What will I do in Peace Corps that is NOT in the job description?

By Erin McGillivray
May 23, 2020

As you consider Peace Corps service or prepare to depart, you're probably wondering: What will a typical day be like? 

Will I "only" be teaching English? Building latrines? Creating a business plan? Talking about HIV/AIDS... for two years straight?! As you’ve probably already learned, the most common answer to your questions is, "It depends!”

So what will you be doing that is not in the job description? So. Many. Things. The beauty is that it’s up to you! I don’t know what you’ll do, but I can bet you will accomplish things that you never imagined.

First, know that you should never feel pigeonholed by your Peace Corps assignment. You will not be doing the same thing for 40 hours a week for two years. Far from it! Some assignments will be more structured than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who said their job was so structured that they didn’t have time for anything else.

You will, of course, be expected to fulfill the goals of your assigned project and you will be not only encouraged and supported, but even expected by the Peace Corps to carry out secondary projects too. The variety of secondary projects are endless and the guidelines are minimal. Your best guide will be your community.

One of the first questions you will probably ask upon arriving at site is, what does my community need? One way to discover the needs of your community is through a community-based needs assessment, a tool for which Peace Corps provides training. Often ideas for secondary projects come from the grassroots level or from a champion in the community, which can lead to higher levels of ownership and sustainability.

Another question to ask is, what skills or hobbies do I want to share with my community? Maybe you're serving as an English teacher but have a passion for the environment, so you start a school garden, celebrate Earth Day, or organize a community trash pick-up event. Or maybe you’ll start a band camp or baseball team; teach about computers, solar ovens, beekeeping or piano; build a library or a school out of recycled plastic bottles; or insert-something-else-you-never-imagined-doing-here.

You may not currently have the knowledge or skills for every project idea, but you will have the time to learn and become a resource person for your community. You'll also have access to other timeless secondary projects like painting a world map or partnering with a classroom in the U.S. through the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Program.

But wait, what if your project comes with expenses? Enter the Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) Program and Peace Corps Partnership Program – two excellent options for funding projects.

How else do Volunteers influence their communities? They integrate food security, malaria prevention and other common challenges into their projects. Many Volunteers run Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camps; and work within the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative to help start women’s cooperatives and businesses. Peruse country websites and program opening descriptions to learn more about the huge variety of secondary projects worldwide.

If all of that isn’t enough for you, you can also support your fellow Volunteers by holding a leadership position on the Volunteer Advisory Committee, helping train new Volunteers, being a member of a diversity and peer support network and more. The possibilities are endless.

Hopefully you’ll also explore your country and region of service, become a pro at cooking the local food, attend weddings and celebrations, read many books, take up a new hobby (carrying water on your head?)...and find your way into the hearts of your community members and welcome them into yours. Yeah, you’ll be doing that too.

So, what will I be doing that is not in the job description? So. Many. Things.

Ready to start your Peace Corps journey? Connect with a recruiter today.

This blog was updated from its original version by Morgan Cunningham. Morgan served as an environment Volunteer in a small town in the Panama Canal Watershed from 2016 to 2018. She currently works at Peace Corps Headquarters in D.C. as a Placement Officer, sending Volunteers to Guyana and Botswana. A water lover and proud dog mom, she lives with her pit-mix and pug near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Erin McGillivray