I’m going to take a short break from regaling readers about the wonders of [intlink id=”960″ type=”post”]Kyrgyzstan[/intlink], and instead regale said readers on the in’s and out’s of serving in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan.
Can Canadians join the Peace Corps?
Many questions were asked before I left Canada: What is the Peace Corps? You can do that and be Canadian? Are you going to a boot camp? What will you do? Where will you live? Where will you poop? And now that I’ve been in the Peace Corps for going on seven months, I finally feel educated enough to answer some of these questions.
So I applied for the American Peace Corps, finally putting my American citizenship to a wonderful use. The first step in the application process was proving my status as a human being over the age of 18 and my status as a human being of American citizenry. And thus began the still frequently asked question: So, how are you American?
Good story: My mother, the illustrious and beautiful Sue, was born in Washington State. 27 years later, she met a dark, mysterious and mustachioed man from abroad. Kevin from Canada! Three years later, they got married. Sue immigrated to Canada, and birthed two children: a rambunctious red-headed terror of a boy and the other, an angelic, perfect, intelligent from an early age girl. And those kids were born with the right to both Canadian and American citizenry. 28 years later, that angelic, perfect intelligent girl applied to the Peace Corps and had to tell this story many times.
So yes, you do have to be American to be in the Peace Corps. And such is I. Despite always living in Canada, going to school there, and never working in the US. Moving on.
What is the Peace Corps?
What is the Peace Corps? I could answer this question with the “In 1961, President Kennedy was in the bathtub and he thought…” version of the story, but instead I’ll stick to what matters. Simply, the Peace Corps is the American international volunteer agency, sending hundreds of people all over the world every year to do a variety of community development projects in a variety of fields.
What Countries is the Peace Corps in? What does the Peace Corps do?
PC currently serves in over 60 countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, the Pacific, the Caribbean, Latin America, and of course Africa. Programs that the PC focuses on include health education, teaching English, sustainable community development, agriculture, water and sanitation, among others.
How long are you in the Peace Corps?
When one becomes a PC Volunteer (PCV), you sign on for a 27-month commitment in a country of the Peace Corps’ choosing. Some people I have talked to did write a preference for where they wanted to be placed in their application. Some didn’t. We all thought we would go to Africa. We all ended up in Kyrgyzstan.
How do you apply for the Peace Corps?
In 2013, applying for the Peace Corps was lengthy to say the least. Initial application, secondary application, interview, more essay writing, more ‘aspiration statements’, invasive medical checks, dental checks (which by the way are difficult in Canada because apparently Canadian and American dentists number the teeth differently! Blerg), fingerprinting, background checks, and then we had to write more inspiration/aspiration stuff. Apparently now the application process has been ‘streamlined’ and applicants have more say in where they go and what they do. So for once in my life I was early to the party.
Once you get accepted into the Peace Corps, you get an invitation. Mine said “Welcome to the Peace Corps, you are going to Kyrgyzstan!” Say where? I got my invite in November and left in April (which is why I had to go to Nepal in between). Your email invitation is followed by a mail out of all kinds of information on your country of service, little of which was useful, and more medical checks that have to be done. Soon after that, you get an another invitation in your inbox to join the (Your country of service) Facebook Group. This is when the real fun begins because you can start Facebook stalking the people who will be your friends for the next two years. And judging them.
How to prepare for the Peace Corps
The last while before leaving for the Peace Corps, especially if you are going to Kyrgyzstan, is full of thoughts like: “Really? I’m doing this?” “Do I need more long underwear?” “Is there cheese in Kyrgyzstan?” (The answers to these questions are Yes, Yes, and Not really.)
Why should I join the Peace Corps?
So why did you join the Peace Corps Emily? Thanks for asking. I joined because when and how do most people have an opportunity to live and work abroad for two years, meet a ton of great people, and not go deeply into debt doing it? As shown by the existence of this blog, I like to travel and experience different cultures, and I also want to work in international development. Peace Corps would give me that. Ha, that’s funny. More on that joke later.
Who joins the Peace Corps?
I came to Kyrgyzstan with a group of volunteers called the K-22’s, which means we are the 22nd crew of volunteers to serve to Kyrgyzstan. We came with 55 people, youngest being my little Amanda then at the sprightly age of 21 to the wise, sage, and very respectable Papa Joe, who just turned 75 (and is actually on his second PC service, he ripped up Samoa sometime in the 80’s). Most people in the group are between the ages of 22 and 25. All have undergraduate degrees, ranging from history and Pacific and Asian Studies to biology and business. Some volunteers had never been out of the continental United States before. Volunteers in the K-22 group are from all over the country, and with the presence of me and Dana, from Canada and Ecuador too! Most people join the Peace Corps as an individual, but married couples can also join (and get placed together), like Eric and Taylor from Seattle in our group.
