The Peace Corps can seem like an excellent option for some graduates, and it can be, but whether or not it is the best move for the new graduate depends on a number of factors. There are a few important questions you must consider carefully before making a decision to join the Peace Corps.
Are You Planning to Go into Development Work or Another International Career?
For people planning to join the Foreign Service or do development work, experience as a Peace Corps volunteer will be invaluable. It is an excellent opportunity to get a look at the pros and cons of both development work and the experience of being a representative of the United States in a foreign country. Peace Corps experience can put you on a fast track for a number of government positions including in the Foreign Service, and if you’re interested in development work you can make significant contacts. The foreign language learned as a Peace Corps volunteer may be a benefit as well.
Do You Have Significant Debts or Financial Obligations (Other than Student Loans)?
Many types of student loans can be deferred or forgiven for Peace Corps volunteers, but it's important to look into this ahead of time. For other types of debt, such as credit card debt, the Peace Corps stipend will not be sufficient to cover debt payments. In fact, it will only pay for maintenance in the foreign country. You need to be realistic about your financial situation before making the decision.
Are You in a Serious Relationship, or Do You Have Family Obligations?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, that doesn't automatically mean that the Peace Corps is out. It simply means that joining should be considered more carefully. Total commitment is important for Peace Corps volunteers. A community will be depending upon the you, and if there is a situation at home that makes you more likely to leave early, it may be necessary to reconsider the Peace Corps. Of course, some people do complete Peace Corps terms of service successfully with a significant other at home, and you should weigh your family obligations against your future goals.
Should You Get Some Work Experience First?
For both the good of the program itself and the individual, it may be better to get two or three years of work experience before joining the Peace Corps. A teacher with a few years in the classroom or an agricultural adviser who has worked with a local extension office in the United States may be more effective than a volunteer fresh out of college. There may also be benefits on both sides; a volunteer may get more out of the experience by having more to offer.
Are You Prepared for the Living Conditions?
As with the question about loved ones, if the answer to this question is "maybe not," that's not an automatic disqualifier. Part of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer is adapting to situations that you might find uncomfortable or alien. However, you should be prepared for the fact that living conditions are likely to be significantly different from what you are accustomed to.
The Peace Corps can be a life-changing experience for both the volunteer and those with whom the volunteer works. However, it can also be difficult and disappointing. If you are thinking about becoming a volunteers, carefully weigh the pros and cons and consider them against your present life situations and future plans to make a fully informed decision.
Ralph Vincent understands what a tough decision joining the Peace Corps can be. When not writing about the Peace Corps Ralph enjoys contributing articles on education, travel, volunteering and other kindred subjects; to learn more visit ARCC.