on Peace Corps

Note: When reading this entry, I must ask you to take it with a heavy grain of salt.  The most important thing to know about Peace Corps service is that it varies….dramatically.  I went into service with a story ingrained in my mind.  It was the story of two volunteers who were assigned to the same town in sub-Saharan Africa.  They wrote an article together about what their service looked like.  Despite being just blocks away, their service could not have been more different.  That is the important thing to remember.  Do not look at this entry and paint a broad picture of what Peace Corps is.  Until you’ve talked to dozens of volunteers, you will not have a clear understanding.

On Volunteering Abroad.  The experience is why we do it.  We help others.  We make a difference.  But, in the end, we come back changed.  I can barely remember the world as I understood it before I served.  Now I see a new world.  I can barely watch any news in the US because it’s too narrow…they are more likely to follow a story of two death in LA than the story of a 1,000 deaths in Nigeria.  But, most importantly, you get the understanding that people the world over are looking for the same things in life: To give their kids something more than they had and the right to be content.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Maybe just not in Morocco.

On Early Termination.  I left the Peace Corps by choice after 390 days of service.  As I hit the midway point in my service, I was overcome with the inevitable mid-service crisis that everyone experiences.  The two main questions I contemplated were (1) What will I accomplish in my second year? and (2) Is it worth it?  After a long back and forth, I realized another year of service would not be mentally healthy for me.  After saying goodbye to my friends (and watching the Broncos get destroyed in the Super Bowl), I told Peace Corps it was time for me to go home.  I was home five days later.  While checking out at HQ, it appeared that staff is instructed not to ask questions about ETing volunteers.  The only person who asked me why I was leaving was the Country Director during our Exit Interview….and I was brutally honest.  With regards to the rest of the staff–even ones I struggled with–they were very non-judgmental and warm.  It made the transition much easier.

On Coming Home.  Today marks one month since I ended my Peace Corps service.  The transition has been a strange one.  The first thing that hit me was how American life is much like riding a bike.  It was surprisingly easy to re-enter American life.  The tough part is getting used to the details.  During the first two weeks, I struggled with incredible jet-lag.  During that time, I forced myself to go to the cafe every day.   That’s when I started noticing the differences:

  • English. Hearing English everywhere was incredibly distracting after a year of barely understanding.  As volunteers, we were trained to hear English from a mile away; it meant a Westerner was close.  In America, it just makes it hard not to intrude on other people’s conversations.
  • Women. After a year of interacting with women in conservative dress, I became overly-aware (and, at times, slightly judgmental) when I saw a women in even slightly provocative clothing.   Luckily this mindset has dissipated a lot…but I can still sense it.
  • Supermarkets. The first time I entered a supermarket was rather stressful (partly due to size; partly due to English).
  • Driving. Re-entering the driving population took some time.  I would go 5 MPH under the speed limit for the first week or two.  Partly because I wasn’t used to it.  Partly because I was driving my dad’s car….which cost more than any house I had been in for the past 13 months.
  • Family. With regards to family, I found that my mind had hit a reset button.  All previous issues were wiped from my mind and I was given a new opportunity to build new relationships with everyone within my family.  It has been great.
  • Friends. I found that only real friendships survived my time away.  When I returned, my good friendships resumed immediately and they have been extremely helpful with my transition.
  • Work.  After three weeks of downtime, I knew I was ready to move on.  My new full-time job is looking for a full-time job.  Luckily, I have a little sheet of paper that has the words “Non-Compete Eligibility” on it.  Those three little words are likely to change my life.  In the course of one week, I have received several interviews that are extremely likely to turn into job offers since I am the only person with a Non-Compete applying for the job.  I am also advancing slowly through the application process of Teach For America.  I believe a difficult decision is brewing.

On Leaving a Romantic Relationship for Peace Corps.  Looking for a romantic relationship before leaving for the Peace Corps is probably the last thing on your mind.  So, naturally, it happens all the time.  Three months before my departure, I fell in love with a college student up in Washington.  During out short-lived relationship, we were incredibly honest with each other.  The basics are the same for anybody involved in a relationship prior to Peace Corps:

  1. If you stay because of your significant other, you will subconsciously resent them for taking that experience away from you.
  2. If you leave, how can you ever expect them to trust that you will stick around?

I entered the Peace Corps without any expectations or ties to the young woman I left in the States.  That didn’t stop the pain from being immense.  There were many young married couples in the Peace Corps.  I quickly became rather jealous.  I realized that, although I loved my service, it would mean so much more if I had someone to share it with.  A lot of other single volunteers shared this mindset.  Loneliness is one of the hardest parts of Peace Corps.

On Peace Corps Morocco.  Within my first month of service in Morocco, I knew I was going to have a problem.  Morocco is a country of first world cities and second world rural areas.  It is not what you consider a regular Peace Corps Country.  The term most often thrown around was “Posh Corps.”  Almost every volunteer had running water, electricity, and home access to the internet.  The country is modernizing at a rapid race.  The rural areas are struggling, but that is because they are pushing back against the Westernization that comes with modernization.

Although we did no have to deal with extreme poverty, serving in Morocco came with its own set of issues.  Women serving in the country suffer immense sexual harassment and often assault.  Men serving in the country often find no path towards integrating into their community.  This was my issue.

Where I truly struggled was within the framework of our mission.  All volunteers in Morocco now work in Youth Development.  The thing is, the college graduation rate is exploding across the country.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is that they have no jobs after they graduate.  This large unemployed educated young population is what caused the revolution back in 2011.

So why does Morocco need Peace Corps.  The short answer is: They don’t.  For the issues that Morocco has, there is a massive unemployed population that needs to build up their resume and would do wonders if they volunteered in their community.  And they do.  There were few moments where I felt like I wasn’t duplicating a job already being done by a young Moroccan.  In the end our job within Peace Corps was cultural exchange.  The U.S. needs an ally in the Arab World.  Morocco needs investments from the U.S.  By the time I finished my service, I knew full well that I was a pawn in a geo-political game.  It made it easier to leave.

On Islam.  I was 12 when 9/11 happened.  As a result, I grew up in a country where 10% of the people spoke poorly about Muslims and 90% of the people said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.  Since I’ve returned, I’ve noticed people will tell me what they truly believe about Islam.  Correcting them has been rather fun.  I’ve heard everything from “they consider Christians to be infidels” to “they circumcise their women.”   All I have to do is clarify the reality and watch the ignorant anger melt away.  It’s quite fun.  It honestly doesn’t take much more than saying, “99% of Muslims want exactly what 99% of Christians want: A place to build a family in peace.”

If you are interested in Peace Corps or would like me to elaborate on anything I brought up here, feel free to contact me.  You can find all my information under the “About the Author” tab.

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3 thoughts on “on Peace Corps

  1. Pingback: Back in the Good Ol’ U.S.A. | Richard T. Reilly

  2. Hi Richard,

    I’m a PCV right now and I was wondering, did you get your non-competitive eligibility because you complete one full year of service? Or was it for some other reason? I hope you were able to find a job since you posted this!

    Thanks!

  3. Is it true that if a volunteer decides to ET after one year, he or she does in fact receive NCE? That’s a bit unclear. I’m in a program, also YinD in Southeast Asia and I keep finding mixed answers on this. Thanks!

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