I am still figuring out what I want to do with my life and this twenty-something quest has led me to look at the paths of others for inspiration. The Peace Corps is one such path that is often used for humor or sarcasm in today’s world. However, I wanted to get some real perspective on it from someone who has actually contemplated and completed the application process. Nicky is one of my high school friends. She leaves in the next couple of weeks to teach English in Indonesia. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation...
Question: What factors should someone consider if they want to join the Peace Corps? I imagine it is a very personal decision.
Nicky: I’ve talked to a lot of people who know immediately the Peace Corps is not for them. Being away for that long is not for them. Living in a foreign country … is not for them.
I think the time frame is a big deal; it's three months of training, and then two years of wherever you’re posted. That's a big time commitment, and you really have to be ready for that. You could leave in the middle of the two years to visit home, but the Peace Corps wants you to stick it out there because you need that time to bond with your community to make the full effect on the community. You need a good amount of time for that. I think you need to be a little bit on the adventurous side. It's a big jump to make.
I think some people think, ‘I could never do that; I would never be brave enough.’ If you ever thought about it, you should give yourself more credit then you are because [you can join the Peace Corps.] For me, it’s a great opportunity, and it's a great thing to try. Learning more about different cultures … can only benefit us.
Question: Can you please walk through your decision-making process? How did you go from just thinking about the Peace Corps to filling out an application?
Nicky: The first time, I heard about the Peace Corps, I was a sophomore in college. I have wavered back and forth about joining since then. The Peace Corps sounded cool maybe that's something I'll do. I want to teach, and I want to travel. The Peace Corps combines these two things, and then I stuck it in the back of my head for a long time.
I studied abroad in Shanghai for a few months, I learned new languages and was engulfed in a different culture... I felt really at home and really happy to be traveling and learning. That's when the Peace Corps became a real thing for me. The more research I did, the more it seemed like something I could get into.
It's a very long process. I applied over a year ago. There is a written application and two interviews. It is not something that happens overnight. So, you really do need to be dedicated and ready for the long haul. I started going to informational meetings. I heard how much returned volunteers loved serving. My desire to join the Peace Corps really just blossomed into what it is today.
Question: What have you been doing to prepare yourself for the Peace Corps? I imagine it's going to change you in some way?
Nicky: I actually started to think about that a lot recently. It's scary because you don’t fully know how the experience is going to affect you. Think about yourself two years ago; you are a totally different person. We are at a time in our lives where we are changing so rapidly. The change is for the better. It's weird to think about what I will come home to. My brother will get older. My younger cousins will grow up. Everyone will grow up and do things with their lives. The freakiest thing for me is time is going to go by when I am gone.
Taking everyone's advice and love…and being ready to take it all with me. My family is just crazy supportive about the whole process. My parents have been great. It is starting to freak my mom out a little bit I think as we get closer to my departure. Both my parents have been great. Their support makes it more exciting.
Question: Do you have any advice for people who are considering joining the Peace Corps, but are not sure how to explain it to their families?
Nicky: I think the best moment for me was when someone said to my mom, ‘you're letting her go?’ My mom’s response was, ‘she is a grown woman. I can't let her not do anything.’ There is a sense of respect [between my family and me that I am an adult. I can make my own choices. Everyone has their own reasons for joining the Peace Corps. Tell them yours.