach anything? I do not have any life or work experience!” Sometime in my late teens / early twenties, I started an application (a couple times, I think) and never completed it. It was not user friendly, confusing and long (not the case as of Summer 2014!)but regardless, I was not satisfied with whatever it was I wrote. The only way I can ease my dismay at not having done this earlier in life is simply that, I was not ready.
There are only two requirements to be eligible to apply to PC:
- minimum 18 years old and
- must be an American citizen.
I admire greatly the Americans who have done and are doing PC fresh out of college – they are full of confidence, enthusiasm and are willing to rough it. All features of the much talked about ‘millennial’ (even though 21/22 year olds have been doing PC since the sixties). Although technically, I am one too, I do still remember life without internet, Nintendo 64 and Dr Quinn Medicine Woman.
I have met people who think fresh college graduate volunteers make bad volunteers because they have no life experience, “know nothing” and like to party. This is an unfair generalization to make – thankfully it is only an opinion.
I cannot stress the importance of knowing whether you are ready and able to serve. What it boils down to, is knowing yourself. One of my best friends also wants a career in international development. When I suggested PC to her she replied, “Oh, no. I like my comfort too much.” She was honest with herself about what she was not willing to give up.
PC is hard: you are away from all that is familiar, thrown into a group of strangers, arrive in a country that speaks a language you do not, food is different and most likely does things to your digestive system you did not think were possible, you have to learn a language with sounds that are awkward to form, cultural norms are a 180 degree flip from what you are used to…I could go on but you get my point.
Finally, in 2014, I knew it was my time to do PC. It was a now or never. I was single, have no dependents and was not getting jobs in the sector I wanted. While living in Washington, DC, I quickly learned that to get into agricultural development and have any mobility within, one had to at least have a Master’s degree. Law degrees do not count.
I promised myself I would apply before 2014 was up. I submitted my application at about 5pm on December 31, 2014. On the line, but hey, promise kept. By February I knew I was being considered for interview for a spot in Ghana, departuring in October 2015. By April, I had my interview scheduled and the next day I received my invitation. I was ecstatic! I cried! It was a dream come true! And relieved I did not have to wait any longer wondering ‘if’ (I could have been waiting until June to know). My interviewer had the perfect game face – she gave nothing away. I could not tell if she thought I would make a good volunteer. October rolled around fast but such are DC summers – over in the blink of an eye. It was a clean and neat process for me. I know not all are so lucky, so hang in there, persevere.
We all gathered in Crystal City, Virginia for orientation to depart from Dulles International Airport. It was easy to pick out who else was a Peace Corps Trainee: loaded with rucksacks, grins and not dressed for Autumn, which had decided to arrive in the DMV area that weekend. As I am sure most are, my group is diverse in ethnicity, work and life experience, education ( no, not all of us have agricultural degrees) and personality. We are Peace Corps Ghana, Agriculture 2015 – 2017, also known as the PCpieces.