29 Apr 5 Selfish Benefits of Peace Corps
It is hard to believe it has been one full year since we completed our Peace Corps service in Jamaica and started the journey to becoming full-time digital nomads. With the passing of time, memories of the challenges and frustrations of that “toughest job you’ll ever love” fade next to the nostalgia and appreciation of that incredibly unique and life-changing two years.
Yes, Peace Corps is about volunteerism- serving others and making sacrifices. But in the end, you get out of it just as much- if not more- than you give. These are five of the best benefits we’ve found for doing Peace Corps.
1) The RPCV Family
While being the only American for miles at your Peace Corps site can get lonely sometimes, the truth is: there are nearly 220,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who can relate to your experience. And you will run into them wherever you go. Being an RPCV means inheriting membership to an exclusive group of engaged, passionate, and influential alumni. No matter when or where in the world you served, you now have an instant connection to a diverse network of people around the world.
I lost track of how many RPCVs we’ve met during the past year, both through random happenstance and more formal RPCV chapter gatherings. Volunteers are everywhere and it’s easy to feel a kinship with them, even though we’re clearly all very different with unique Peace Corps experiences. Our friend and fellow RPCV, Megan, found a great house-sitting gig and met lots of new friends by leveraging the Peace Corps network when she moved to a new city after service.
When you’ve managed to wrangled scores of Jamaican primary school students into weekly literacy sessions with no resources, regular interruptions, a noisy and undisciplined school environment, and no curriculum to follow- and you survive that for two years while navigating a new culture, language, public transit system, weaving yourself into the fabric of a community in a place where all foreigners are supposed to be rich tourists – then you sort of start to feel like you can do anything. I imagine it’s a bit like completing a marathon.
You also gain invaluable hard and soft skills that empower you throughout the rest of your life. Your metaphorical tool belt expands as you develop a Computer 101 curriculum for senior citizens, become a non-verbal communication expert, navigate the political bureaucracy of two countries at once, practice the art of making something out of nothing, and so much more.
3) International Expertise
I once heard that the producers of the TV show, The Amazing Race, would never cast a pair of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in their show because RPCVs would be too travel-savvy in stressful, foreign situations. I don’t know whether someone from The Amazing Race ever really said that, but it’s a legitimate point.
Peace Corps Volunteers become experts in their country of service. Jamaicans were always surprised at how in depth our knowledge was of their their history, culture, and geography- they often told us that we knew more than they did about their own country! We learned how to navigate uncertain situations, communicate across language and cultural barriers, and adapt to new systems. We’re not only able to be the ultimate tour guides in our country of service, but we have a tool belt of important travel skills that can be re-applied to other locations as well.
4) Life-Changing Memories
It’s a truly unique opportunity to be placed into a foreign community for the purpose of serving. You’re not an expat, you’re not a study abroad student, you’re not a tourist, you’re not an aid worker. You’re working alongside your neighbors, taking public transit, shopping at the local farmer’s market, going to the weddings and funerals. There’s almost no other way to have an experience like this (with your expenses covered, no less) than being a Peace Corps volunteer.
You will never forget the inspiring life of your host country counterpart who struggles to raise her family while working to equip students with life skills, though underpaid and criticized by some of her peers. You will never forget your host sister’s wedding, a joyous celebration in the backyard regardless of the rain-drenched tablecloths and umbrella-clad ceremony. You will never forget the extra time during lunch hour working with the fourth grade boy who finally read a whole book all by himself. Or the night you caught land crabs by flashlight in the backyard with your host dad. Or the time when your favorite bus driver rescued you, stranded on the road during the biggest rain storm of your life.
You cannot help but be changed by your Peace Corps experience. You cannot begin to count all the things you have learned. You will see the world in a new way. You will come to better understand yourself, and others, and how the world works (for better or for worse). Just like the commercial depicts below, you will have a treasure of memories to pull from for the rest of your life!
5) PCV for life
At the end of our service, some of our fellow Volunteers gave out special awards to everyone in our cohort (Group 83), which they had made in the form of a round, wooden disc they called a “Round To It.” They said it was because so many people talk about wanting to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, but for whatever reason, they never get around to it. But we did. We got a “round to it.”
We’re so proud of our service. Not because we saved anyone or did some big great project. The impact we made was more subtle than that- more about building relationships and opening minds, both ours and our neighbors. We’re proud because, though rewarding, it was a really challenging two years; and we did it. We have no regrets about doing Peace Corps. For the rest of our lives, we can say we did it. For the rest of our lives, we reap the rewards of making those sacrifices and gaining those memories. That can never be taken away.
We are forever changed.
Interested in Peace Corps or other opportunities abroad? Check out our new site: BloggingAbroad.org
Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel
Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.