One vivid memory I have from my childhood was seeing public service announcements on TV about the Peace Corps. It sounded so exciting working in a foreign country and helping those in need. I remembered the Peace Corps’ tagline “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.”
President John F. Kennedy issued and signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. His brother-in-law Sargent Shriver became its first director that same year. This was likely based on JFK’s iconic inauguration speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Now fast forward to the school year of 1996-1997 when I was about to graduate from the University of Tampa.
There was a Peace Corps recruiter on campus. I picked up the literature and got excited about applying. Little did I know what it would entail and how long the application process would eventually take (anywhere from 6 months to a year). Simultaneously I was also applying to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). One excellent benefit about the Peace Corp is there isn’t an age limit. In the JET Program there’s an age-limit that I had slightly exceeded. I wanted to go into both programs for very different reasons.
Even though the internet was not anywhere as mainstream back in the mid-to-late ’90s, you still applied the old-fashioned way via paperwork and snail mail. During my own research I came upon one disturbing problem with Peace Corp volunteers. There were reports of female volunteers being raped. Of course I addressed this to my recruiter who simply gave me the standard spiel “We do not place Peace Corps volunteers in unsafe environments.” At the time it satisfied me, but I still felt uncomfortable.
Be aware you will have to fill out, and if you’re considered into the program by your recruiter, go for a thorough and complete medical and dental examination. Once all the paperwork is in order and a medical team looks at your examinations, you’ll get an invitation into the Peace Corp. When you accept, your date of departure will be extremely brief like in a few weeks. I had a real issue with this as I was wanting some more time. At least with the JET Program everything was laid out with dates, your specific duties, and your assigned city.
Jamaica was to be the country I’d serve in. My primary job duty was to be a social worker. One thing I was told by my recruiter is you’ll be asked to do other duties like dig ditches or help with farming or any other similar task. The reason they are concerned about your physical health is you’ll not have access to the same type of medical care you’re use to in the U.S. One thing I was not warned about, and only found this out during the invitation phase, was about the duties of a social worker. The placement officer stated it has the highest burnout rate. Interesting my recruiter never mentioned it to me.
In my opinion the Peace Corps is ideal for someone who can speak another foreign language, has a trade skill (carpentry, agriculture, construction, and woodworking) or an occupation in the medical and education fields. You’re likely to have a more fulfilling job duty and be placed in an ideal country with better living conditions. For the right individual this is the toughest application process and job you may ever love.