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Few questions to ask..

Hope this isn't a lot to be asking.. I've been thinking of joining the Peace Corps for quite some time but now the time has come for me to really take action. And now I realize just how many questions I have and how little I know about all of this. So If anyone could help me out with these question I would really appreciate it.

My main questions is.. can you pick where you go? I know that you can't exactly do that but that they present you with an offer and you can deny it or accept it. But I don't want to deny offers just because It's not where I wanted to go. See.. It's always been my dream to go with the Peace Corps to Africa. So this might sound bad but If I got offered to go someplace else, I really don't know how I'd feel about that. And I'm sure they limit themselves to how places they can offer you to go to, especially if your turning them down..

My other question is about the violence of some countries and perhaps Africa as well but have many people been raped there or been robbed? I really would like to know just how many people have died in some act of violence while being out in the Peace Corps. Or even just raped.. I don't know if Africa has a problem with that much for the Peace Corps but I would still like to know.

And my last question is, when you get there.. do you stay with a family or do you stay in one little place by yourself? I imagine going to a country on your own is difficult enough, especially if you don't speak the language but living in a building alone in a strange country is incredibly hard for me. So yes.. I'm sorry my questions might be stupid but I would really appreciate it if someone could help me out with this.

-Summer

Comments

1. You can't really choose where you go, but Africa is big and has lots of spots, and if you're really insistent, I bet your recruiter can find you a place there. Don't worry too much about this. It's best to be flexible, but you're asking for an entire continent with lots of programs, not one particular country with one specialist program. I bet it could be done.

2. The Peace Corps does keep stats on this sort of thing, ask your recruiter. I've been shown the violence stats for my region in safety meetings, although I certainly can't recall them off the top of my head and I'm not in Africa anyway. Bad stuff happens, but they do try to minimize it.

2. In training, you live with a family. I was incredibly nervous about this, but my host family was really welcoming and it did make learning the language and culture a lot easier. Here in BG, in training we live in villages and towns surrounding a larger town, in groups of 4 or 5. So, there were 5 of us trainees in my village and we had language classes together every day, and we met at the one restaurant in town to hang out and speak English. Then every couple weeks, my whole group would meet for what were usually boring ass meetings in the larger city.

When you're a volunteer, you USUALLY live alone, but if you live in a really small village, you might live with a host family. If you live in a bigger town, you might have sitemates, so you wouldn't be alone. My village is small, so I am by myself here, but there are two volunteers in the bigger town 25 minutes away, so it's not THAT isolating. Although I'm sure that in countries bigger and less well-connected than Bulgaria, you can be a lot more isolated.
Hi Summer, these are questions that a lot of folks ask - it's definitely not too much.

What happens when you are interviewed and accepted is that you are nominated for a region, which you have a good deal of control over. In Africa, there's North Africa/Middle East (which, basically, means Morocco), and Sub-Saharan Africa, which is separated into French-Speaking and Non-French Speaking. You'll also be given an approximate date of departure - so your nomination will sound something like "Non-French Africa, November 2006". That might change once you get into the medical and dental clearance and placement stages, which is why they don't like to tell you ahead of time that you're going to Namibia or Tanzania or wherever, because your departure date might get pushed back, which means you'd be leaving with a different program, in a different country.

So the short answer is yes - you can say you want Africa, and that should be fine. (And it's usually okay to say "I do not want to go to Country X" if you've got a good reason - saying that you don't want to go to Ghana because you really don't like their kente patterns will not win points with your recruiter. But you probably figured that out.) But whatever you do, don't say "I want Africa or nothing".

Your other two questions elicit a very common response: It Depends On The Country. You'll be hearing that a lot. This is because the office staff is different for each place and each has their strengths and weaknesses.

PC really hates to have weak Safey and Security, though, because they REALLY want to keep accurate statistics and, even more so, don't want volunteers to say that they don't feel safe. There are safety issues wherever you go, but PC Safety and Security is heavy on prevention and during training they really want to give you tools to fend off bad stuff.

