Thursday, May 9, 2013

In the Beginning- Applying to Peace Corps

This post is for prospective Peace Corps volunteers that are trying to get an idea of what the application process is like and get an idea of the general time line for each step of the way. 
I remember the months of all the events but I don't remember exact dates so it's an approximation. If you are not interested in applying-this will probably be a somewhat boring post and you can just skip to the fun entries that will be up later.
The application process is kind of long but just stick with it. I've been told that one of the reasons that Peace Corps has a low acceptance rate is because so many people give up in the application process. It seems like a lot of hoops to jump through but it is spread over a long period of time and there is a prize at the end! 
I am an invitee leaving for Botswana August 14th as an HIV/AIDs Life Skills Coordinator. 

1)Research Peace Corps:
January 2012
My interest in the Peace Corps started as an accident. I was bogged down with school and turned to the internet for a little travel escapism. In the midst of plotting my pretend escape I started stumbling across vlogs for peace corps volunteers and I was intrigued. It took me about a month to decide that I wanted to do this for sure and in that time I started stalking Peace Corps blogs. First thing I found out (and that I can confirm) is that it takes about a year from the time you begin applying to the time you depart. This means that you need to start applying way ahead of when you want to leave. It's not really a pick up and go kind of thing.

2) The Application 
February 2012
The application took me about two weeks to finish. I breezed through the fill in the blank portion but got caught up in writing my essays and tracking down my recommendations. I filled out the online version (not sure if they even have a paper version any more) so it was mostly just pointing, clicking, confirming correct info. They want all of the usual info about previous jobs and schooling and then they want to know about a million more things. 
On top of regular work experience they want to know about any volunteering experience you have and they will probably ask you to volunteer more later on. They are also interested in any hobby you have EVER had for a significant portion of time. More experience will make you easier to place. I think most volunteers are usually qualified for 2 or 3 different job categories. This is how you can end up in a field that is outside your professional experience. I helped my mom in the garden growing up and raised veggies in college so this qualified me for an agriculture position despite the fact that I am an indoorsy, book worm who works mostly with kids. I'm not that great at growing things so luckily for everyone involved, that's not where I was placed.
You also need to tell them about your medical history and any current conditions (this is just the start of the medical screening so make sure you read through everything carefully-you don't want to have to go back). They have a list of conditions that will disqualify you for service so make sure you give that a thorough read through. To further illustrate that this isn't a normal job application you need to tell them about your romantic status and write a blurb about how you will deal with any relationships while serving.
My favorite part of the application was listing my region and job preferences. You get to pick your top three regions (Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, South Pacific, and Central America may have been in there). Africa was my top choice and I was lucky enough to get it. I was reading percentages somewhere and I think about 45% of volunteers end up in Africa so maybe I just had an easy preference to satisfy.
The last part of the application was essays. One of the prompts was to explain a cultural obstacle I overcame. I think the other was to explain why I wanted to join Peace Corps, how I would fulfill the 10 core expectations, what I thought I would do after Peace Corps. They weren't too hard once I finally started writing them. Be confident and make strong statements. Remember- this is a 2 year commitment and Peace Corps is going to be weeding out candidates that seem wishy washy. Also remember to proof read everything. Have friends proof read. Neighbors, relatives, strangers. 

3)The Interview
March 2012
I got an email within a couple of weeks to set up an interview. I lived about 45 minutes from a recruiter so it wasn't too hard to coordinate. If you are out of the country or in some remote area I have heard of them being done via Skype or telephone so don't let seclusion deter you. One big tip: Remember that it is a job interview and dress professionally. I have read about people going to interviews in ripped up jeans or hiking clothes. Yes, you may end up roughing it for your assignment but this is not one of the situations where you should dress for the job you want. Also remember that all of your emails and phone calls are with prospective employers! You will send a lot of emails and it may be tempting to just send one word replies or not spell check every once in a while…but don't. 
I had a very relaxed interview and I got along really well with my recruiter. It was about 2 hours long and a lot of it was elaborating on things I had talked about in my application. You should review your essays before hand to see if there is anything you want to highlight or clarify. The last part of my interview was just chatting with my recruiter about her service (they will most likely be a returned volunteer) and comparing tattoo stories. Overall-very pleasant.

