What Peace Corps is Looking For in a Volunteer Applicant
The Right Person for the Right Job
The types of work Volunteers do are ultimately determined by the needs of host countries and the potential of a Volunteer to contribute to these needs and to the Peace Corps’ mission. There are a wide variety of Volunteer positions to fill. Volunteer opportunities fall under these general areas.
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What Backgrounds Are Needed?
Ninety percent of Volunteer positions require a bachelor's degree. While college degrees can help an applicant qualify for service, the Peace Corps also considers work, hobbies, and volunteer experiences that align with the skills it is seeking.
Those with specialized skills
There are some unique programs in the Peace Corps for which specialists are keenly desired. Examples include agroforesters in Paraguay, engineers and urban planners in Mexico, and university-level teachers in Eastern Europe and China.
Those with liberal arts degrees
The best way for liberal arts majors to qualify for the Peace Corps is by gaining 30 hours or three months of tutoring or volunteer experience. Your Peace Corps recruiter and placement officer can advise you on how to gain valuable experience in order to qualify for placement consideration. Volunteers with degrees in humanities and social sciences are likely to be placed in English teaching, health education, community development, and agriculture programs. The more experience you have in these fields, the more competitive your application will be.
Those with an associate degree or no degree
Ten percent of Volunteer positions do not require a four-year degree. An associate degree combined with work experience may help make you eligible to serve as a Volunteer in areas such as youth development, health and HIV/AIDS, business and information and communication technology, agriculture and the environment, and skilled trades. Competitive non-degree candidates must have 3–5 years full-time work experience in business, agriculture, construction, information and communication technology, youth development, or nonprofit organizations.
Those in mid-career
Peace Corps can enhance an existing career or launch a new one. The international leadership experience gained can lead to many opportunities upon return to the U.S.
Those age 50 and older
Older applicants have a wealth of life skills, professional experience, and tested maturity to offer the Peace Corps. Five percent of current Volunteers are age 50 or older, and this segment continues to grow. There is no upper age limit to volunteer. When deciding to apply to serve in the Peace Corps, many older Americans have questions about issues unique to this stage of life such as insurance, Social Security, maintaining home and financial affairs while overseas, etc. Recruiters can provide materials with more information. Also, visit www.peacecorps.gov/50plus.
The Peace Corps accepts married and committed couples, but the placement process can take longer. Both people must qualify and there must be a matching job for each person in the same location. The Peace Corps’ experience is that couples who have been committed for at least a year before they begin service are better able to adapt to the challenges of the Peace Corps.
What Can Help Any Applicant?
Highly competitive candidates have a college degree in agriculture, forestry, or environment, paired with Spanish or French language skills. Ninety percent of Volunteer positions require a bachelor's degree. Competitive non-degree candidates can qualify for agriculture and forestry extension with more than one year of full-time work experience in agriculture or environment. The Peace Corps also considers work, hobbies, and volunteer experiences that align with the skills it is seeking.
The Peace Corps is partnering with minority education institutions to increase access to higher education.
Higher Education Opportunities
A demonstrated ability to learn a language in the last ten years is an important factor in being selected as a Peace Corps Volunteer. About 35 percent of Peace Corps countries require either two years of high school or one year of college level French or other Romance language, or four years of high school or two years of college level Spanish.
If it has been awhile since you studied a foreign language or you do not have language fluency, don’t let that stop you from considering the Peace Corps! Volunteers participate in an excellent language program during pre-service training.
Leadership and Community Service
The Peace Corps seeks applicants with leadership skills and community service. Leadership in your community, school, faith-based group, or service organization – particularly in planning activities, organizing, and motivating groups of people, and project supervision – will strengthen your application. Qualifying volunteer experiences are supervised, structured assignments that meet specific community needs with expected outcomes.
Peace Corps volunteer partners provide volunteering and service opportunities that can strengthen your Peace Corps application and prepare you to support community projects around the world.
Peace Corps Volunteer Partners
Professional Skills and Experience
Demonstrating motivation and commitment, work skills and knowledge, social sensitivity, and emotional maturity will help any applicant. Establishing a good track record of employment and successfully achieving job competence may help demonstrate your productivity.
The more flexible you are in terms of your Peace Corps geographic location, your assignment area, and your desired departure date, the greater your chance of being nominated and possibly invited to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Your flexibility allows placement staff to find the most appropriate matches for your skills and education.
What Makes A Successful Volunteer?
You need an understanding of people’s culture and a willingness to see things from their perspective, not require them to adjust to yours.Dan McDonald (Volunteer in Thailand)
Adaptability: Having the ability to adjust to the many new and different situations you encounter as a Peace Corps Volunteer allows you to be responsive to the people you will live with and serve. You may be as exotic to your new community as your new life is to you, and you will need to adapt to a much less private existence than you probably had back home. Sometimes it may seem like you’re living in a fishbowl.
Patience: This is not a job for people seeking quick fixes or instant gratification. Instead, you will need to work creatively to develop relationships with community members, and to build trust and motivate the various stakeholders. This all takes time.
Skill: Being selected as a Peace Corps Volunteer means you have the technical experience and education needed by a host country. The Peace Corps will additionally prepare you by providing language, cross-cultural, and project-specific training. Continuing to hone these skills over the length of your service will enable you to make a meaningful contribution to the community you serve.
In many cultures, it’s the process that matters and not the outcome, so the ways in which you interact and communicate with people may become much more important than the things you actually achieve.Karen Voetsch (Volunteer in Guinea)
Self-Reliance: Although you may feel like you are never alone as a Volunteer, you may also feel very “on your own.” You are likely to be the only Peace Corps Volunteer in your community. You will face language barriers and the challenge of finding your way around a new neighborhood. You can expect to be well-received by the community, but initially you will be dealing with things as simple as learning people’s names. Having a strong sense of self-reliance will help you navigate through moments of doubt and challenging situations.
Positive Attitude: The structure of your job assignment and the work itself will probably be less defined than what you have experienced in the U.S. There may be times when the work flow feels chaotic or times when it is slow. A positive attitude can ease the transition.
Flexibility: As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will likely be placed in an environment very different than anything you’ve experienced in the United States. Letting go of expectations and being flexible will assist you in handling whatever comes your way. For example, Volunteers live like the neighbors they serve, so there may be varying access to running water, electricity, or other resources. Housing is safe but may be basic. Also, in many countries, the way you dress is seen as an expression of respect. To be accepted, you may have to conform to the standards in your host country and community.
Resourcefulness: As people adjust to new environments and cultures, they go through certain predictable emotional states: loneliness and isolation, insecurity and uncertainty, homesickness, and doubts about their commitment to serve. By being resourceful, working with what you have, and keeping an open mind, you will be able to overcome these challenges and thrive.
It takes accepting that you don’t always have all the answers. You have to be willing and open to having your own assumptions, sensations, and world view challenged and questioned almost daily.Helen Perry (Volunteer in Morocco)
Responsibility: As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are a vital part of a larger team assigned to your country of service. Not only are you responsible for quality work, but you will be required to adhere to a structure designed to keep you safe and healthy. For example, while a Volunteer, you will not be able to drive a vehicle, nor may you leave your community without notifying Peace Corps staff. There are reasons for the policies Peace Corps has put in place and following them is a must.
Sense of Humor: Having the ability to laugh at yourself and at life’s little surprises goes a long way. Your service will be a continual learning process. Keeping a light view will help you learn from your mistakes without judging yourself harshly. Besides, laughter is universal.
Last updated Oct 30 2014
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