Each country has a different host family policy. As far as I know, you will definitely live with a host family during training. In some places, you will never live with a host family once you're at site, some places you will for three months, some for six, some for your whole service. From what I understand, a lot of African countries have you in a family compound so you've got your own space but you've still officially got a mom. :) It all depends on how easy it is for folks to integrate into the community. (You'll hear that a lot, too - "integrate into the community." It's definitely a PC buzz phrase.)
Apply well in advance of your departure date and specify departure dates (listed on peace corps yahoo 2 group)that coincide with africa. If you speak french, it will help. You also need to make sure you have skills applicable to africa, like health experience. Or, if you know ASL, they seem to place a lot of ASL-knowing people in Kenya.

As for sexual violence, I wouldn't go to north africa/MENA if I were you, there is a lot of sexual harrasement and sexual violence there. But as for the rest of africa, you should be fine, I think. As for homicides, they list these on peacecorpsonline.org. It seems like a lot of them were actually in the Phillipines, but yes, some of them were in africa. They also have some articles about rapes in the PC in latin america on that site.
Where exactly can I find the homicides information on the peace corps site? I've tried looking for it but haven't been able to find it :[ But yeah. Thank you so much for this information, It's very helpful.
http://www.peacecorpsonline.org/ just look for it again, its a poorly organized site. It has the Dayton news expose on sexual assault in the peace corps too.
it's alot better now than it used to be... pco used to be *impossible* to navigate
http://www.peacecorpsonline.org/ then click peace corps library then click "fallen"
In my opinion, you're going to have to deal with the possibility of interpersonal violence (muggings, robberies, rape, etc) almost anywhere that you go. I haven't served yet, but I've heard of examples of this all over.

A former volunteer gave me some decent advice, which I definitely plan to heed, especially if I'm in a small town/village. Once you make it to your community, you want to get affiliated with a family. Even if you're not living with a family, there you should get yourself close with a family in the community. Whether it be your neighbor, your counterpart (the main person/people/orginzation that you work with on your project), whatever. That way, people in the community know better than to bother you, because you're not isolated, because people there have your back.
That's very true.
You can't pick where you go, and you shouldn't want to. Peace Corps is about helping others, not yourself, and in order to do that you need to be flexible enough to go where you're needed, not where you want to vacation.
I don't know, I tend to disagree somewhat. You can't help anyone very much if you're miserable in the region you've been placed, which, I'm sure, is why they ask you for your top three preferences.

IE I'm thrilled to be nominated for Eastern Europe. It was my third choice, but I feel like it, as a region, is a much better pick for me than Asia/Pacific Rim countries would have been, based on what I've heard from RPCVs.
You can't help anyone very much if you're miserable in the region you've been placed

And the counterargument to that is you have no idea if you're going to be miserable somewhere until you get there and live there a while. People too often come into PC with huge expectations. Like the original poster who's "always dreamed of doing Peace Corps in Africa." Why does he/she feel that way? He/she's never done PC in Africa, so it's based on assumptions that may or may not hold true for him/her once they arrive.

So you've talked to other people, maybe you've even lived in Africa, none of that is the same as actually spending 2 years in a community, all alone, as a PCV. And who's to say that you might have a great time in Africa, as expected, but you could've had an experience five times more meaningful in another region you refused to consider? I just think it's very close-minded to be really adamant about placement (that's not to say you can't express preferences) and doesn't help anyone.

As a personal example, a guy in my group begged for an isolated village in the Romanian mountains b/c he wanted the "real" PC experience, only to turn around 6 months later begging to be placed elsewhere b/c he was so miserable. He was lucky not only that PC was willing to move his site to one of the largest cities in-country, especially after he pushed so hard to get his original placement, but lucky that it was even possible. Had he been stuck in an African country comprised mostly of villages and bush (as he truly wanted from the start) he would've been stuck with either bush village or return to the US. And that decision would've been a lot harder to make.
That's very true, and not really a point that I'd considered.

Whoo, friendly and intelligent discourse!
hey same thing here. I said Eastern Europe/Central Asia was my third choice (after MENA and africa) but now that I think about it I'm pretty glad that I'm going to central asia. It makes sense for me because of my experience both in post-soviet-block countries and in Muslim countries. Maybe our recruiters really do know best.
you need to be flexible enough to go where you're needed, not where you want to vacation.
That came out a little harsh, I'm sure you didn't intend it that way. There are often very good reasons for a person to request a specific area of the world. For instance, maybe you don't want to be in a vacation spot like Thailand, or teaching Capitalism in the former Soviet Union.
I realized as soon as I posted that that it sounded worse than I intended. But I hope my clarifications in the discussion following made up for that.
When I was asked about placement preference I was really interested in the island countries for all kinds of reasons but was worried about saying anything in the interview because of this 'vacation' idea. Do that many people join the PC looking for an extended vacation? I have a hard time believing that. I understand the idea of not being attached mentally to a specific place though, and I know that expectations often lead to dissapointment.

