Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Peace Corps, First Update

So, as I wrote in the last post, I've applied to join the Peace Corps. Here are some of the raw facts about Peace Corps, for those who are unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with it:

Peace Corps entails 27 months of service overseas, where a volunteer works in and with a community in one of six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment. The work is not paid -- it is voluntary. The Peace Corps does, however, provide volunteers with a living allowance that is adjusted to the standard of living wherever they serve; they pay for the flight to and from the work destination; they provide and pay for any medical care necessary during the service. Peace Corps is strictly non-military, and has nothing whatsoever to do with United Nations Peacekeepers. You have to be an American citizen to serve. You do not get to choose where you serve, but you can indicate geographic preferences. Ultimately, the determining factor is what skills you have and where those skills can best be utilized.

So those are some facts. Back in June I began my application. I filled out the pages about my whole background, I got recommendations from Mrs. Legrand (my 12th grade lit teacher and NHS supervisor), from Mimi Miller (good friend who has known me forever), and from Craig Lancto (my supervisor at NESA in Washington, DC). I had to write a couple essays, and then fill out a long questionnaire about my health status and history. Soon afterwards, I got a packet of various forms to fill out -- I got myself fingerprinted for the security check, filled out a National Agency Check form, sent my college transcripts, and also completed a couple other forms asking about my skills and experience. I had the interview with my Peace Corps recruiter on August 16th.

The process with Peace Corps goes something like this: You submit all those application materials, then you have an interview with a recruiter. If, after reviewing your application and conducting the interview, the recruiter thinks you are qualified to move forward, he/she Nominates you for service. Nomination means that you are continuing on the track to eventual Peace Corps service, but it's not the same thing as an actual invitation to serve. With your nomination, you learn the general type of work that you will do, you get a (tentative) timeframe for departure, and they tell you what geographic region you will (tentatively) serve in.

My nomination right now is to work in Secondary Education/Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and the program would be in Asia, tentatively beginning in early April 2011. Peace Corps currently has programs operating in six countries in the region they define as "Asia" -- those countries are China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. So that's what I'm looking forward to at the moment: 27 months serving in one of those six countries, beginning in April 2011, which is about six-and-a-half months away.

Now, after you've been nominated, you have to be cleared medically and legally to serve. Medical clearance is the longest part of the process. You need to get clearance from a physician, dentist, and optometrist, as well as any specialists. You have to get blood and urine analysis. You need immunizations. You need dental x-rays. You need to get your sight and hearing checked. Anything that comes up as "abnormal" must be taken care of before medical clearance is granted. If there's anything wrong with your mouth -- cavities, wisdom teeth, etc., it has to be taken care of before you go. So, if it's not done smoothly, or there are irregularities, clerical errors, and/or miscommunications, the process can get very messy. Hopefully for me it will be a smooth ride, because I'm 22 and healthy, with no special medical conditions that would need accommodation.

My situation right now is somewhat complicated because I live in Switzerland and my insurance is here, so I may have to do parts or all of the medical clearance stuff here. I will not be insured in the US until January, when my dad will be able to put me back on his policy as a child under 26, thanks to the health care reform. I had originally thought to go back to the US in early October to do the whole medical clearance business, but without insurance it would be too expensive. Apparently you can get the medical examinations done at a VA hospital for no charge -- so that would be an option in the States. Still, I think I'm going to have to stay in Switzerland an extra month to take care of this stuff. At the moment I just don't have enough information about what specifically is being asked for and what my insurance will cover.

So, after you are granted medical clearance, then the Peace Corps can decide whether to actually give you an invitation to serve. You are considered for available positions and compared with other candidates -- but I've been told by my recruiter not to worry about this part of the process. The great majority of those who are nominated and cleared to serve are invited to serve. When you are invited, then you finally know specifically what country you will serve in and what date you leave. Then it's up to you to accept or not.

I'm now at the outset of the medical clearance process. I want to sort of keep a record of what happens throughout the rest of the application process in this blog, so that's what I'll try to do.

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