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Volunteering in the Peace Corps: A Datasheet
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Chunnel Offline
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Volunteering in the Peace Corps: A Datasheet
I have been meaning to write this post for awhile, as I am sure that the Peace Corps definitely fits in with the lifestyle choices that some if not many of the people on this board align with. I'll preface by saying that I was a volunteer in Panama. As an environmental health volunteer, I was stationed in the poorest region of the country, which made my experience completely different than, for example, a teaching english volunteer in a mid-size town. Basically, every volunteer's experience is different, and what I lived through and discovered is different than every other volunteer past or future. I don't want to write a blanket summary of what the Peace Corps is like, as it is impossible to cover it in a few paragraphs, but I will offer positives and negatives, and ultimately why I feel it is a fantastic opportunity if you have the itch to travel, learn, share, and grow as an individual, and do it on the US government's dime (albeit it ain't a lot of dough). Please PM me or write in this thread if you have any questions...

In a nutshell, Peace Corps is a two year program aimed that placing volunteers in underdeveloped parts of over 70 different countries, working on projects ranging from sustainable aqueduct systems, agriculture, to small business development. While the volunteer is placed in a specific sector (I was in the Environmental Health sector), the volunteer has free reign to do whatever he wants during his service, whether its setting up a library at the school, or creating youth soccer leagues. The possibilities are truly limitless, only constricted by the enthusiasm of the local community, and personal determination.

Peace Corps is only for US citizens unfortunately. The process is long. My application took me nearly 18 months to be approved, though it can take as little as 9 months, depending on timing, volunteer demand, etc. There is only one interview which is conducted in a major city like NYC, Chicago, Miami... which is more of a screen to test the seriousness of the applicant, rather than a true interview. A college degree is required, unless you have 10+ years of relevant work experience in a given field like surveying, agriculture, small business development. However, things have changed slightly since I applied in 2011, and now the application lets you choose your country of choice. I'm torn about this: My dream was to volunteer in Ethiopia, though as an engineer and water guy, that was not an option, because there are no sustainable water and sanitation based Peace Corps projects in Africa. It sucked finding that out at first, but ultimately I was grateful of being placed in a specific country (read: Panama), because I went in with no expectations and an aura of mystique. If you do have a desire to volunteer in a specific country, by all means go for it, but I'll reiterate that being placed in a country made me more open minded from the start, and I feel made for a more rewarding service.

The Good and The Bad

The Bad: The good definitely outweighs the bad, so I'll get these realities out of the way.

You WILL get sick. Its a damn guarantee going into the bush that you'll some sort of parasite, crazy fungal infection, and whatever else. Personally, I was unfortunate to experience dengue (aka bone-break) fever, leaving me bed-ridden for a couple days like a geriatric patient. Plus you'll probably shit yourself at least once, its a fact of life. If you're in an area where malaria exists, you'll be provided with malaria medicine. Though I don't think a Peace Corps volunteer has contracted malaria since the 1980s.

Health Care is shaky at best
. You may have seen the NY Times article about the kid that died due to negligence of the country's doctors (China), and it is a definite concern. With Peace Corps you are covered for all medical issues that occur in country (and before if you are honest on your application) which is great, yet most times you have to be your own advocate and really push for attention. It sucks when you are really ill, and trying to set up appointments and speak to doctors from a one bar cell-signal hill... For me, I had lingering effects from my dengue fever that ultimately affected the nerves and muscles in my shoulder. I was in agony for 2 months, living in a bunk in Panama City, while seeing doctor after doctor that kept passing me along and giving me random treatments that didn't work. Finally they got me the care I needed stateside, at the expense of having to stay in the USA permanently. My condition, if nipped in the bud, could have been handled quite easily, but letting it fester and progressively get worse ended up costing me some months of my service, plus some great projects I was working on. The nerves in my arm still aren't firing right. At times it leaves me bitter about what could have been, and I blame the whole debacle on the ignorance and laziness of the Medical staff and professionals in the country.

Feminism and PC bullshit have invaded Peace Corps too. No doubt many of the people in Peace Corps are feminist, feminist sympathizer mangina types... Whatever they're everywhere. Most times you just gotta bite your tongue, deal with their bullshit, and troll them. Some of the stuff preached is good, like sexual hygiene, is relevant so girls aren't getting pregnant at 12, and STIs aren't getting passed around. There's enough incest disease passed around anyway where kids don't need to get stuck with Hep C and everything else too... But I digress, troll the feminist bullshit, keep it light and funny, or just ignore it which is easy as fuck to do living in the mountains or in some lost temple.

