My Application Story

The Waiting Place: musings on my Peace Corps application process

My application process began a mere 6.5 years before I arrived in Mexico. Please pick your jaw up off of the floor while I explain.

Yes, I applied 6 years before arrival. But the thing is, I never actually submitted my application! Once it was ready for viewing, I had accepted a different job offer.

Flash forward. We’re whizzing past several jobs and some soul-searching, beyond me blowing my entire life-savings on another degree, and away from my former quest of perfecting the art aimless drifting. I was in the post-grad school panic. Unfortunately, the timing linked up with an ever-worsening recession that was pock-marked with headlines about the gradually increasing unemployment rates facing new grads.* In an effort to avoid prolonged experience in that regrettable demographic, I dug out that old Peace Corps application from the recesses of my hard drive. It was March, 2011.

I was surprised: some details needed updating, but overall, a remarkable amount of the application was already done (a big “thank you” to me from several years ago)! I polished the final details and asked for a few recommendations **. I pushed “send” and expected the same response that I’d been getting from other job applications, ie. nothing would come of it. This cynicism, I must say, is reasonably uncharacteristic of me… I blame it on the daunting labor statistics.

In fact, I had already accepted a position as a Fisheries Observer when I finally got the call for an interview. Not being one to shutter away opportunities, I showed up. Mostly as a formality, but thoroughly in the spirit of you never know what may come.

I interviewed knowing full well that the whole process would take a while. Heck, what if for some crazy reason, I didn’t like my new gig. After all, picking fish scales out of your hair after a long day of vomiting into 5-gallon buckets, tagging dead seals, and measuring hundreds of slippery and flopping Flounder isn’t for everyone. If the whole Peace Corps thing worked out, it would be a minimum of six months to a year before I would leave the USA. So, why not keep my options open?

Monday, June 13, 2011 I met with a recruiter. We had a blast chatting! I felt like we were more involved in swapping funny travel stories rather than going through a formal interview. The nomination was a snap, but it was for one year later. That was ages away, so I forgot about it.

Four months and one declined nomination offer later, I received my formal nomination to be a Protected Areas Management Volunteer in Mexico.

Program Info: Applicants must have a graduate degree and a minimum of 5 years experience in natural resources management, environmental management, conservation, forestry, environmental remediation, environmental engineering, natural resources extension, or any related field.  Must be willing to learn Spanish. In order to be competitive for an invitation, applicants must take a Spanish course.

That was all that I knew. And it was October 31, 2011.

Since it’s a fairly ambiguous job description, and since I’m all about keeping possibilities open, I kept on the Peace Corps train. Still with the same skeptical attitude too: maybe something will come of this, probably not.

Let’s, for the sake of our own sanity, flash forward again. You’re not missing anything worth mentioning, I promise. There’s just four months of endless waiting for doctor’s appointments, trudging through nasty New England weather to get my arm pumped full of various inoculations, tearing my hair out over unfortunate and entirely out of my control mistakes made at a phlebotomy lab, additional mistakes made at an entirely different phlebotomy lab, and some more waiting thrown in for good measure. This, I am sorry to say, is a typical Peace Corps Nominee experience.

In the mean time, I spent my time on much more entertaining and worthy endeavors: hitting up Rosetta Stone- Spanish with gusto! Cooking my way through a remarkable cookbook! Typing up hundreds of long-lost letters from my grandfather to his parents: circa 1944-1946! Spending quality time with my sweetheart and friends! Stalking current PC Volunteer blogs! Plotting my super-awesome escape from New England! Being giddy that my gym has a trampoline class – seriously folks, trampolines!

Five and a half months later, health and dental clearance complete. April 27, 2012. One month later, contact from a placement specialist. More paperwork, another interview with the Peace Corps Mexico office in June and an invitation sent on July 2, 2012. Complete with a fresh and new mountain of paperwork.

I widdled that pile of paperwork down in about a week so that I could focus the rest of my efforts on saying goodbye to friends, family, and my home country. My first plane ticket said August 27, 2012 to Washington, DC; my second said Mexico City on August 29, 2012.

The thing is, even after all of the waiting and frustration and giant question marks, I would do it again knowing what comes from it. If you are applying for the Peace Corps and found this post, hang in there!

————————

* Less than 50% of students graduating between 2009 and 2011 found a full-time job within a year of finishing school, according to the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

**A huge THANK YOU to L.Bo, Aa, Dr. Yarrow, and Kathryn for your recommendations!!

“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race, down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace, and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place…”
― Dr Seuss Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

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