Thinking of Joining The Peace Corps? Think Again

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Many die-hard travelers, at one time or another, have dreamed about volunteering in a small village in some remote region of the planet. The prospects for such a journey could seem extremely promising for young, motivated spirits. Heck, what could be better than living abroad for an extended period of time, while at the same time changing the world, and unlocking endless possibilities for their future?  The list of reasons why such a trip offers valuable experiences could surely keep one listening for as long as it would take to reach a rural community in Mali, but as sensible travelers, we should ask ourselves: would we be in it for the right reasons?

In a recent article, BootsnAll lists five reasons why not to join the Peace Corps, asking people to examine their motives before committing to the intense program. Avid travelers who consider joining often mistake the volunteer job for a chance to travel in and around the region they are stationed in, when in fact the opportunity for exploration is minimal. The article points out: “To be effective, volunteers must integrate into their communities, adapt to new cultures and become familiar with customs and traditions. This means that when the job ends, the hard work of getting to know a place and its people really begins. Only volunteers who stay at sites and dedicate time and effort to cultivating relationships actually succeed.” And if there are opportunities to travel, getting around can be harrowing, requiring days of trekking and bunking in third-world conditions just to reach one destination.

We’ve all considered partaking in something we’ve had questionable interest in just to enhance our credentials or to mention the experience on some fancy interview. The fact of the matter is, yes, joining the Peace Corps, could help you brush up on a language you took in college, (the chances of being placed somewhere without already being semi-fluent is slim to none) and would look impressive to most employers, but can you face the reality of being immersed for two years in a job that will demand every ounce of your soul? If you can honestly say that you are cut out to serve others on a daily basis while enduring harsh living conditions, then go for it!

Traveling somewhere and volunteering in a place offers completely different experiences. Most travelers create their own itineraries and choose the level of comfort they wish to stay in. If there are aspects of a destination that are unappealing or boring, you have the option to walk away and find something better to do.  This is not the case with volunteering. Instead, it is a commitment for those who understand that they have been called to do a job where they will have a small but powerful affect on the lives they touch. As the article notes, “It may be impossible to change the world, but living in a tiny corner of it is a reminder that it is possible to change individuals, circumstances and ourselves.”

[Photo by PolandMFA/Flickr]

By Maria Russo


About the Author

Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA, and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.


When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).

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