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

By Erin McGillivray
Aug. 19, 2015

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 I be doing that is NOT in my 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’ll accomplish things you never imagined.

First, know that you should never feel pigeonholed by your Peace Corps assignment. You will not be doing the same thing 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 her job was so structured that he 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 is 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 the 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

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But wait, what if your project comes with expenses? Enter the Peace Corps Small Grants 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; earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama and the Peace Corps formed a powerful collaboration to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world through Let Girls Learn. 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 or being a member of a diversity and peer support network. The possibilities are endless.

Hopefully you’ll also explore your country and region of service, become a pro at cooking the local food, read many books, take up a new hobby (carrying water on your head?), attend weddings and celebrations... 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.

Erin McGillivray

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