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The Life-Changing Decision Of Being A Peace Corps Volunteer…

Truth be told I think about a lot of stuff! And being kind of a research monkey, I look for any opportunity to learn a bit more and share it with you! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Peace Corps recently. Is volunteering for roughly two+ years the right move? That’s a huge life-changing decision!

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that I’m kind of like a rabbit on crack with all the questions about my destinations in life lately.

Here’s what I’ve learned recently, along with some help from my friends Sara and Chris at Soul In Wonder. See, I was at a food meetup a few months ago, literally the day after I spent my first chunk of time on the Peace Corps website. I overheard this smiley little spitfire, Sara, mention their time volunteering. Of course, I hunkered down next to them and bent their ears for an hour or so. Now we’ve all become fast friends.

But we’ll get there. Back to last night and the casual Peace Corps info session I attended at a library in Charlotte, NC.

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Peace Corps Regularly Has Info Sessions for Those Thinking of Volunteering

A couple of weeks ago I was spending another good bit of time on the Peace Corps website and took a look at their calendar. Turns out the Peace Corps hold many public info sessions led by past volunteers and/or staff of the Corps. They’re held specifically for the reason of introducing folks to the concept and answering any question they could. I saw two in Charlotte, so I chose the closest one and signed up. If you’re thinking about the Peace Corps, you should definitely do the same.

Upon entering, there were actually only about 5 people in the room, sitting around a table casually chatting. After a brief round of introductions, it was made clear that the majority of people at the table were past volunteers. I found that quite settling. It goes a long way in speaking to the integrity of any organization when they have volunteers so willing to spread their gospel.

The Peace Corps Initiatives

I will say that the introductions were a bit overwhelming! The past Peace Corps volunteers rattled off dozens of “projects” they worked on while they were on their two-year volunteer missions. My understanding is that most positions have a primary job or initiative, and then many secondary initiatives or opportunities for them to be impactful within the community or position they’re planted in.

And it was pretty clear that these volunteers truly did have their lives changed by their volunteer stints (or multiple stints) with the Peace Corps.

Volunteer 1: Early 30s, volunteered for the first time in her late 20s (Mongolia I believe)
Volunteer 2: Early 30s, volunteered for the first time in her mid 20s
Volunteer 3: Leader of the group, Early 60s, first volunteered in her late 50s and hasn’t stopped…

Many of those secondary initiatives aren’t even apparent when they embarked. They actually become apparent once they’d been on the ground for a while. The Peace Corps volunteers start to see what’s needed and where they can be best utilized beyond their main objective. Then they simply dive in and take on more.

The Two College “Kids” That Were Thinking About The Peace Corps…

Then these two college “kids”, attending for information just like me, started rattling off their accomplishments. Mind you, they were likely at the young, green ages of 22 or 23 years old. That seems like eons ago for me. Wait; that was eons ago! We’re talking community and government engagement, volunteering, Americorps, tutoring, etc. These youngins were rockstars.

Yeah, there were some stout resumes in the room! Not gonna lie, I was feeling a little out of place.

It’s an odd thing that happens sometimes. Being in the presence of those you admire can help elevate you and cause you to aspire for more. That said, it can also serve to knock you down a peg or two! 

I had to remind myself that I am no slouch, but that my path has been merely different. I’ve volunteered hundreds of hours over the years, started small businesses, led teams, and so on. Not better or worse, just different roads for each of us. If you find yourself sitting in a seat similar to mine, admiring those across the table, don’t forget about your own accomplishments!

The Peace Corps Has Hundreds Of Volunteering Opportunities, For All Ages, All Over The World

The map brochure that they handed out covered hundreds of countries across the world. Those signified thousands of ways you could volunteer for the Peace Corps. Anything from volunteering in connected, small urban centers to extremely rural and minimally connected communities in third world countries.

Opportunities in Agriculture, Environmentalism, Youth Development, Education, etc. And these opportunities aren’t just for recent college grads or folks on their gap year. As shown by our volunteer leader, you can get started much later in life. I would just allow you to bring much more expertise to the table and be impactful in a different way. Life-changing decisions can be made at any point my friend.

If I Volunteer For The Peace Corps, What Does It Pay?

Don’t feel bad asking this question, as it’s an important one. Especially when you’re pulling your plug back home for two years or more! The Peace Corps makes sure you have a stipend and funds to live, eat, and attain an appropriate lifestyle depending on where you’re stationed.

They will also drop about $8k in your bank account upon completion of your obligation. So you can essentially classify this as a labor of love. I actually believe it’s appropriate that there isn’t a large financial “reward” for volunteering; it shouldn’t be about money.

And A Labor Of Love It Truly Does Seem To Be. 

These folks told amazing stories of their time serving and how it changed them.

“I’m truly a different person.”

“The Peace Corps completely changed the way I see people and the world.”

“Coming back to the US, I’m so much more accepting of all people and the way I view things is totally different.”

These actual quotes really speak to the life-changing nature of volunteering. But let’s be clear, it’s an opportunity to change the lives of those the volunteers help when on location. The beautiful reality is how life-changing it seems to be for everyone involved.

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That Leads Me Back To Sara And Chris And Their Story

They both had their ups and downs personally while they were in the Peace Corps. You can read more about their story, and where they are now because of it, here. But essentially they serendipitously met while volunteering.

They helped where they were stationed, and when done, went on to marry and continue their mission to help others. Beyond them, I find a lot of past volunteers while out and about in travel these days. The life-changing narrative is almost always the same, just with different characters.

So Should I Volunteer For The Peace Corps?

Again, that’s only one of the many questions that have been bumping around in my head. Between the rat race and some of the other soul-sucks in this game called life, the purity of a couple of years volunteering for the Peace Corps might be just what the doctor ordered.

But my current answer is “maybe, but not yet.” I think I’m going to continue to minimize and thoughtfully redesign my life a little bit more. Along with helping you do the same of course. And I’ll definitely keep thinking about the Peace Corps or volunteering long-term until the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll keep volunteering regularly at Victory Junction. (Join me, it’s awesome! They always need volunteers, and they really need more male volunteers!)

Not Quite Ready To Take The Long-Term Volunteering Leap Yet? 

Maybe you should consider just experimenting a little bit more to get you truly dialed in on a life-changing decision. If you haven’t yet, check out what happened when this experiment got hella-real for me.

Hope this little article about pondering the possibilities has helped a little bit! You’re not the only one thinking about the Peace Corps or other major life-changing decisions!


— Jason

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