But anyway, it worked out in the end and I just got my invitation today. I'm so happy.
Do that many people join the PC looking for an extended vacation?

Enough to make it a legitimate concern, yes.

There is an odd mix in the development world (not just PC) of people who really are in it to make a difference, narcissists looking for bragging rights, and romantic poets in search of inspiration.

There's nothing quite so irritating as an 'Ode on a 3rd World Cesspool'.
Hmm...I guess I was imagining that there would be some people who's motives were something that I suspected, but I would think that someone looking for some kind of free ride would never make it through medical clearance and all the paperwork. (Too much work)
:) congrats! where are you going?
I'm leaving in October for Samoa - ICT (information and communication technology). I haven't had a chance to look at the invite packet so all day at work i'm just waiting to get home so I can look at it!
There is enough concern that many people have taken to calling PC in that region "beach corps" ;)
And they call us in Eastern Europe the Posh Corps. Anyone who agrees with this is cordially invited to visit my village and see how very posh it is. (And I live in a RESORT TOWN. Doesn't mean I don't have to look out for the donkey shit in the road.)
sweet ;)

For the record... I wasn't agreeing with the "beach corps" tag... just throwing it out there!
You've gotten some pretty good responses so far, so I just wanted to add one note about safety from what I've read about so far:

The Peace Corps tend to err on the side of caution with anything regarding safety, in most countries if not all. Accidents happen no matter what -- you could have horrible things occur in your life no matter WHERE you live. It's part of the danger of living in general. PC gives volunteers information and rules to keep them safe. Sometimes the rules seem a bit overwhelming, but often (not always) when a volunteer got hurt, it has been because they were doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. They don't trust their gut instincts or they get cocky and end up where they shouldn't be. This is NOT always the case, by any means, but even in the US, you wouldn't go walking down a rough street in the dark by yourself, would you? I think a lot of it is paying attention and using common sense about safety.

Two things I've heard that I liked about this issue as I've been wading through the process of applying:

-One woman said that the PC office in her country told them to directly stand up to guys who sexually harrassed them or to not say anything (i'm not sure which), but she learned from the women in her host family that the best way to deal with the situation is to fight back, but act like it was an accident and smile and apologize profusely. This was an African country where men are most definitely seen as "superior," and doing what the PC told her to there could have actually gotten her into trouble. I believe her exact example was: "Oh! I'm sorry, did I break your foot when I stomped on it? I'm so sorry! That's just my normal reaction when someone grabs my ass. :DDD". So in short, the women in your country can be a fantastic practical resource-- make friends quickly! Ask what they do in situations like that.

-Regarding general safety, one young woman who had been on mission trips with her church in Africa and some other countries before posted a story. She said that when they were sent out to work wherever they were assigned for a month or two, that their directors told the group to pay attention to the news to make sure that everything was okay, and that if the local PC volunteers in their area cleared out for any reason, to follow them ASAP because they would be the first ones to know if there was a problem! My great aunt served in the PC in the 1970s and was evacuated from Nigeria over a year into her service. They had less than 24 hours to clear out their possessions, leave their trunk behind to be picked up later, and jump in the truck that came around to take them all to the capital to evacuate. Unfortunately her trunk never made it back, but she and her fellow volunteers were just fine.


Please be aware, though, that as a foreign woman (and especially an American), you probably WILL be harrassed verbally at some point, and maybe even frequently depending on your country and how much you follow the local dress customs. Learning the language so you can respond is your best weapon. Men will shout harrassments in some cultures and not expect you to be able to respond or understand them; if you can, it takes them by suprise and often makes them laugh instead of bother you. It's the best way to show them that you are not someone to be messed with.
1) My other question is about the violence of some countries and perhaps Africa as well but have many people been raped there or been robbed?

