The Peace Corps
The Peace Corps was an idea in the mind of President John Kennedy that became reality when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that formally authorized the organization in 1961. Its mandate is to “promote world peace and friendship.” The goal of the Peace Corps is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” There are now almost 7,000 volunteers serving seventy countries.
Typical assignments are two years long after a three-month training period in the country you choose. Most postings require a college degree. In some cases, several years of comparable (and often more valuable) life experience will be accepted. You must be over eighteen and a United States citizen. There is no age cap, and retirees are welcome.
A Word of Warning
If you are thinking of joining the Peace Corps, you need to be aware of the sometimes-unpleasant realities of being an American abroad. The corps operates in some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. In addition to being a culture shock to most Americans, there are security, safety, and health risks that a Peace Corps volunteer will have to face. Though accidents and mishaps are rare, and most people do their two-year hitch without incident, sometimes tragedies occur. If you statistically break it down, however, the chances of such an event happening are very small. Nevertheless, you should be aware of the risks before signing up, while also resting assured that the Peace Corps does everything in its power to ensure the safety of its members.
The organization I-to-I is another organization that sends volunteers abroad on what it calls I-Ventures, Mini-Ventures, and Earning-Ventures. The last category includes paying jobs that are available overseas, if you meet the requirements. Check out their Web site for details, at
When you first arrive at your Peace Corps assignment, you will truly be a stranger in a strange land. During the three-month training period, volunteers are placed with a host family in order to acclimate them to the culture and language of their temporary home. Most of the natives will be welcoming, but some may voice the sentiment, “Yankee go home!” There may be some tensions and conflicts at first. One of the things you can do is not swagger into the region like the stereotypically brash American. Play it cool, and try to blend in as much as you can. Respect the culture of the host country. Do what you can to make a good impression. After all, you will be an unofficial ambassador.
Female Peace Corps volunteers may have the most difficult time. Women should do their homework regarding the countries they might like to visit. If it is a culture that does not have a stellar record on the treatment of women, know what to expect going in. If you do not want to deal with it, pick another country.
The corps tries to ensure volunteer safety though a system of what it calls “building relationships, sharing information, training, site development, incident reporting and response, and emergency communications and planning.”
Paying job opportunities within the Peace Corps are country director (CD) and associate director (APCD). The Peace Corps also recruits MDs (medical doctors) or DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) for area Peace Corps medical officers (APCMOs) for the Africa region. Job postings for APCD and APCMO positions can be found on the Peace Corps Web site, at
If you want to read what former Peace Corps members have to say about the experience, visit Peace Corps Writers (
The Peace Corps divides the world into three areas: Africa; Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA); and Inter-America/Pacific (IAP). There is a time limit of five years for which you can be an employee of the Peace Corps. After that time you are expected to move on to the next adventure of your life and leave open the opportunity for someone else.
Candidates will be obliged to have a medical screening and background check in order to be given a security clearance. If you fail the physical and/or the security check, the offer of employment will be rescinded. Your housing and relocation expenses are paid by the Peace Corps.
There is a philosophical concept that there is no such thing as a completely altruistic act. Even people who volunteer are getting something out of the experience. When thinking about where you might like to volunteer, go to the place that can simultaneously enrich you as well as those you serve. Volunteerism is meant to be a mutually rewarding arrangement.
Peace Corps volunteers are divided into three categories: general, secondary, and advanced. If you are a general education volunteer, you need a bachelor's degree and hopefully some teaching or tutoring experience. Many education volunteers will find themselves working in local schools, teaching English as a second language (ESL). English, math, and science teachers are in high demand.
Secondary education math instructors teach basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, plus geometry, algebra, statistics, probability, and calculus. They will also be involved with after-school and library programs. The curriculum of secondary education science teachers includes general science, biology, chemistry, and physics at the high school level. They also provide health information.
Advanced education volunteers need an education degree and teaching certification. They work with college-level students who want to improve their English language skills and learn about literature, medicine, engineering, business, and other disciplines. Other duties of advanced education volunteers include teaching English grammar and conversation, American literature and culture, creative writing, and linguistics. They also establish English-language clubs and develop resource centers.
Special education volunteers work with local teachers on developing new techniques. They provide one-on-one tutoring, work with parents and community, and promote a public awareness of persons with disabilities, who often do not fare well in developing nations.
Business volunteers fall into the same categories as education volunteers. General business volunteers should have a business or public administration degree, though comparable life experience can be an acceptable substitute. They work with private and public businesses, local and regional governments, nonprofit organizations, women and youth organizations, and agricultural businesses. They help the local citizenry with marketing and financial management. These volunteers write project-funding proposals and conduct business training seminars and workshops.
