Looking for a way to travel, help people in need, and learn about another culture without spending the money you won’t have when you graduate? The Peace Corps sends young Americans across the world every year to live in what are generally rural communities that need assistance. There are currently 8,073 volunteers in training or service abroad, and most are young college graduates.
When I finished college, I applied to volunteer with the Peace Corps and was placed in Senegal. The experience was incredible. I could not have possibly imagined how different life would be there, how much I would learn, the depth of the relationships I would develop, or how formative my stay would really be.
Still interested? Great! Let me give you the run down.
What is the Peace Corps, exactly?
The Peace Corps was established in 1961 with the goal of increasing world peace and friendship by sending volunteers to help solve local challenges in developing or underdeveloped countries. In the process, volunteers help promote better understanding between Americans and the people served. To fulfill this mission, volunteers are sent to communities in countries that have specifically requested assistance from the US government.
How long is the stay, and what is it like?
To start, volunteers are trained for three months with other Corps members. Trainees are taught the local language, how to live in the culture of their community, medical care, and technical skills related to specific positions.
After training, each member will stay in the same community, working on one project for the remainder of his 27-month stay. Living situations vary drastically, from rural huts to urban apartments. A large portion of volunteers are stationed in Africa, while others are spread throughout developing nations around world.
What do volunteers do?
The biggest chunk (43 percent) of volunteers work in education; I taught English to students ages 6-20. Other Corps members teach math and computer skills. Volunteers also work in health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.
Projects are designed to create a lasting impact, rather than simply improve conditions during a volunteer’s stay. Over the course of two years, my students’ English improved drastically. I hope that their skills will last and serve them for years to come. Another volunteer I knew worked to create an urban garden at a school to provide fresh vegetables for students and teach them good agricultural practices. Another created an AIDS education center, and another worked with a sewing company to create a profitable business model.
What are some other benefits for volunteers?
In addition to the obvious benefits of living abroad in a drastically different culture, the Corps pays a living stipend that allows volunteers to live in a similar way to locals. The Corps also covers travel costs to and from the destination country and provides medical and dental insurance.
If you’re worried about paying off student loans, volunteers are offered deferment of most types of loans and partial cancellation of Perkins loans — though with certain types of loans, interest must still be paid. At successful completion of a term, volunteers are given a “readjustment allowance” of $7,425.
Am I cut out to volunteer?
The ideal volunteer is flexible, outgoing, adventurous, and self-sufficient. Where I lived, there were no other native English speakers within a several hour radius, and at times I felt exhausted and lonely. Over time, my relationships with locals wiped out all remnants of homesickness, and the experience proved extremely rewarding.
In short, I would recommend the Peace Corps wholeheartedly to any recent graduate who wants to see the world, learn new skills, forge new friendships, and make a difference in the lives of real people. As a volunteer, you learn just as much, if not even more, than you teach! Communities all over the world have been transformed by young Americans serving with the Peace Corps, and former volunteers all over the country have had their world views shaped, careers launched, and adventurous spirits fulfilled by their time as volunteers.
Image source: Flickr