4) Nomination
June 2012
I received my nomination for a health care sector job in Africa departing in March. A nomination is not your final assignment. It is just a notification that you are now being considered for a job in that category and region so your actual invitation may differ. 
Along with my nomination I had to sign a few papers verifying that I was going to study French and that my legal/medical status had not changed. A few weeks after that I filled out another medical form that was more in depth than the one in the application. 

5)The Second Interview
December 2012
After my nomination I had to wait quite a while before I heard anything else. I had to resist the urge to call them everyday and check in because there wasn't really anything for me to ask them. 

"Hi it's me, Anneliese. Are you still moving my paper work along? Kthanksbye!"-conversation I imagined every time I wanted to call and pester them. Its probably better to not pester them unless its been a really long time. Otherwise-be patient.

Then one day I randomly got a phone call asking for another interview. I said 'Okay. When?' and the guy on the phone said 'How about now?' I thought I was in trouble so I started feeling a little queasy but it was just the last phase before sending my invitation! They just had to double check my medical/legal status and make sure I was still interested. The conversation was about 20-30 minutes long.

6) Invitation
January 2013
A few days later I got my email assigning me to Uganda working with HIV impacted communities leaving in March. The email came with a welcome book, info for the country, and info on the job. Before accepting the position its important to look all of this over and to also do some outside research. I looked up the early termination rate (number of volunteers who leave early) and numbers of crime reported by volunteers. I also looked at state department warnings for Uganda. Nothing seemed alarming so I accepted my invitation (you have 10 days to accept before your offer is rescinded). If you decline an invitation because you are not happy with the assignment you can tell them. I'm not sure what the protocol is but I think if you have valid safety or medical concerns (i.e. NOT 'but I wanted to go to Guatemala so reassign me there please') they will try to reassign you. Again, I'm not sure what the practice is with this so you might want to do your own research on this if you want to decline.
Once I accepted I sent an updated resume and aspiration statement to the Uganda Peace Corps office.

At this point I was able to start connecting with other volunteers that were departing at the same time as me through Facebook. It was nice having other people to talk to about packing and the upcoming trip.

7) Medical Clearance
Early March 2013
Gaining medical clearance is the last, and most daunting, portion of the process before you actually leave the country and you have a month or so to complete it. You, your doctor, your dentist, and who ever else that gets sucked in, will have to fill out a whole heap of paper work. You need a full physical, TB test, country specific vaccinations, pap smear and pelvic exam for ladies, blood tests, eye exam and dental check. Peace corps reimburses a certain amount for each task and there are discounted medical providers for PCVs so that you can keep the cost down. I'm glad that I finally had an external motivation to get my teeth fixed but it was a pain in the butt. 
I ended up being a week late turning in all of my paperwork because I had to rerun some of my tests. I just had to check in with my Peace Corps nurse and explain what I was waiting on. 

I found out a few days after turning in the last of my results that I was not cleared for Uganda because I had a few irregular results that Peace Corps wanted to keep an eye on. I received the call from the nurse overseeing my application and then shortly after I received a call from my recruiter. He let me know that he would start looking for new assignments if I was still interested and that I would probably not leave until August or September.

8) Invitation Round 2
March 2013
I received a new email invitation for Botswana leaving in August. Did the same run through on safety as I did for Uganda and everything looked fine so I accepted the same day!

As you can see, if I had left for Uganda, it was about a year from application to departure.
There were a quite a few email interactions sending in new forms, verifying information, checking in, reassuring them again and again that you really want to do this. Just send in whatever they ask for in a timely manner and good luck to any prospective volunteers!

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