As anywhere, crime DOES happen in Africa and it DOES happen to PCVs. And like anywhere, there are a multitude of things than CAN be done to make yourself less of a target. Living a culturally appropriate life is a MAJOR one. Not flaunting possesions is another. Peace Corps keeps Incident Reports on the various incidents that occur so long as they ARE reported and they are a matter of public record and I found them once online though I can't remember now exactly where (but I'm sure they're still findable). Petty theft and harassment were the biggest problems we encountered in Chad. In the three years that the Peace Corps was in Chad, there were three assaults, one major requiring medical evacuation, one serious but not medically critical, one minor. All three could have been prevented by the volunteers' actions and in all three of the cases the local authorities responded with quick, decisive action that, in two instances, landed the perpertrators in jail and in the third punished those HCNs that allowed the incident to occur. I find that Peace Corps takes its volunteers' safety very seriously. But it's a partnership that equally requires the PCVs to take their safety seriously. Of all the volunteers who served in all the countries of the world, I think you'd find very few who experienced an incident (or incidents) that marred their service. Of the three assaults in Chad, two of the volunteers went on to extend for a third year and the other had been seriously considering extending when she was evacuated due to civil unrest. Not bad stats, really.

2) And my last question is, when you get there.. do you stay with a family or do you stay in one little place by yourself?

It is my understanding that those programs that do not do a center-based training DO place volunteers with a host family for the duration of their pre-service training (PST). So when you first arrive, lacking language, cultural understanding and the ability to diagnose the various forms of diarrhea you're experiencing, you will not be living alone. Even in a center-based training, you're not alone as you live dorm-style with your fellow trianees. By the time you swear-in as a volunteer, you really ought to have a basic grasp of whatever language is the primary language of your host counhtry. And while that may not be the primary language of your community, you should have more than a few tools to aid int he process of acquiring that local language. Thus, when you get to site, while you WILL be helpless to some extent, you should have the ability to ASK someone for help thus beginning the long and often frustrating integration process. And you'd be truly amazed at how fast you learn when you don't have any other choice. Even if you're shy. Trepidation at meeting new people pales at the thought of your imminent starvation. Eating is always a good reason to step outside of your comfort zone. And even if you're living alone, in a number of PC countries (particularly African countries) you'll never REALLY be alone. Between counterparts, neighbors and those nosy little children who will most likely end up being your first (and maybe BEST) friends, you'll very much wish for a little aloneness.

And in those countries where it would be culturally inappropriate for a single woman to live alone, you will be placed with a family or, at the very least, in a family compound. And then you'll REALLY wish for a little aloneness especially when you've come down with a terrible case of amoebas and you really have no desire for your family/neighbors/world to know exactly how many times you visited the latrine today. Because, oh, they WILL know. Everyone WILL know just how very sick you are. Ah! Bienvenue en Afrique.

Alyssa
RPCV Chad '04-'06
If you want to go to Africa, they'll probably send you to Africa. Where in Africa is another story since it's such a huge place. If you have a french background, you may end up in West Africa rather than South or East. As always, you may have one country in mind and sent to another, but it's not a big deal. Remember it's an experience and you never know whether or not you'll like it until you've given it a chance. And living in a country is so much different than visiting it. Besides if you end up in East and you wanted to be in West, Peace Corps does give out vacation days and you might as well take advantage of even being on the same continent and go there.

Violence happens no matter where you are as long as you find another member of the human race. Africa is no different in this than the States and to think that it is....is well, stupid. Don't go to any country thinking that's there's no way anything can happen to you. I've been robbed and mugged. Was it fun? No, but the same has happened back home in the US. Did Peace Corps take good care of me after each incident? Yes, that I can't complain about. BUT I'm not going to say that this could be the case everytime. I can't generalize to include countries with directors I've never met. But I have a great web here that takes care of me. Peace Corps and host country nationals together. Was there anything I could've done to prevent what happened? No. Like I said, it happens everywhere.

Depending upon your country of service you may or may not live with a host family during your inital three months of training. Sometimes you get placed with a host family that doesn't speak the same language as you and sometimes you do. I got lucky and was placed with a family who spoke french while I didn't. I say lucky, because if they had spoken english I probably would have never picked up french as fast as I did. And if there were any problems we worked it out with handgestures and at last resort, the PC training staff.
50th poster

January 2014

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