Joining the Peace Corps
Challenges, Preparation and What I Would Have Done Differently
By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
This article is for my readers who are considering joining the Peace Corps. I was recently invited to speak about my experiences and I thought the notes I prepared might be helpful for someone in my audience.
What was the most challenging aspect of your Peace Corps service? What were strategies you used to overcome this challenge?
- Knowing the stages of culture shock:
- Making friends, both Peace Corps and local, to keep things in perspective.
What were the best ways in which you prepared yourself for service, or conversely, what do you wish you did to prepare for service?
- I was able to speak French.
- Volunteered at the United Way teaching English for 1 year.
- Studied abroad for 1 year so had a better idea of what to expect while living abroad.
- I ended up moving to Japan after Africa and something that I knew I needed to do after living overseas for 5 years was to be busy. I was beyond busy in grad school where I went to school full-time, worked part-time and added an internship to my schedule my second year. Because I experienced culture shock after studying abroad I knew that the best coping mechanism for me was to stay busy in order to reassimilate to the United States.
What I wish I would have done:
- Taken career assessment tests to understand myself better.
- Get an internship while I was in school in an industry of interest. For example, in Houston, I would have aimed for one of the chambers of commerce, in my case, being a French major, the French American Chamber of Commerce since I didn’t know what I wanted but that was at least an area of interest.
- Had a plan for my career-know which direction I was headed towards. Since I didn’t have a plan, I think getting my certification as a teacher could have been really helpful.
- Looking at the educational options available to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
- Explored various government jobs in advance so I had a plan when I came back to the States.
- Had better coping skills. There are a lot of feelings that come up when you are in a completely new place. I knew about journaling but I didn’t do it in a way that was helpful because I only wrote when I was angry. When I looked back at what I wrote, I would feel just as angry. Knowing how to journal in a way that is helpful and moves you forward is important skill. In addition, I didn’t know about keeping a gratitude journal which is something that would have been really helpful at the time and would have served as a nice souvenir of my time.
- Join Toastmasters so that I could have added the speaking skills they teach into my toolbox.
- Known some simple foods to cook.