What's the difference between Peace Corps Response and Peace Corps?

With counterparts in Liberia as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer
By Alison McReynolds
June 17, 2015

Like many people who apply to serve in the Peace Corps, I was attracted by the opportunity to help others and explore the world at the same time. 

I was lucky enough to serve twice – once with the 27-month Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) program in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and once with Peace Corps Response (PCR) in Liberia.

On any given day, I'd describe Peace Corps service with a different adjective – difficult, rewarding, funny, sad, fascinating, exciting – and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. After completing service in 2010, I wanted to stay within the Peace Corps family and encourage others to join the Peace Corps. So, I became a Peace Corps recruiter, first for the 27-month program and now for PCR. 

Having worked with Volunteers in both programs – both in the field and in recruitment and placement – one of the biggest things that stands out is just how much we can learn from and share with a host community, no matter the program. Both programs focus on teaching and capacity building with local community support. If you’re having trouble deciding which program is right for you, the following should help inform your decision. It’s about choosing the type of work you are passionate about, the skills and experience you want to share, when you can leave and how long you are available to serve. 

And don’t forget, you can always serve twice – or more!

1. How long do you have?

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the 27-month PCV program and PCR is how long a Volunteer serves. PCVs complete three months of training in their host country before serving for two years. Peace Corps Response Volunteers (PCRVs) serve in assignments that range from three to 12 months.

2. Do you feel ready to jump right in?

At the beginning of the PCV program, every Volunteer receives months of language and technical training, as well as extensive cross cultural and safety and security training. PCRVs receive a one- to two-week orientation and are expected to already possess the necessary language and technical skills to complete the assignment. When I joined the Peace Corps directly after graduating from university, I was looking for a longer assignment that would allow me to learn new skills and improve my French language ability. When I joined Peace Corps Response, I was looking for a way to continue serving in West Africa and use my existing skill set without additional training.

Getting our Peace Corps site assignments in Mauritania
Getting our Peace Corps site assignments in Mauritania

3. What do you want to do?
All PCVs work in one of six main Peace Corps program areas: Education, Health, Agriculture, Youth in Development, Environment and Community Economic Development. In addition, PCRVs also work in the area of Disaster Preparedness and Response. PCRV position descriptions are more focused than PCV assignments and they are country specific. The required skills and experience for any given PCR job vary widely as each position is unique and the job is targeted to meet the specific needs of that partner organization. On the other hand, PCVs are in their communities for two years and have a broader project focus which allows for more flexibility within their primary project and gives them time for secondary projects. As a PCV, I liked having the freedom and the extended time to work with my community partners to figure out what their needs were and how we might address those together. As a PCRV, I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of my project when I had completed all the goals my partner organization had set out for our time together.

4. Where do you want to go?
PCVs currently serve in 60+ countries and PCRVs are in most but not all (around 50) of those countries. When you apply for a position with PCR, you apply to a job in a specific country so you have a lot of control over where you could end up serving. When you apply to the PCV program, you can state a preference for a country, area of the world and/or program area if you want to, but you can also say you are willing to go anywhere and do anything. When I applied the first time, the option to have someone else decide where I would serve was very attractive to me. I was open to an adventure anywhere in the world!

5. When can you leave?

Every Peace Corps country has their own schedule for when they receive 27-month Volunteers – usually it’s just one input a year – so the arrival date is fixed far in advance. Also, the PCV application process typically takes nine to 12 months, so you need to apply about a year before you are available to depart. Timelines work differently in PCR. We don’t know what positions we’re going to have open and available until we receive the requests from our Posts, usually about four months before the partner organization wants the Volunteer to arrive. Departure timelines are typically more flexible in the PCR program as we generally send much smaller groups than the PCV program, sometimes just one or two Volunteers at a time. 

Serving as both a PCV and a PCRV, I was able to experience two different cultures and work on two completely different projects. Both opportunities allowed me to gain new skills and help a local community. Regardless of which program you choose, you will be embarking on a life-changing experience. 

Best of luck!

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

Alison McReynolds

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