The Application Process

The application process to join the Peace Corps is long, hard, and incredibly competitive. I first started getting serious about applying around 2 years ago, that’s when I first looked at the online application and realized that I was not qualified to apply, not even close. I did not have hardly any volunteer hours under my belt, no serious work related experience (at that point all I had ever done is wait tables), no cross cultural experiences, and no degree. So I got serious about volunteering and getting a job in a related field. I started volunteering with the United Way, NEA Hope Circle, and various other small volunteer projects. I started working at the NEA Baptist Clinic Wellness Center and was involved with a lot of work related projects.

Once I started filling out the application I saw that I had to write two essays: one over my motivation to join the Peace Corps, and the other one on a cross cultural experience I have had. The motivation essay was easy, I just had to talk about why I want to volunteer. The cross cultural experience was going to be difficult since I had never been exposed to a culture much different from what I had always been around. I had read other people’s essays and most people wrote about living abroad for a few years or taking a cross-country drive. At that time I had never been out of the country. But, luckily, I have an amazing older sister, Stella, who was living in Italy at the time and she was offered to pay my way to go see her in Italy. I spent a week exploring Italy, eating  A LOT of pizza, meeting a ton of interesting people, drinking delicious wine, doing things I’ve never had a chance to do before (Aerosmith concert and nude beaches!) and visiting a few cities: Venice, Verona, Grado, etc. In a way I feel like I got to see the real Italy, not the touristy version of it. So, there I got some great material to write my second essay on.

Also required in the application is three letters of recommendation: one from a current or previous work supervisor, one from a volunteer supervisor, and one from a close friend. I did not get to read what they wrote but I hear it was pretty in-depth, So, Michelle, Whitmey, Billie and Barb, I am so thankful that you spent time writing them for me.

And finally, I had to list ALL volunteer and community service work I have done, other practical skills I have (gardening, hiking, tutoring, etc..) and I had to give an entire in-depth medical history.

The application took me about 3 weeks to complete. Truthfully, I did not have high hopes in the beginning of this process. I had read all the articles about how hard it was to become a volunteer and how long it took to get qualified. They say that 15,000 people apply each year to the Peace Corps and in the end only around 4,000 actually get an assignment. I figured I did not have the background or the experience to be a competitive applicant.

Then I got a letter in the mail saying I needed to turn in some more paperwork. This time they wanted my college transcripts. And I had to get my fingerprints made and fill out a background agency check form. I took it as a good sign that they wanted me to turn these in, at least they got through my application.

Then I got an email. The email was from my recruiter in the Dallas office, Shand. He said he received my application and would like to schedule an interview with me as soon as possible. I was utterly surprised and overjoyed that I got an interview! I contacted Shand and set up and interview in Dallas on Sept. 30, 2010.   

John, my stepfather, flew me and my mother to Dallas to meet with Shand in the Peace Corps Office. The interview went about how I expected, he asked me questions like: What motivated you to join? How well do you deal with stress? Do you mind not having electricity? running water? reliable means of communication with home? I said Of course! I told him I had no geographical preference and that I would go anywhere and do anything as long as I got to go!

At the end of the interview, he said he felt confident to nominate me to work in Health Extension division in North Africa/Middle East in March. The only countries PC deals with in North Africa and the Middle East are Morocco and Jordan. And that was fine by me!

Then the hard, long, and expensive part of the application process started. The medical kit arrived in the mail about a week after my nomination. It had a to-do list inside. I had to get dental clearance, that meant getting a dental exam. I had not been to the dentist since I got my braces off sophomore year and that made me nervous! Luckily, all that skim milk I have been drinking came in handy and I had no problems so  I passed the check-up.  They had me send in dental x-rays and my dentists signature saying I was good to go.  With the medical part of the kit I lucked out because I worked at Hytrol and they have a free medical clinic on site with two of the most amazing nurses ever, Billie and Barb. They hooked me up with all my shots, blood work, my exams, immunizations, ear and eye exams, family history chart, and lab tests and they tried to get it done in the cheapest ways possible. All the tests still cost me around $1000 out-of-pocket, but without their help it would have been a TON more and I wouldn’t have been able to do it. SO, after a month of all that, I finally sent off my medical paperwork.

