I remember, before turning in my Peace Corps application, the hours I spent googling, “why should I do the Peace Corps” or “reasons to do the Peace Corps.” I have to say, in the time I applied and have been a year in Nicaragua, the search results haven’t changed that much. Even googling the most positive words, the majority of the words were reasons to NOT join the Peace Corps. As usual, I felt the need to rectify that. I asked my fellow volunteers, “what reasons would you cite to tell someone to join the Peace Corps?” I summed it up to this nice list.
- New experiences – you will be in a new place, with a new language, making new friends, eating new food and meeting new people.
- Extending your network – you will find lifelong friends in your fellow volunteers and new familial bonds in your host family. The staff in Peace Corps is very helpful, from writing great recommendation letters to overall checking on your well-being. I can attest to the personal relationship I have with people in the PC Nicaragua office. I know they check up with Returned PCVs and receive updates/letters to continue being in the know. Peace Corps is a family that only a few are inducted into and once you’re in, we don’t want to let you go! 🙂
- Lose yourself – you will lose weight, lose fears and lose a few bad habits. It’s hard to stay glued to your phone if your site doesn’t have wifi.
- Learn yourself – you’ll try new things, you’ll realize you needed to have more patience or realize where your comfort zone is and how to expand it. You’ll learn what your tolerance level for stress is and what truly makes you happy. You’ll learn a new culture, from gestures to specific slang.
- Learn a second language – I want to say almost all PC sites don’t speak English, so you can become bilingual. Learning a new language is proven to significantly delay the onset of many brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer and dementia, compared to those who can only speak their native tongue. It also opens doors for you. You’re more likely to make a change meeting someone in the middle by speaking their language.
- Make your own job – Peace Corps is one of the few institutions that allows you to tailor your work to what you actually want to do. Do you have a love for yoga? Start a yoga class in your community. Do you enjoy baking? Find a baker and work with them to expand their business. Among my group, volunteers have worked with special Olympics of Nicaragua, started business coalitions and built schools.
- Become a critical thinker – there is no convenience in a rural area. So you learn how to find solutions to obstacles. How to work when there is no light or help someone while teaching them how to do it for themselves. Here, sustainability is key. It’s not just about getting the town money, it’s about teaching them how to make money for themselves and be independent. It’s not just about building a school, it’s about showing the communiy how they can build together. In the States, the convenience of everything caused me to use more money and less of my critical thinking skills.
- Have a deeper understanding – of everything. You will understand sustainability and see how one thing leads to another thing. You will learn how to understand people beyond speaking their language. You will come to an understanding of humanity in a way you can never understand it in your comfort zone.
- Be flexible – you will learn that your job isn’t always what is needed. You will realize schedules aren’t concrete in a third world country. Sometimes, the bus breaks down. Other times, you will have to hop into the truck of a stranger in your community or walk a dirt road for hours. Sometimes, there is no running water or electricity. You will learn to roll with the punches.
- Open your mind – you will find yourself thinking about living in another foreign country or going to grad school when previously it had not been something you considered. You will tap into creativity you could never find in the bustle of living in the State. You will hear music in the streets and see the stars a new. Your mind will be opened in ways you could have never imagined.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer has already changed my life for the better and I still have a year to go in my service. Do yourself a favor and consider it. It’s not all mosquito bites and laborious work. I love my job and if I had to do it all over again, I would. No regrets. Not a single thing to change except taking someone with me.