2/11/2014

I'm Joining The Peace Corps

Peace Corps USA
I've been meaning to right about the successful conclusion of last year's New Year's Resolution, mention the fact that my squalid neighbors have finally moved out, and follow up my first and second semester lessons with a third installment, but when I sit down to write about those things all that comes out feels forced and contrived... because it is. I love living in the tipi (through rain, sleet, and most recently snow), and I will continue to do so, until I graduate in August. But as much as I love it, my heart is already set on a new adventure, The Peace Corps.

The Plan (at this point):
  •  Finish Spring Semester and take a few summer classes.
  • Graduate from Clemson University on August 8th, at 11am.
  • Pack up the tipi and sell it to a friend.
  • Give my beehive to a Computer Science professor at Clemson who is also a top bar beekeeper.
  • Cancel my utilities and forward my mail.
  • Bring LittleCat down to Charleston to live with my mother.
  • Rendezvous with my Uncle Matt somewhere on the east coast (he is leaving The Great Lakes in his sailboat sometime in June or July).
  • Spend four months sailing down to South America and The Galapagos.
  • In January, fly back to the US (more than likely L.A.) for a two day Peace Corps debriefing.
  • Fly to Vanuatu.
  • Live there for at least 27 months (3 months of training and 24 months in a village or town).
  • Teach the indigenous population computer, IT, and business development skills.
  • And go from there.
 If you don't know where Vanuatu is, don't worry. Neither did I.
Peace Corps Vanuatu
It's a volcanic archipelago between Fiji and the west coast of Australia. I had a choice between it and Business Development in Albania (which is just north of Greece and didn't leave until March 2015). Do you think I made the right choice?

I've kept a journal of nearly the entire process up until this point. A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers write blogs and such, but I've yet to see one that has been since inception. They all seem to start out with them just magically appearing in some undeveloped country. So if you're interested in my thought process and/or you're looking to apply to The Peace Corps yourself, here it is (six months, two recruiters, and one government shutdown later).

Friday, October 18th, 2013
The day before my senior year, August 20th, I went to a Peace Corps information session in Greenville, SC. I did not attend in order to learn more about volunteering (if you read their recruitment pdf, that's basically what they go over); I attended in order to meet my recruiter, Jess. At this point, I had already made my decision. Upon graduating from Clemson University, I want to volunteer with the Peace Corps.

For a while, I thought I might just pack up my tipi and hit the road, once I get my degree, but after doing some research, I decided that becoming a PCV(Peace Corps Volunteer) was the optimal choice. There are six volunteer work areas in the Peace Corps, one of which happens to be 'Business and Information & Communication Technology', ie what I'm getting my degree in.

15% of PCVs are in this work area, but ask yourself, "How many IT nerds are also willing to live in a tent?" Not many. And more than likely, a majority of those applying for the field are on the business side of things, not the technology side. With that said, I feel my chances of being accepted are rather high.

The Peace Corps Application process is pretty damn stringent, though. It took me around six hours to complete everything. I even went to the Michelin Career Center to have them check my resume, cover letter, and application, and that took at least another hour to hour and a half.

I submitted my standard and medical application on September 6th, they cleared human resources on September 14th, and I had my three letters of recommendation in (after a couple of polite, check up phone calls) by September 19th... and then, the federal government shutdown.

On October 1st, I received the following email:
Dear Peace Corps applicant,

Thank you again for your interest in the Peace Corps. Please be aware that our office is closed due to a federal government closure. Please be assured this closure does not affect the status of your application; you remain under consideration for Peace Corps service and your application status will not change during this time. While recruitment offices are closed, Peace Corps volunteers will continue to both serve communities abroad and depart for service in the coming weeks.
For information on when Peace Corps offices may open, please check our website www.peacecorps.gov. I look forward to connecting with you when our office reopens.
Now, the most annoying part in all of this was not that congress couldn't get their shit together, it was that I'd chosen not to tell my family about my decision to apply to become a PCV yet. So I couldn't aptly complain about the shutdown. As much as I wanted to voice my disdain for our elected officials, I had to self-censor.

A few weeks ago, my mom did run into one of my references. Afterwards, she asked me if I wanted to join the Peace Corps, and I tried to play it off, saying that I was simply 'considering it as an option'. I don't think she really bought it, but hopefully so. I don't want my parents or family knowing until I hit publish on this post, and I don't plan on doing that until after I graduate, next August. I might not make it that long, but we'll see. It's not going to be the pressure of keeping a secret rather the annoyance at everyone asking me, "So what are you going to do once you graduate?" and having to come up with some vague, irresponsible sounding response.

As a PCV, I'll be sent somewhere in the world to live and work for 17 months (three months of training and fourteen months of doing). I can specify a region I'd like to serve in, but honestly, I don't care. And I don't want my family weighing-in on the decision. Anywhere I go I'll get experience using my degree, in Computer Information Systems, and have 48 days of travel, to see the area around where they send me. Wherever it is, I'm sure they'll visit.

