Applying and preparing for Peace Corps service is a long process, and unfortunately everyone’s timeline is different.
Here is my Peace Corps application timeline in a nutshell:
|May 23, 2016||Applied|
|June 3, 2016||Placed Under Consideration for Albania|
|June 17, 2016||Received an interview request|
|June 23, 2016||Interviewed|
|July 20, 2016||Invited to serve|
|August 11, 2016||Received legal clearance|
|October 28, 2016||Received medical clearance|
|March 4, 2017||Departed for Pre-Service Training|
|March 8, 2017||Arrived in Albania|
For me the invitation was just the beginning of a long period of preparation filled with paperwork, medical appointments, and lots of difficult waiting.
And after completing the entire process, I have a couple tips for new volunteers about the pre-service preparation process:
Tip #1: DO start the legal and medical clearance process as early as possible.
As soon as your materials for legal and medical clearance arrive, do everything in your power to complete them as quickly as possible.
And read over the detailed Peace Corps instructions once, twice, three or even four times until you’re certain that you’re submitting all your paperwork correctly.
The Peace Corps sends out documents for legal clearance very early in the application process (around the interview stage), so as soon as I received my invitation I took my documents to the local police station and completed the necessary paperwork.
I was careful to use the correct shipping service and Peace Corps address, and less than a month after being invited to serve, I was legally cleared.
My medical clearance experience was a slightly different story. When I received my invitation to the Peace Corps, I was still living in my college town but all of my medical records were back in my hometown. So I figured that I could just schedule a weekend full of doctor and dentist appointments and be done with paperwork by the following Monday.
Because I was in classes and had to work around my internship schedule, I waited to schedule my appointments until about a month before my medical clearance paperwork was due. I could have scheduled them earlier, but again I was confident that one weekend would be enough to complete everything.
Doctors are really busy people, and I definitely should not have assumed that my doctor would be able to fill out my paperwork on the spot. In fact she’d never even heard of the Peace Corps before, which made explaining the paperwork process more of a challenge.
There were also some tests that simply couldn’t be completed in a single weekend. For example my TB test took three days to complete, and female volunteers are required to take a Pap test, which requires at least a week to yield results.
Thankfully my doctor was incredibly helpful throughout the entire process and in the end I was able to get in all my forms in time. I just added unnecessary stress to my life by waiting until the last minute to complete my many medical forms. So, so, so much unnecessary stress. If I could do it all over again, I’d schedule my appointments as soon as possible.
Tip #2: DON’T worry about learning the language.
When I graduated from my university, I had a period of about two and a half months between the end of school and the beginning of my service.
I was incredibly glad to have some downtime to relax, but as I was spending time with my family, catching up on old television shows, and enjoying afternoon naps with my cats, there was a constant worry niggling at the back of my mind: “Should I be making more of an effort to study the language?”
Most Peace Corps language instructors would probably answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” But for me, attempting to learn Albanian wouldn’t have been a good use of my time.
For starters, there aren’t a lot of Albanian language materials available for new learners and in my small town there weren’t many Albanian tutors available either. And in one week of language training, we’d blown past the material that some volunteers had spent months working on back in the States.
Also when learning a new language independently, it can be easy to make mistakes that then become bad habits. You may as well learn the language the correct way with professional language instructors the first time around!
So is studying the language of your host country worth worrying over during your pre-service prep? I don’t think so.
Spend time at home with your friends and family, eat all of your favorite foods, and enjoy all of your favorite American hobbies.
The Peace Corps provides incredibly thorough language training in-country, and when you leave the United States simply being immersed in the new language and culture will help your language skills a lot!
Tip #3: DON’T wait until the last minute to pack.
I struggle with procrastination, but even I knew better than to wait until the last minute to pack for two years abroad.
It’s definitely a good idea to learn from the experiences of other volunteers and research your country’s packing tips well in advance.
In my last semester, I’d sometimes kill time during long lectures by pouring over Peace Corps packing lists and online-shopping for various products on Amazon. The Peace Corps Reddit page has a lot of great advice for future volunteers, and a quick Google search including “Your County of Service” + “Packing List” will usually turn up links to volunteer blogs or other useful pages.
It’s also a good idea to connect with currently serving volunteers online before your service.
Many Peace Corps countries have Facebook groups for incoming volunteers, and the community of volunteers already in the country will have the best packing advice for your specific post. Volunteers who are close to completing their service will also often sell things to new volunteers, which can save valuable luggage space.
Every country is different, but once piece of packing-related advice is applicable everywhere: Bring items from home that will make service easier for you.
For me, that item was American peanut butter (which has a way of turning a bad day into a good one here at site). For others, it was a coffee press, a favorite pillow, or their favorite cooking spices. Even if the item feels superfluous, if it makes you happy, bring it! You’ll never know when it will come in handy!
Overall the time between being accepted as a volunteer and actually making it to your country of service is the first test of your patience, flexibility, and attention to detail. If you can make it through the pre-service preparation process, you’re well on your way to becoming a successful volunteer!
Header Image: Flickr.com