Monday, August 15, 2011

Peace Corps Chronicles, Part ! - The Application

I first applied to the Peace Corps during college. I finished most of the application and one of the essays before freaking out and pretending the application never existed. Joining the Peace Corps was a big step; frightening and unknown. I was worried about not speaking the language, living without the amenities I was use to, meeting people and making friends in a place so different from home, and I chicken out and never finished applying.

Two years later, I ended up moving to South Korea, so I guess the jokes on me. The key was, I think, not having time to think about what I was doing. I needed a job, Korea was offering one and from the first interview to boarding the plane only took a few months. By the time I grasped the implications of what I had done, I was on a bus from the airport to my new home, pinching myself to stay awake so I wouldn't fall asleep, miss my stop and spend my first night stranded in a bus lot.

Of course, I absolutely loved Korea. I loved the country, I loved Seoul, I loved teaching and I loved the adventure of living abroad. I was already thinking about a second year by the end of my first month. As much as I loved living in Korea thought, I didn't like how isolated expats were from the country we were living in. I didn't like how contemptuous so many expats were about Korea, how they seemed to hate where they were and the "my way is the only right way" attitude so many foreigners had. I hated how I wasn't expected or even encouraged to learn anything about Korea. My best friend had joined the Peace Corp shortly after I left for Korea and the more I listened to her stories, the more I felt like it would be a good fit for me.

I started the application again while I was home in between year. (In December 2009, which yes, is over a year and a half ago.) It took me about a month to finish the (very long) application, stress out about the essays and wrangle my recommendations (turns out Christmas is not the best time to ask people to fill out crazy long and complex recommendation forms), but I finished by mid-January and, as luck would have it, the Peace Corps regional recruiter for my area was speaking at few schools in WNC the next week and I was able to schedule an in-person interview.

Peace Corps Recommendation
A screen shot from one of my recommendation letters (sent to me after the fact). They, alas, changed the bit about the Cretans before sending it in.

The meeting went well. I woke up that morning crazy sick, but managed to get through the interview before I lost my voice for a few days. My recruiter seemed impressed with motivation and my experience. Everything was going great until she asked when I wanted to leave.

"Oh, next April or May," I told her. I had already accepted a contract in Korea, had boxes and boxes of things stored in a friend's parents' garage and I had done enough research to know that waiting for medical and legal clearance takes a long time (the average Peace Corps application takes about a year) and I wasn't established in the US in a way that would make that sort of a wait feasible. In Korea, I could live on my own, have a job (a real job, not a minimum wage job flipping burgers or making coffee), and be doing something I wanted to do with my life while I waited. Going back to Korea was an easy decision.

"You mean in a few months?" my recruiter asked.

"No, in a year and a few months. You see, I'm moving to Korea for a year next month."

She was stunned; normally people want to leave as soon as possible. "I'm not sure I can actually nominate you for a program that far in advance," she admitted. She thought the Peace Corps would be a great fit, but they weren't equipped to deal with applications with that long of a waiting period. She put my application on hold and told me to get back in touch with her a year before I wanted to leave.

While it wasn't the news I wanted to hear, it also wasn't a rejection, so I headed back to Korea and in May I emailed my recruiter, asking if she could nominate me for a program now. It took about a month, but on June 2nd, I was nominated for a Community Service program in Central/South Asia, leaving in June 2011. Nominations are for a geographic region, not a specific country, but it's usually possible to figure out what country the nomination is for based on what countries in that geographic region with that program leave during the specified month. Obsessive internet research of community service programs leaving in June revealed that I was probably nominated for Mongolia.

A nomination is a recommendation, not a guarantee. It's dependent on getting medical and legal clearance, timing, availability of the program once you have clearance and great deal of luck. After you receive your clearance, your eligible for an invitation to serve. An invitation is more of a guarantee, and is for a specific country with a specific departure date. A nomination is great, but it means there's still a long, uncertain wait ahead of you. None of the Peace Corps Volunteers I know were invited to serve in the country they were nomination for, and since it's August and I'm not in Mongolia, neither was I.

That was all in the future though, and right then, I was so very very excited.

No comments:

Post a Comment