Yesterday, the federal government reopened, so the next stage in the process, the interview, is set to take place soon. The interviewer has the choice to either nominate you or, well not, and after having met Jess, my recruiter, I'm pretty sure I have this step in the bag. At the information session, I arrived early and as I was only one helping her set up. She asked, "Are you a RPCV?"
"Ah ah, what?" I replied.
"A RPCV. A returning Peace Corps Volunteer."
"Haha, no ma'am. I'm just looking to join."
"Oh well, you're certainly acting like one."

It took me a second to recognize the compliment because I believe that's the first time I've ever heard that phrase used positively. Then at the end of the meeting, I stayed to clean up, and I was waiting to say goodbye, as this other perspective volunteer berated her with questions. Now there's nothing wrong with asking intelligent questions, but don't ask the woman who has the ability to nominate you or not stupid questions. And this girl was asking some stupid questions. Finally she asked, "What do you, ya know, do on your um period?"

At this Jess, let out a long, slow exhale as she finished packing her presentation equipment up.
"You use a DivaCup," I chimed in.
They both stopped and stared.
"You use a DivaCup," I continued. "It's a medical grade silicone cup that you use like a tampon. Except instead of having to change it every couple of hours and throw it away, you just have to dump it out, and you can either rinse it off, if you like, or just stick it right back in."

Dead silence.

"They're actually really great, so I'm told, and you just put them in boiling water every once in a while and you're set. They last for like four or five years or something like that."
Neither of them moved for a minute, and then idiot girl resumed her torrent of senseless questions.
By the time she finally finished and walked away, Jess and I are one the way to her car. She turns to me and asks, "How did you know that!"
"Ha what, about the DivaCup?"
"Yeah... that's awesome!"
We made a bit of small talk about her home state, Indiana, and I helped her load her things into her car. As I was leaving she let me know, "I'm going to be looking out for your application! I'm going to be telling everyone about you!"

So even though most of my report, at this point, is based off my knowledge of feminine hygiene products, I feel pretty good about clearing the interview process. My only concern with the shutdown though was that after 16 days of furlough, Jess might have gotten another job. That doesn't seem to be the case. Her office line is still connected, but I've yet to hear from her.

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
It's official, Jess is no longer my regional recruiter. During the information sessions, Jess did say that they were in the process of moving her up and hiring her prodigy. Sad none the less. I'm sure Erica (the new recruiter), will be just as cool, but I'd already made a connection with Jess. So much so, that Rachel, the lady who answers the regional recruitment office phones, knew my name because of Jess talking about me.

So hopefully, things go well with Erica. Essentially I am prioritized last for interviews though. Departures prior to June 2014/first come first serve as far as departure date, according to Rachel. Between the government shut down and that, it may be a while before I get my interview.

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
I received an email from Erica Wherry two days ago basically saying she’s prioritizing departure dates in June and July (or prior) this coming year which is understandable. The most interesting bit of that lengthy form email was this:
2. Interview
  • The interview is an important part of the application process leading to service as a Peace Corps Volunteer and will give us an opportunity to explore your skills and expectations in more detail. During the interview, our discussion will include your:
  • reasons for considering Peace Corps.
  • expectations and concerns of working overseas for two years.
  • ability to work well in an unstructured job.
  • overall flexibility regarding work assignments and geographic placement.
  • questions or concerns regarding issues of diversity and circumstances such as vegetarianism, current romantic relationships, and financial/legal obligations..
So lets get a bit of practice here.
1) Reason: I like the entire package. Travel, hand-on experience, cultural immersion, one-on-one help for others, living simply.
2) Concerns: Not wanting to come home.
3) Unstructured: I guess I’ll talk about selling books and running my kickstarter project.
4) Flexibility: The more I think about it, the more inflexible I am about my work assignment. I want to be in a place that I can do IT work, if not for my job then at least in my spare time.
As far as geography though, wherever.
5) Obligations: NA

Friday, November 1st, 2013
Today I received an email from Erica giving me two options for an interview time. Both of the were not feasible for an inperson interview, given my academic schedule, but we have a Skype date set for November 19th at 10am. I'm going to have to duck out of my finance class, but it is the class after an exam and I will more than likely have enough time to sign the attendance sheet.

More sample questions she sent me to think on:
  • What made you think about joining the Peace Corps?
  • Where do you see yourself living in your Peace Corps village? What do you think your working conditions will be like? Imagine a typical day in the Peace Corps. What will you eat, where will you live, how will you get around, how will you bathe and wash your clothes?
  • Where do you see yourself ten years from now? How will the Peace Corps experience help you reach your future life goals?
  • In what ways do you imagine you will have to adapt when you arrive in your host country?
  • What skills do you want to learn while a volunteer? How will Peace Corps change you?
  • How will the local community benefit by having an American volunteer live with them for two years?
  • How will your time in country help the local community change their image of America and Americans?
  • What is your greatest concern about joining? What is your biggest wish/number one goal?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Success! That was officially the longest interview I've ever been through, at nearly an hour and a half. Erica, my interviewer/recruiter could not get her webcam working, so she could see my mug but to me she was just a disembodied voice, through my computer screen.