Loneliness. Your feelings get twisted all around like a 6 month pregnant single womyn at times. Even though you are the center of attention as the white/black/asian guy living with a bunch of subsistence farmers, you will feel completely isolated at times, which can be a mindfuck. My third or fourth day in my village was the first time I cried in years, and it was set off by my phone dying, and I was unable to call my sister on her birthday. It can be crushing sometimes, and there are plenty of “what the fuck am I doing here days,” but keeping goals and staying busy will always help combat the loneliness and extreme isolation. On the flip side, free-time is great to pick up some hobbies and read. I wrote a good amount of songs, read some fantastic books, and was able to catch up on a lot of the classics I had been wanting to read.

The Good:

The Lifestyle. Essentially, being stationed for two years in one community transforms you into a local. You end up cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, shitting, socializing, and acting like the people in your community. Frankly its remarkable how fast this transition occurs. After a while you don't even realize that you bring down your dirty clothes in a five gallon bucket down to the river, wearing knock off crocs, and beat the shit out of your clothes with rocks to clean 'em. When pressed we as humans will adapt very quickly, whether we think about it or not.

The Cultural Exchange
. Learning about Panama and the life of subsistence farmers is an education almost no one else has. The stories I'm equipped with now are memorable and filled with WTF moments. Plus what I taught my community about the world and the US is equally awesome. For some reason everyone always liked to tell that the United States killed Bin Laden, and were real happy about it, the first time I heard it was like what the hell??? Chilling with the kids too, I gave them warheads I had shipped from home, and seeing the looks on their faces when they first tasted them was priceless. Oppositely I learned so much more from Panamanians than I feel I taught them such as: mixing concrete with shovels, horseback riding, chopping down banana trees, milking cows, killing and gutting chickens, surveying with sticks and a clear plastic tubing, forming PVC with matches and grass, birthing puppies, and so much more. Plus hammocks are so underrated, they NEED to catch on in the states! It's also fun to talk to city folk about where you live. They are always shocked that a gringo lives out in bumfuck. Its fun to give them shit about knowing more about their country than they do, and its a good DHV with the chicas.

Where you get to Live. This was my house and the view from my porch.

[Image: 1922298_10152329105708000_1871637809_n.j...e=552D1E7D]

[Image: 1238037_10151942519058000_1885250787_n.j...8dd6b011dc]

At my house alone, I had two orange trees (that stay green, hah), a lemon tree, a guayaba tree, and a tree with some tropical cherry style fruit. Plus my neighbors had 4 avocado trees, two coffee trees, and a shit ton of banana and plantain trees. If you're lucky enough you can live in places that truly resemble the end of the world. It was a pain in the ass to get to, with a 2+ hour mountain hike, usually carrying 50+ pounds on my back, but what the hell, I was in killer hiking shape by the end. Tip: if you do want a location like this, make sure you make it clear to your sector director during interviews, they'll accommodate for your preferences as much as possible.

Language. There is no better way to become fluent in a language than using it every second of the day. I had a so-so grasp of Spanish before the Peace Corps, but I am fluent now. Its funny when you speak to your folks or friends in English and forget real simple English words, but its awesome to know that your mind can work in function in a different language. Living with Spanish speakers was awkward as hell at first. I can't remember the number of times I was just sitting with people, intimidated to say something because of my lack of verbal proficiency. Fortunately sitting around and saying nothing, is a perfectly acceptable way to spend an afternoon. Yet you learn, roll with the punches, and improve day by day. Plus you pick up a funky accent, that can impress more 'polished Spanish speakers' in the cities.

Las Chicas. I'll say this, Peace Corps chicks are horny. There are some lookers, but the majority of volunteer chicks are mehh. And gossip will travel faster than a forest fire among volunteers, proceed at your discretion, but it can be like shooting fish in a barrel if you spit even minimal game. (Side note, but its great no fap practice living in the jungle months at a time... fapping never even crossed my mind). But better than Peace Corps chicks in the home grown lizards. When you take time off to go to cities and tourist spots you can taste the local cuisine as you see fit. For me Pana-girls were alright, as Panama City is very Americanized, and bitch shields were higher than I expected for a Latin American country (though I haven't been to another one). But you have free reign for a couple years do with the national girls as you see fit. Side note: I never went after girls near me in my village or the closest town. Even if there were attractive options, the risk of gaining that reputation was not worth it to me. People just love gossip in general, and you never know what stories will get concocted in the jungle. Plus awkward interactions with conservative Catholic town elders, and running into machisimo machete-wielding drunkards pissed off at you could be a definite possibility.. just not worth it, in my opinion.

So this is my run down on what the Peace Corps has to offer. I'm pissed that my time was cut shorter than it needed to be. I am still considering signing up again for a different country, cause it was just that dope an experience. The learning, self growth, free-time for hobbies and reading, language skills, chicas, and friendships are second to none. So for anyone unsure about what they wanna do in life, and are looking for an unforgettable adventure, the opportunity to do crazy shit, I urge you to seriously consider Peace Corps.
01-16-2015 03:21 PM
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Volunteering in the Peace Corps: A Datasheet - Chunnel - 01-16-2015 03:21 PM

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