Do you consider yourself an adventurous spirit? Do you have an itch to travel to a foreign country? Or perhaps you just aren’t sure what you want to do for a career. If you feel called to serve your country or simply are interested in the cause of peace, consider volunteering for the Peace Corps, a federal agency dedicated to promoting world peace and friendship.
More than 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy asked young collegiate students to promote the cause of peace in the United States by living and working in developing countries and spreading peace across borders. He established three main goals that outline the mission of the Peace Corps: to help the people of interested countries meet their need for trained men and women, to help promote a better understanding of Americans in different parts of the world, and to help promote, in Americans, a better understanding of other peoples.
Peace Corps volunteers currently work in more than 60 countries throughout the world. Programs vary in length and purpose; volunteers aid communities in areas such as education, youth outreach, community development, business, environment, agriculture, health, HIV and AIDS education, and information technology.
Scott Ramos said he still remembers quite fondly his service from 1973 to 1975 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 24 years old, he entered the Peace Corps to work on water pollution studies in the Baia de Guanabara. He said he joined the Peace Corps “sort of on a whim” when he finished graduate school and didn’t have a job lined up.“The experience was remarkable,” Ramos said. “We learned so much—about ourselves, about other parts of the world, about a fascinating culture. I feel so strongly about the positive aspects of living in a foreign culture that I wish it were mandatory for all high school graduates.”
What does it take to make the cut?
To be a Peace Corps volunteer, you must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. Recruiters are not looking to fill quotas, so anyone who meets those two requirements may apply. The average volunteer is 28 years old, and 63 percent of all volunteers are female. However, many applicants vie for a spot in the Peace Corps, said Kate Kuykendall, a former public affairs specialist, so there are a few things you should consider if you are serious about applying.
“In order to be competitive you must have either a college degree with some volunteer experience or significant work experience,” Kuykendall said. “I encourage you to go to college, study a foreign language (particularly Spanish or French), do well in school, and volunteer in your community. That’s the best way to prepare yourself for your application.”
One concern many people face when considering joining the Peace Corps is safety. The Peace Corps makes a strong effort to keep volunteers productive, healthy, and safe during their service: they evaluate work and housing sites ahead of time, and they work with local communities to develop and test plans for emergency response.
Prospective volunteers might also be concerned about the effects living and working in a completely new culture will have on their relationships with friends and family. One suggestion Kuykendall gives is to experiment with spending shorter times away from your family and friends, learning to adapt to your surroundings through a summer job or by studying abroad.
“Because you are forced to create an independent life apart from your previous support network, and within an entirely new culture with a different language,” Kuykendall said, “you are really able to grow professionally and personally.”
If you are interested in applying or are looking for more information, visit www.peacecorps.gov or call 855-855-1961 to get in touch with a recruitment office near you.“This is perhaps the most rewarding and educational experience a young person can have,” Ramos said, “with one proviso: that you go with an open mind, willing to learn.”