When I finished out my service 5 months ago, I didn’t get to decide where I went. I didn’t decide whether I could work as a teacher, work with other farmers or work in IT. I, along with my recruiter, looked at possible places and areas that I could work at and I anxiously awaited my invitation email that stated where I was going and what I was going to be doing. I cried tears of joy on a bus in Puerto Rico when I found out I was headed to Ethiopia, with not a clue as to what the climate was, the political situation, let alone where it even was.
But the Peace Corps application process is different than it used to be.
The idea that you must be willing to serve anywhere comes from the Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers. Expectation #3 reads: “Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.”
But with the new application, it seems like applicants forget this. Working in Pre-Service Health Services, the place that you need to get medically cleared by, I’ve seen people who are so determined to go to that one place, that they want to disregard their medical needs, in spite of the nurse stating “you will not be cleared. Your country of service cannot provide support for the medical condition that you have.” Simply, just because you’ve stated you want to go somewhere doesn’t mean it will happen.
Looking at Peace Corps from the inside now, I am appreciative of all the effort that goes into accepting and sending Trainees to their country of service. But some things resonate with me.
- Your Peace Corps service is what you make of it. I wanted to be a health volunteer, but instead I was sent to Ethiopia as a teacher. I didn’t love every moment of being a teacher, but I loved my service. I incorporated what I was passionate about in my lessons and dedicated my time outside of the school to tackling issues about health and gender equality. I was a valued and cherished member of my community because I was a teacher. People knew my name or called out “teacher” when they saw me on the street. Had I gone and been a health volunteer, people might have had some difficulties remembering who I was, especially since there is a NGO with American staff and could easily be fooled for one of them.
- No one knows what they want until its right in front of them. Because of my service, I was able to actualize my goal of working with girls in a health setting. I was able to meet really great people who are tackling issues in health care in developing countries. I saw the significance of a skilled workforce and the significant work that doctors, nurses, and community members do abroad. I started thinking of opening up my own clinic someday after I saw the benefit of having one in a very rural community. I started reading really great books about staring your own nonprofit abroad after having a discussion with an American director who provides support through fundraising, recruiting and employing people from both the local culture and around the world. Your service could lead you to working on something completely different than what you went in or maybe it will help you realize that you want to do exactly what you did you’re your two years in.
- The fun is in the unknown. As stated above, I knew nothing about Ethiopia, beside the fact that it was in Africa. I didn’t even know that it was in what was known as “the horn of Africa.” Of course, with research I got to know a lot more about where I was going. But – how was I supposed to know that Ethiopians would be one of the kindest and warmest people I’d ever have the pleasure of meeting? How was I supposed to know that even though I didn’t learn how to make injera or speak fluently, I would love everything about it? I leaped into the unknown and came out more appreciative of something that helped me grow. Working in Pre-Service, I see a lot of applicants who are so stuck in that one country that they refuse to think about a more suitable country to their medical needs. The fun is in the unknown, baby.
- Change is the only constant in life. I got asked a lot “why Africa? Why didn’t you just go to Latin America?” Well, I wanted different than my heritage. I wanted to be in a continent that intrigued me and I wanted to be challenged: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I wasn’t set on what I would do but I was set on going to Africa – that was my thing. I wanted to serve in Africa. Wherever a person wants to serve, my only advice is: be flexible. You will struggle some days, but there will be many triumphs throughout your two years. Either way, whether you love it or hate it, it’s your unique experience.
**Note: I never started my internship with Third Goal for Marketing. Instead, I became a full time employee with Health Services.