Why You Should (And Why You Shouldn’t) Join the Peace Corp

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 11, 2020

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Traveling overseas can be stressful. Being away from your home country is more isolating than it might sound initially. But it takes a certain amount of courage to travel abroad serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Each year the Peace Corps get anywhere from 15,000 to 18,000 applications to serve.

You might have visions of a trip across Africa where your do-good attitude will help children learn English or get access to necessary tools to improve their quality of life. And while you will accomplish incredible things during your time in the Peace Corps, it’s not an easy trip or sacrifice to make.

If you’re looking for a rewarding experience and not afraid of putting in the hard work, the Peace Corps might be the right journey for you. However, it’s important that you understand all the different nuances of joining the Peace Corps and consider whether you’re ready to make the commitment.

What Is the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps is an independent agency formed on March 1, 1961. The volunteer program is run by the United States government and is a system that provides international social and economic development assistance. Signed into motion by John F. Kennedy and authorized by Congress in September, this organization has had over 235,000 American volunteers who have served in 141 countries.

Volunteers of the Peace Corps are typically American citizens with a college degree. The commitment to this organization is two years of volunteer work abroad, after three months of training. Overseas volunteers will spend their time working with foreign governments, schools, non-profits, and non-government organizations. They can also be recruited to help entrepreneurs in education, youth development, community health, agriculture, and more.

10 Reasons to Join the Peace Corps

  1. Student loan forgiveness. According to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, volunteers are eligible for federal student loan forgiveness after 120 months of payment. The Peace Corps allows those who qualify for an income-driven repayment plan, Pay as You Earn, Income-Based Repayment, or Income Contingent Repayment, to have no student loan payments for two years during their service due to their low income during their volunteer period.

    Volunteers who do not qualify for an income-driven repayment plan can choose to defer making loan payments until their service is done. This is available under a financial hardship provision. Once their service is complete, they would make 120 payments based on the income following their service period.

  2. Further education opportunities. Volunteers can pursue further education during their service period, such as master’s degrees from over 90 universities throughout the United States during their service. There are a variety of schools to choose from, including Arizona State University, Boston University, Clemson, Cornell, Duke, Purdue, Rutgers, and Texas A&M.

    Volunteers may also be eligible for the Paul D. Coverdale Fellows program for graduate degrees. This can arm individuals with loans, tuition reduction, paid internships, and housing assistance to obtain a graduate degree of their choosing. This is typically lifetime eligibility.
    Additionally, during the initial two to three-month training, volunteers will receive education in the local language and culture of the country in which they are serving. This is a huge asset to add to your resume once the volunteer period is up.

  3. More career opportunities. Work within the Peace Corps arms volunteers with unique skills you may not find anywhere else, which allows them to stand out as candidates for jobs. Volunteers will have proved their ability to overcome challenges during their time in the program, setting them apart from other candidates.

    A variety of alumni have secured jobs such as the CEO and Founder of Netflix, the Chairman of the Board of Levi Strauss, authors, reporters, and other equally impressive jobs.

  4. Living expenses. During their time during the Peace Corps, volunteers will receive housing and living stipends to live similarly to those they serve. These facilities are typically not what those in the United States are accustomed to. However, this truly allows volunteers to experience life in these countries as the locals do.

    Living conditions will vary based on your location. You could live in a mud house in Africa or a local housing unit in China. Either way, you’ll know that your living expenses are covered and are not a burden for you during your time in the Peace Corps.

  5. Benefits. Volunteers will receive full medical coverage during their time in the Peace Corps, including medical insurance and dental benefits. This covers primary care, hospitalization, medical evacuation, prescriptions, and more. You’ll be equipped with a medical officer for each post you serve.

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    Volunteers receive time off, typically two vacation days each month. Many will use this time to travel around their host countries or neighboring countries.

  6. Reallocation and Resignation Adjustment Funds. Upon returning to the United States, volunteers will receive a cash payment of $8,000 for their reallocation back to life in the United States. There aren’t restrictions on the use of funds, but it will hold over volunteers as they get back into the workforce, find housing, and settled back into life in the US.

    When you join the Peace Corps, you are not obligated to serve for two years without any way of resigning. Volunteers can resign from their service at any point and can return home with 72 hours of their resignation. However, this makes you ineligible for the readjustment allowance.