What are the requirements for the Peace Corps?
The basic requirements for being in the Peace Corps is to be over the age of 18 and to be an American citizen. You can be as old as dirt. Ideas about what makes a successful volunteer would vary with every person you talk to, including returned volunteers, current volunteers and staff. Most would say something like flexibility, adaptability, adventurous spirit, sense of humor, creativity, and a strong stomach.
Going back to those original questions that people were asking me between the months of November and April:
Where do Peace Corps Volunteers live?
Depends on what country you are serving in. Here in Kyrgyzstan, most volunteers are living with home stay families, like me. Some live in apartments, though our country management is moving away from this.
Where do Peace Corps Volunteers work?
The Peace Corps model matches volunteers with host organizations and local counterparts. Organizations apply to have volunteers, and then the PCV works (in theory) with the counterpart. The counterpart is also kind of responsible for the PCV in the first while, making sure PCVs don’t break.
Why do you say ‘in theory’ above?: Sometimes working with your counterpart is very difficult. My counterpart speaks no English. And until my Kyrgyz is better…well. This actually opens the door for PCVs to explore what are called secondary projects. Like the Women’s Health/Yoga club I’m working on with this really great chick I met. It’s up to the PCV to make themselves productive and busy.
We live in Kyrgyzstan, there are all kinds of opportunities for development, assistance, or just hanging out with cool Kyrgyz people, and these opportunities often find us. Staying busy is the key to life. The key. I made an off hand comment earlier, something about the Peace Corps providing what I wanted. Well, no. A wise trainer said to me my second day in country “Peace Corps doesn’t develop you, and you develop yourself”. I think this sums it up pretty well. She’s a smart one. Peace Corps gives you the space, the opportunity, and the access to a community. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.
Where do you poop in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan?
My house has an outhouse, so I poop out there. Some people in Kyrgyzstan have indoor toilets, so they probably use those. Some people in Ghana might use a bucket, I don’t know. You would have to ask them.
What about Safety in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan?
Each Peace Corps country has a very well staffed country office that gives direct support to their PCVs. This includes safety and security, technical training, and yes, medical. We have two doctors as well as an amazing med assistant who make sure we are well. One of our two very dreamy doctors is always on call, and PC will get you to Bishkek/Thailand/Washington D.C. in case of real emergency. PCVs are issued personal medical kits, with all kinds of anti-diarrheal meds, which can be restocked at any time.
Does the Peace Corps fly you home for holidays?
No. What do you think this is, the UN?
Can you get fired from the Peace Corps?
YES! It’s called being administratively separated. I know, it’s scary sounding. Peace Corps Volunteerss can get ad sep’ed for doing any number of ridiculously stupid things like going to strip clubs or shooting crack. Or for not being hated by the Director of Programs and Training.
Can you quit the Peace Corps?
Again, yes. This is called early termination, which means you are choosing to go home before your close of service (COS) date. People ET for any kind of reason: life happens back home with the family, you get an amazing job offer that pays you real money, or maybe PC just isn’t for you. Pooping outside in sub zero temperatures isn’t for everybody. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Can you stay longer in the Peace Corps?
Yes, if you want to stay in country and continue your work after the 27 months, you can ‘extend’, normally for another year. We have 4 extenders in country right now, who are all going into their 3rd winter in Kyrgyzstan. Stalwart.
What are some rules in the Peace Corps?
As mentioned above, no strip clubs or crack. Also, we are not allowed to drive, ride on motorcycles, or ride a horse without a helmet. In Kyrgyzstan, we are not allowed to go to the Batken oblast, which is an area of the country known for unrest. There are more rules, and a lot that are harder to put your finger on, but just mainly try not to be a dick.
What about training in the Peace Corps?
When you arrive in country, Peace Corps welcomes new volunteers with what is called pre-service training (PST). Most countries have 3 straight months of PST, which is largely made up of language classes. PCVs are also given lectures on safety and security, culture, technical etc. In Kyrgyzstan, PST was split: we did 2 months of PST, and then went to our permanent sites (where we would spend the next two years) for 6 weeks, and then back to PST for another month. In Kyrgyzstan, most of us learned Kyrgyz, some learned Russian. Language is always a work in progress. I guess PST is the closest I can get to answering the ‘Are you going to boot camp?” question. Yes, I did go to boot camp.
Do you get vacation in the Peace Corps?
Yes, we get vacation days, and most of us are using them to go somewhere outside of Kyrgyzstan. I’m heading to Burma and Cambodia in February to rest and relax with my brilliant friend Lizzie who I met in Nepal. Things will get very, very loud. The tranquility of Burma? Consider it shattered.
Did you bring enough long johns?
So far yes. Though seeing as I wear two pairs every day, I might wear some holes in them.
If you have any questions or want more information about the Peace Corps, shoot me a message, or you can check out the Peace Corps website.