While I was waiting on my medical tests to come back all clear, I got an email from the placement assistant asking for an updated resume with all my new volunteer work that I had been doing during the application process and then she informed me that all the spots for North Africa/Middle East had been filled and I would probably be placed in the April-June departures. I knew that when I was nominated for that region that there was only a 50% chance that I would actually get it, but I was impatient and started studying up on the countries and was really getting my hopes up about moving there. So when I found out that wasn’t where I was going I was a little bit crushed.

At this point, I had what some refer to as R.A.S. (Restless Applicant Syndrome). I spent  many, many, many hours on websites such as peace corps wiki and peace corps journals trying to figure out where people where getting sent in that 3 month period and what they were doing. It was driving me crazy not knowing where I was going, not knowing which continent I would be on! Then, my incredibly wise sister told me to stop worrying and to “bloom wherever I am planted”. After she told me that I realized that I will be sent where I am needed and where I am needed is where I am meant to be. And my restlessness slowly disappeared, though still not completely.

Finally, I got an email from my placement specialist officer saying I needed to call her asap and have a phone interview (the last little hurdle in the application process), I immediately called her and we pretty much had a smaller, shorter version of the interview I had in Dallas. She was just making sure that it was still what I wanted to do and that I realized the seriousness of my decision. One question in particular stood out: “Are you comfortable in or around water?” It struck me as an odd question so I went back and looked at the list of countries that had volunteers departing in April, May or June. I saw Fiji listed and leaving May 17th. Surely I wouldn’t get that lucky. It must have just been a routine question.

Two days later I received an e-mail from her telling me that she found a great program that she thought I would  fit right in with and it was in the South Pacific, leaving in mid to late May.  She didn’t say Fiji right out, but I knew that was the only country leaving in that time frame for the South Pacific. SO I was a little excited but I wouldn’t let myself get too excited until I knew for sure that was where I was going.

Three days later I got my big beautiful blue packet in the mail saying I was going to FIJI!! Yes!!!!!!!

Then I opened it and saw a large pile of more paperwork that I have to fill out and send in: Power of attorney forms, applications for a special peace corps passport, life insurance forms, personal property insurance forms, press release info, financial forms, staging materials and a ton of other stuff.

It took me about 10 months to get to this point. And my process was relatively easy compared to a lot of other applicants. I have heard horror stories about it taking years to complete the process. I am lucky because I have no medical issues, dental issues, or legal issues. If you do and you apply, good luck. It was still pretty hard though, and the fact that I stuck with it through the whole grueling process should go to show how determined I am to do this and that this is not a spur of the moment decision, but one that I have been actively working towards for almost 2 years.

Responses

  1. Hey! I don’t know you, but I know Mallory Maddox and I saw that you tagged her in a Peace Corp titled note on facebook. I immediately clicked the link to your blog. I graduated highschool with Mallory. Anyway, I always thought I wanted to join Peace corp and up until last year, I always thought I would. But, now I’m getting married this year to a Marine officer and my plans have changed. However, I would love to keep up with your blog and read all about your adventures. I guess it’s kinda like living vicariously through you 🙂 I think it’s awesome that you are volunteering and I’m sure it will be life changing! Thanks so much for starting a blog because I’m sure it will inspire many people…including myself.

  2. Hi. I stumbled upon your blog off of the Peace Corps wiki. I am in the process of applying right now. I am also going through the Dallas office 🙂 My recruiter is Linda Tucker. I haven’t received a nomination yet, but my recruiter just asked if I could swim and is interested in having me depart in May… So, according to consistent annual project, Fiji is a possibility! There are a few other countries that could fit too, so, we’ll see. Plus, I still have a LOT to get through. Ugh. The medical part is what I am looking forward to the least. eek. Anywho. good luck with everything. I’ll probably be keeping tabs on your blog here and there. 🙂 -Cassie

  3. Keep safe!

  4. Hey! Where can you look and find out what countries are departing when??? I am in the middle of the process and I would just like to see what is available out there….


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