  7. Making a difference. No matter where or when you serve, volunteers have three main goals. Two of them focus on cultural exchange, and one relates to development in your host country. Volunteers will succeed with at least one of the three areas, either through making strong relationships or education.

    You are contributing to world peace by educating or being educated yourself. You may also make a more tangible difference, such as tweaking farming methods, building a school, advocating for women’s health, or helping children achieve their full potential.

  8. Further yourself and grow. Joining and participating in the Peace Corps is hard work. You’ll need to figure out the basics of the local culture, language, where to go for certain things, and more. However, getting out of your cultural comfort zone is a great way to make sure you grow as an individual and open your eyes to the world outside of the United States.

  9. Safety nets. With the Peace Corps behind you, if something goes wrong or you require assistance for something that feels daunting, you will have the organization behind you. The Peace Corps has a medical staff, training procedures, safety and security officers, and more.

  10. New friends. The Peace Corps service is a two-year-long program with three months of training before you travel at all. When you relocate to your post, you will be with a variety of other individuals experiencing the same thing. You’ll likely form strong bonds and lifelong friendships during this period.

10 Reasons Why You May Not Want to Join the Peace Corps

  1. Isolation. Volunteers are typically serving alone in remote areas that are often hard to access. You may be in a place where even digital communication is hard to come by, making you feel depressed or isolated.

    Loneliness and isolation from those you love the most can be tough for people to process and make this already difficult journey even harder. Depending on your situation, you may be the sole volunteer on any given post.

  2. Culture shock. Volunteers must be prepared for the huge culture shift they will experience in the Peace Corps. Unlike America, many of these areas are impoverished, and the difference between life in America and a developing nation can be almost unbelievable and sometimes traumatic.

    For example, something like basic hygiene may be significantly different from what Americans are accustomed to. Water accessibility may be difficult and require treatment before consumption. Food can cause harm to your body. Living conditions can be poor, strangers may not respect your cultural norms, and you may be in close company with reptiles and bugs.

  3. Minimal supervision. Volunteers are expected to work independently with little intervention by the Peace Corps office, except for emergencies. After three months of training, volunteers will be expected to do their job without supervision.

    This means that you’re in charge of your own success and that you may be unable to control others’ behavior. Lack of direction is a big complaint from other volunteers who have served in the past, with the caveat that it was worth their time spent in the Peace Corps.

  4. Harassment. Depending on where you’re posted, you may be required to serve in a male-dominated country. If you are a woman, differences in gender relations is a difficult pill to swallow.

    You are more likely to experience sexual assault, even if you are a man. Although the Peace Corps tries its best to include sexual assault risk reduction in their training, there’s little they can do to ensure this doesn’t happen.

  5. Lengthy approval period. Being a volunteer isn’t as easy as just signing up and hopping on a plane. Becoming a volunteer is complicated and requires an extensive application, with access to your medical history. If your initial application is approved, you’ll be invited for an interview, and within six months, you may receive approval to become a volunteer.

  6. Reality bites. You may have big dreams for your time in the Peace Corps. However, your grand plan of changing the world may not pan out exactly as you imagined. It doesn’t mean your work isn’t meaningful; it just means you need to realign your expectations for what you’re looking to get out of your time as a Peace Corps volunteer.

  7. Success looks different. Your measure of success might not look like what you’re accustomed to. Accomplishing something in another culture might take longer than you imagined, or your goals may feel smaller than you envisioned. You might need to readjust your expectations for success.

  8. It won’t give you purpose. If you’re disappointed with your life or uncertain of what you want to do with your life, joining the Peace Corps is typically not the answer. It’s a great choice when you’re finishing school and have time and freedom, but you shouldn’t join just because you have nothing better to do. It’s a big commitment, and you need to decide if you’re up for the challenge.

  9. Separation anxiety. Psychological hardships are one of the biggest issues to overcome as a Peace Corps volunteer. Between being isolated and approached as an outsider in the country you’ll reside in, you can face mental health trauma. Without your comforts or support network within reach, this can truly take a toll on your psyche.

  10. Minimal pay. Don’t expect to be making bank when you join the Peace Corps. Your pay will be minimal, typically only enough to cover your basic needs. If you’re looking to save money during this period in your life, the Peace Corps is not the place for you.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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