Advanced business volunteers must have a bachelor's degree in business or public administration. They can either have an M.B.A. or work toward one through the Peace Corps Master's International Program. These volunteers consult with local businesses, teach seminars and business courses, and assist local governments with economic development strategies.
General environmental volunteers require a bachelor's degree. Other than that, they need problem solving and leadership skills and a passion for conservation and environmental issues. They help the local population strike the balance between helping their developing nation grow while not destroying the ecosystem in the process. Many developing nations that seek industrialization have neither the ability nor the inclination to preserve the environment. They are similar to Europe during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. There was much technical and economic growth, but pollution of the air, water, and earth was devastating. Environmental volunteers show farmers how to work the land without ravaging it beyond repair.
Advanced environment volunteers have degrees in biology, ecology, forestry, and other environmental disciplines and/or related work experience. They help the communities preserve their natural resources, including “soil conservation; watershed management and flood control; forestry, including sustainable fuel projects, and wood and fruit production; biodiversity conservation near parks and other preserves; training park managers and technicians; wildlife surveys; and conducting community-based resource conservation of forest and marine resources.”
From Russia, without love: On Christmas Day, 2002, Russia officially kicked the Peace Corps out of their country. The Federal Security Service, known as the KGB back in the days of the Cold War, accused members of the organization of espionage.
Other Types of Volunteers
Here are some other types of positions you can find in the Peace Corps:
Agricultural volunteers: Help farmers in developing nations by introducing them to the latest agricultural techniques with an emphasis on environmental conservation. They also educate the people on dietary issues. For example, they encourage the cultivation of fruit and vegetable gardens to counter malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, especially among children. These volunteers offer alternatives to the harmful pesticides still used in developing nations.
Health volunteers: Work to promote health education among the population, both in urban and out-of-the-way areas. They educate women in pregnancy and child-care issues, nutrition, sanitation, water purification, and many other health-related issues, including, of course, AIDS awareness.
Engineering volunteers: Assist the people with sanitation issues such as sewage and irrigation systems, waste disposal management, building dams and other ways to improve the infrastructure while promoting health and preserving the environment.
Community service volunteers: Do a little of everything. This is a flexible program. These volunteers should have a college degree but it can be in anything. A social services or counseling background is helpful but not a prerequisite. Some work in youth programs and vocational training. Others work with what are called “at risk” young people: mentally and/or physically challenged youth.
Construction volunteers: Roll up their sleeves and help the people build schools, medical centers, and other necessary structures where the other volunteers can ply their trade. They also train the locals in the building trade. Needless to say you should only apply for this position if you have experience in construction, carpentry, plumbing and other similar fields.
Information technology volunteers: A new class of volunteer. Most developing nations are woefully behind when it comes to computer technology and the Internet. These volunteers are working to correct this and get the rest of the world computer literate and online.
As of the end of calendar year 2002, it is estimated that 38.6 million adults and 3.2 million children are currently living with the HIV virus throughout the world. The Peace Corps strives to promote AIDS awareness in the nations it serves.
You're Not Getting Older, You're Getting Better
Do not despair if your hair is graying or, worse yet, disappearing from atop your head. Do not lament the fact that you had to surrender your vanity and get that pair of reading glasses. Your maturity is regarded as an asset, not a liability, by both the Peace Corps and most of the people in the developing nations it serves. America has an unfortunate obsession with youth and youthful appearance, mostly perpetuated by advertising and the entertainment industry. In other countries, elders are usually respected and looked to as wise old sages and crones. (“Crone” is not a negative connotation for women in other parts of the world.)
The minimum age requirement for the Peace Corps is eighteen, but there is no age cap for volunteers. Age and experience are considered a net plus, and it's never too late to do some good in the world. It is not uncommon for people in their eighties to be serving in the Peace Corps. They do most of the things that younger volunteers do, and they carry a lifetime of experience and hard-earned wisdom with them.
Like any other volunteer, a complete physical and dental examination is required in advance. A volunteer's health care and medical expenses are completely covered when serving in the Peace Corps. There are Peace Corps medical officers in every country to assist volunteers, and medical evacuation back to the United States will be arranged if a condition arises that the medical facilities in the host country cannot handle. Working for the Peace Corps does not affect an older person's pension or Social Security benefits. If you need to return home for a family emergency, you will be given an all-expenses-paid, two-week leave of absence.
You and your husband or wife can join the Peace Corps together and serve in the same country. In fact, if you are married, the two of you must serve in the same locale. Married couples comprise approximately nine percent of Peace Corps volunteers. Couples can start the process when engaged, but they have to be married when they are assigned to a country. The Peace Corps does not accept couples that have dependent children. These accommodations are not applicable for friends or unmarried couples.
For more information about what the Peace Corps does, you can visit their Web site at