I’m cautious about deleting emails without reading them first, especially emails with a teasing subject line like “Ready to change your life?” Because usually I am. Or, “How far are you willing to go?” Because running a marathon is on my bucket list. And, “Want to make a difference?” Because my embarrassing obsession with reality television isn’t accomplishing much. I first heard about the Peace Corps when I was a freshman; I had twenty minutes before Survivor started and I checked my email. The subject line got me. The email promised travel, experience, and adventure. The next week, I attended a presentation at the study abroad center, and throughout the next three years, the idea coagulated in my head. I thought about it. I read about it. I thought some more.
The Peace Corps was conceived by John F. Kennedy in 1960 and began sending volunteers to developing countries only a year later. The mission of the Peace Corps is three-fold:
- Help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
To accomplish these objectives, American men and women apply to serve a 27 month commitment in a variety of fields, including: Education, Health, Environment, and Business and Information & Communication Technology. The first eight to twelve weeks of a volunteer’s commitment are Pre-Service Training (PST), which takes place in the volunteer’s country of service. The emphasis is the acquisition of language and the skills necessary to each volunteer’s assignment. After PST, each volunteer is relocated to their community, where they will begin their assignment and receive on-going education. The PST and assignment are rewarding but rigorous, and this is emphasized from the very beginning of the application process. Below is a timeline of my application from beginning to end, which spanned a little more than a year:
March 20, 2010: I begin my Peace Corps application.
June 29, 2010: I submit my Peace Corps application. The application, despite its thoroughness, can be completed much sooner, depending on the applicant’s schedule and time constraints.
July 7, 2010: The Chicago Regional Recruiting Office receives my application and sends additional materials to be completed: two fingerprint cards and the National Agency Check card that authorizes a background check.
August 18, 2010: I drive to Chicago for my interview. It goes well, and Betsy, my recruiter, tells me she will nominate me for service. A nomination is like saying, “Hey, we think you’d make a good volunteer so we’re moving you forward to the next phase.” A nomination doesn’t guarantee an invitation. A nomination is tentative but includes a region of service, job and departure date. Betsy tells me it could take up to two weeks to receive a nomination.
August 19, 2010: Betsy calls with a nomination. This. Is. Very exciting. Although I specified Africa as my primary region of interest, I am nominated for an English-teaching position in Asia (country unknown) that would leave in mid-June 2011. I happily accept my nomination, but my recruiter tells me a nomination is provisional and could change.
August 24, 2010: I receive my medical packet, which includes dental and (very thorough) physical forms. The medical phase is infamously regarded as the longest phase of the application process and it is the phase that often leads to disqualification. The Peace Corps requires such a thorough medical check because volunteers are placed in rural communities of developing countries, where medical supplies and provisions cannot be guaranteed for certain conditions. The Peace Corps makes each volunteer’s health a priority and wants to take as few risks as possible in that regard.
October 26, 2010: After eight weeks, I complete the medical forms. I make a copy of all of the forms, seal the originals in an envelope and take it to the post office, where I see it placed in the appropriate bin. I experience a sense of accomplishment never before felt by completing paperwork.
October 28, 2010: My medical information is received. Since the Peace Corps does not impose an application deadline, there are thousands of applicants at each stage of the process. Each volunteer’s medical kit is prioritized according to his nominated departure date and medical kits are not usually reviewed until four months prior to that departure date. Translation: the waiting game begins.
About a week later: I receive dental clearance.
February 25, 2011: I received a letter from Peace Corps Headquarters informing me that I am medically qualified for service and that my application has been forwarded to the Office of Placement. I change my Facebook status. I tweet. I call my mom.
March 11, 2011: A Placement Assistant sends me an email requesting an updated resume, among other materials.
March 18, 2011 – almost a year after I started the application: I have my final assessment interview via telephone. Heather, my Placement Officer, tells me the interview is intended to gauge each applicant’s mental and emotional maturity as well as receive any relevant updates. The interview lasts about half an hour and I think it goes well. At the end, Heather says, “Ok, JD. I’ll issue you your Peace Corps invitation this afternoon.”
I leap over the moon.
And then, Heather tells me that my nominated assignment in Asia is still available, or, and she assures me this is rare, there is an English-teaching position available in East Africa that leaves at the end of May. She is leaving the decision to me: Asia or Africa?
This is the first of a two-part post series by J.D. Mitchell, which chronicles his application process and admission into the Peace Corps. If you, or anyone you know, is considering applying to the Peace Corps, I’d recommend reading this series. We would like to thank J.D. for his wonderful and informative piece.