Thursday, June 9, 2011

Will I Join Peace Corps?

This question has come up numerous times throughout my college career. As I have specialized in International Development, hold a deep love of travel, and have done a variety of service (domestic) trips in addition to my Kenya experience, Peace Corps seems to be the natural step. Multiple friends and professors have done it and my year in Americorps will make me more competitive for a stint in Peace Corps. Peace Corps not only gives one the opportunity to give back, it includes tons of benefits such as non-competitive entry for government job applications, loan forgiveness, and the possibility of scholarships for grad school, as well as a sizable readjustment package. I'd be silly not to jump on it, right?


While I am not completely ruling out Peace Corps, I have several reasons to hesitate before completing an application. One, I do not get to pick the region I go to. While that's not always a bad thing, I tend to change my mind about where I'd want to go to. Right now, I've got an Africa bias, especially toward Kenya. Or, I might want to go to some place in Latin America for a change and to finally put eight years of Spanish to the test. Peace Corps, however, could decide (for whatever reason) to send me to Micronesia, Eastern Europe or something. Also, I'd rather be in a city, especially if it's a country I've never been to before, but I would have no say in that either. Granted, I like the idea of trotting off to some remote place in the world, but if I am going to do work there, work that involves the quality of life for some people, I wouldn't want to go without prior knowledge of the area and at least minimal language skills.

Two, I started the application before ending up in a serious relationship. Now, before anyone says anything, I am not putting my relationship before my career and aspirations and I did make a willingness to travel a deal breaker in mine. However, while other organizations are OK with taking on an unmarried couple (maybe with prohibitions about living together, which, as a Catholic, I'm OK with), Peace Corps is not one of them. Even if they were to accept us both, we'd likely end up in vastly different areas. In addition, we are already going to be long distance while I'm in Americorps and, while we're committed, it's still difficult. If it doesn't work out, I might consider Peace Corps a little more, but I'm not willing to throw away a good relationship if we have other options to travel together. Nor would I do something as foolhardy as to rush into marriage just to have my cake and eat it too.

Three, I have enough issues with the U.S. agenda on matters such as foreign aid and assistance. While we have done great things with our money, we've also contributed to dependency, to increased poverty, and to the collapse of local markets (due to pushing our food products and clothes). An example is hiring someone to teach in a school. Yes, you'll have an English teacher for a year and people can retain skills but what happens when you lose that teacher? You'd have to get another American to fulfill that job. It's much better, in my opinion, to train local teachers and create a sustainable project. Further, we're expecting to make huge changes in two years. You can't change thousands of years of culture in two years. I'd rather go with an organization such as Tostan that does long term, grassroots outreach with local staff, where foreigners understand that they're providing temporary, logistical support.

Four, much like my issues with where I am sent, I also do not have a choice about the kind of work I do. After Americorps, I'll be more qualified for Peace Corps' education and youth branches but I am not guaranteed those branches. They could choose me for an aspect of agriculture which I wouldn't mind. At the same time, there are definite interests I have and I want to be able to pursue and gain more experience with them. I understand that there's an aspect of needing to be flexible and innovative and that there's also training. However, if I am going to commit two years, I do want to have a say in how I spend them, regardless of who's paying. Once I'm in, I'm in, and I want to make sure there's no going back.

These are just a few reasons for my skepticism. I am not completely ruling out Peace Corps and understand that I could very well change my mind in a year. I just want to make sure that this is what I want. I don't want to do it simply because everyone tells me to do it and because it looks good on my resume.