It was pretty standard fare, as far as questions go. She asked if I was in "a romantic relationship". I said yes. She asked "for how long?" Which was met with, "a month... Maybe two at this point."
A long pause on her end. "So is it serious?"
"I mean it's only been a month or two."
"So what is the longest you have been apart?" She asked continuing with the questions.
"Um, fall break... I mean..."
She ended up just changing that answer to no, at the end.

Apparently there aren't too many jobs for IT work (no shocker), so she's also looking for a business advising position for me (I had to bring this to her attention, that I qualified for it). Come February though, if never of those bear fruit she's going to add agriculture and water/sanitation to the search. Apparently business advising should definitely yield though (and since the job is so open, I could work IT/database stuff in with it).

"Has any of your family objected or raised concerns?"
"Nope."

Saturday, December 14th, 2013
I called my regional recruiter, Erica, on Thursday. I was about depart on my current adventure, hitchhiking to The Grand Canyon over winter holiday with my good friend Cayla, and I wanted to check up on things. I ended up leaving her a voice mail. She has not return my phone call, as of yet.

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
I just called to check up on a phone call and ensuing email correspondence, dating back to just after my last entry/sometime around December 17th. It turns out that they did not have me down as qualifying for Business Advising, even though my degree is Computer Information Systems and the requirement for Business Advising allows for a “Computer Systems” degree.

They claimed that this was a “typo”, but that typo is both on their website and on every single information packet that they hand out to potential volunteers… Typo, I think not. They seem rather reluctant to put me up for those positions, but either way, there apparently aren't going to be any openings until early March (and Erica won’t be able to see them until mid-February). So I’m going to check back in with her then.

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
Last weekend, I made my semi annual trip to Charleston. While at dinner, my mother asked me, “So are you really thinking about doing The Peace Corps?”
I tried to play it down, responding, “The what?”
Her, “The Peace Corps…”
“Oh yeah, I was just looking into it as an option.”
“So?”
“... meh. So what sushi rolls are you going to get?”
And that was the end of that conversation, really.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
At 16:49 today I received a call and a voicemail from Erica. I was in CPSC 416: 2-D Video Game Design, so I didn’t even see the incoming call. I returned the call at 17:20, to her line twice and to the main office number. Apparently, they are all gone for the day. I left Erica a message, and I’ll probably call at 8:30 in the morning. The only reason she would be calling is to 1) Tell me they don’t like me and are no longer considering my application 2) They found a spot for me 3) They finally got word back about Business Advising (and they might have a spot for me doing that).

I’m kind of hoping for anything but #1… now I get to wait and see. I’ll check back in, in the morning.

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Ahhhhhh! So here are my choices:
Vanuatu: a tropical pacific island west of the daintree coast, in Australia
Albania: a western bloc soviet country that's north of Greece.

They leave January 2015 and March 2015 respectively. Erica definitely was sold on Vanuatu, but I read the Albania Wikipedia page first. It seemed nice enough, and was close to mainland Europe (for off time travel, which was enticing).

Then I looked at Vanuatu... and damn. White sand beaches, lush rainforest, and being able to swim is a requirement! So much happy! Erica locks me in this coming Monday for the latter, Vanuatu, and Albania is the fall back. I wouldn't receive my 'Official Request for Service' until four months before departure so September/October-ish.
I'm suppose to be getting a confirmation email from Erica, at the beginning of next week, and then I'll need to start the next phase (fingerprints and a health screening). Hell, yeah!
...
I've spent pretty much my entire day reading about Vanuatu. It's interesting that something that I knew nothing about this morning I could now probably hold an entire dinner conversation about.

The thought hit me though, what to do with the five month gap?

Keep living in the tipi, walk, bike, or hitchhike across America, backpack the Appalachian Trail. And then wham! A thought I had a few nights back. My Uncle Matt has a large, ocean crossing sail boat, and I've wanted to spend a summer on it with him. I called, and he is leaving the Great Lakes in June or July and will be on the east coast by September then down to the Panama Canal, South America, and the Galapagos. Sold!

Tuesday, February 11th 2014
I did not hear from Erica yesterday, so I sent her an email in regards to the book about Vanuatu, that we had discussed and more so as a gentle nudge, in regards to filing my nomination, and...
Dear Everett Pompeii,
I am pleased to nominate you to the following Peace Corps assignment: Vanuatu
I called her after to check and see if my plans for sailing down to the galapagos, with my uncle, were possible, and they seem plausible at this point. It just depends on when I get my formal invitation (at which point I will have to get medical tests and such). I will also probably change my email password and give it to my father (so he can check it for important updates, while I'm on the high seas and contact me via satellite phone, if necessary).

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Peace Corps


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Location: Clemson, SC, USA

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