Has the idea of joining the Peace Corps ever crossed your mind? Although it’s not for everybody, there are certainly many possibilities for those who might enjoy servicing the world in this way. The Peace Corps was established in 1961 by John F. Kennedy as a way to service other countries while representing Americans in positive light and introducing American citizens to other cultures.
Although many people like the idea of making a difference and traveling abroad, joining the Peace Corps is no small commitment. Volunteers agree to 24 months of service, including 3 months of in-country training in 139 countries across the globe. Once trained, a volunteer will be involved in one of six program areas: Education, Youth and Community Development, Health, Business and Information & Communication Technology, Agriculture, or the Environment.
Although the idea of being a part of this may sound intimidating, there are some substantial benefits in doing this kind of work. Some organizations charge participants money to volunteer, but this opportunity is free of charge. Living expenses, transportation and in-country support are all paid for and a regular stipend is provided. In fact, volunteers with student loans can have Stafford, Perkins, direct and consolidated loans deferred or partially cancelled. Volunteers get two vacation days per month, a total of 48 days for the two years of service. If there is a family emergency, volunteers have access to free transportation back home. Once a volunteer is done serving, they are provided with adjustment funds and have employment advantages in many different kinds of federal positions.
If you are planning on joining after graduation, here’s what you should know:
You have to be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old to apply, but you don’t have to have any particular major or certification (although 90 percent of volunteers have undergraduate degrees). The process of joining Peace Corps includes an application, interview, nomination, medical and legal review, placement suitability and skill review, then an invitation and departure to your location. It is recommended that you apply 9 months to a year in advance of when you’d like to participate.
Keep in mind these highly sought after skill combinations:
- Agriculture economics with or without a foreign language
- Forestry with French
- Environment with Spanish
- Agriculture with Spanish or French
- TEFL or TESL certification with classroom teaching (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
- Teaching credential (BA/BS)
If you do not possess these specific skill combinations you can make yourself a more competitive applicant by teaching English abroad, gaining experience in agriculture or educating yourself on health related issues through volunteer work. For more information check out the Peace Corps website at http://www.peacecorps.gov/.
If the idea of Peace Corps sounds a little overwhelming, but you are interested in volunteering, here are some alternatives to the Peace Corps:
- Teaching Overseas: the Matador Network has a fantastic series of blog posts on teaching English abroad
- AmeriCorps: a 10 month to a year time commitment and participants receive $4,725 towards their student loans
- Domestic & abroad alternatives to Peace Corps
- Find other volunteer abroad opportunities