As a current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), there are three questions that I am consistently asked:

1) Why did you join the Peace Corps?

2) I’m coming to Senegal (as a PCV or visitor) – what should I pack?

3) I want to apply for the Peace Corps – any tips?

This page is dedicated to these commonly asked questions.  While I do not claim to have all the answers, I think my experience as a PCV and time with the organization may help a few of you along your Peace Corps road.  Again, feel free to email me anytime at amanda . wybolt @ gmail.com with further inquiries.

 

1) An answer to the ever-famous, “Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?” question:

Joining the Peace Corps wasn’t a poignant decision as much as it was another step in the path that my life has wandered down.  Becoming a part of the Peace Corps felt like where I was supposed to be, given the ideas I had for my future and things that I wanted to experience when I applied.  Let me elaborate.

Since I was little, I have been taught and understood that giving back to your environment and community is an important part of life.  So, naturally, community service is something that I have been involved in since the first grade.  Anything from the environmental club in my elementary school, to repairing houses in Memphis with my church group while in middle school, to your normal run-of-the-mill “Let’s clean a park !” type of activities while in student council throughout high school, to volunteering with GLTB rights groups in Boston, doing trail-repair on Cumberland Island, GA, teaching voice lessons at a inner-city Boston school, and tutoring elementary school kids in rural North Carolina while at university – service has always been a part of my life.

At university, Boston University’s Community Service Center (CSC) was actually the only organization that I participated in consistently throughout my four years.  In retrospect, being a part of the CSC was (and still remains) one of the biggest factors in how I came to identify myself, not only concerning my university life, but also outside of academics and among my friends as well.  Being so involved in the many programs at BU’s CSC, and taking on the substantial responsibility it requires to run even part of such an organization (every program in the CSC is student-run, with one faculty advisor to oversee all 13 programs), became a huge distinguishing aspect of my life then, and in the life I knew I wanted to continue to lead.  I was a student; I was a worker and volunteer at the CSC.  Not surprisingly, BU has one of the biggest presences in the Peace Corps, so from my sophomore year on, I was hearing about BU graduates who had joined the Peace Corps, and about the insane obstacles and amazing work they were doing in their respective countries.  Thus planted the seedling idea of joining the Peace Corps germinated in my mind over my wanderings in and around university life.  (At the same time, I was also considering Teach For America, another organization in which BU has a big presence.)

When I graduated from BU with a degree in communications, specifically public relations (PR), I felt uneasy about continuing down the PR career path straight away.  While some of my internships were challenging and exciting, others left me feeling uninspired, and I knew that I didn’t want a desk job (almost a guarantee when entering the PR field).  Luckily, right after graduation, I signed up for an International Public Health class at BU’s School of Public Health.  I say luckily because it one of those smack-in-the-face “Eureka!” moments for me.  The class was extremely fast-paced, dense with complicated reading material, and all over almost every topic you could touch on in the spectrum of Public Health… and I absolutely loved every minute of it.  I felt a rush of, “Aaah this is what I want to do with my life!” during almost every class.

If my PR internships had taught me anything though, it was that you must get some real life, hands-on experience in anything you’re loving in the classroom in order to see if in the job-world, it’s something that you would actually want to do.  In addition, I felt like it would be foolish to start down a career path in a public health/development job when I had never seen or experienced public health initiatives or development practices on the ground-level.  How can I expect to sit in an office in Boston or DC and feel confident in making decisions on whatever public health initiatives are taking place in Haiti, when my only qualifications are that I had studied public health and development in a classroom and worked in an aid office in the United States?

Me and Steph on the day we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers

And so the decision was made; all the pieces fell together, and they pointed towards joining the Peace Corps.  After researching the organization thoroughly via their website, I realized that the organization could put me in the most intense, ground-level public health/development situations I could hope to be in at that point in my life, especially considering my lack of credentials in the field.  Peace Corps also fulfilled my desire to (finally!) travel outside of the continental US and live and experience something profoundly new.

The Dean of BU often spoke to us at the CSC about how our status in life – being college educated, having access to the people and experiences we did – gave us a responsibility to serve and give back to our communities and the people around us.  Cliché as it is, his words had a profound impact on me when I first heard them, and remain with me today; I wholly believe in the Dean’s idea, consistently remind myself of such a responsibility, and try to emulate his words in the way I lead my life.

Which brings me to where I am today.  I’m not one to sit on my hands when I get excited about a decision or interested in an idea, so about mid-July 2008, I emailed my application into the Peace Corps.  After passing the medical exams, I received my assignment in the end of November of the same year, and flew from Boston to Philadelphia for my staging on February 26, 2009.  I’ve been in Senegal since February 28, 2009, in my village in Kolda, Senegal since April 28, 2009, and plan to leave mid-May, 2011.

 

2) Ideas on Things to Pack for Incoming Volunteers (or visitors):

Like most volunteers that join the Peace Corps, I over-packed the things I didn’t need and under-packed those that I over-used my first months in country.  By no means is the following list  a “must-have” guide.  Basic rule: when in doubt, don’t pack it.

  • Cheap-o dark or mirrored sunglasses: Cheap sunglasses are best, and you may want to bring a few pairs because you will most likey squish/break/have them nabbed fairly often. Senegal offers a wide variety of cheap-o sunglasses to buy, but being that they don’t have any UV protection, they are actually worse for your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all because they end up magnifying the sun’s rays.
  • IF YOU WEAR GLASSES, go to Zenni Optical.com and order your glasses there: It’s a web site where you can buy prescription glasses from $6.00 – $20.00, and I swear to you it’s legit (I know this doesn’t seem like it can be real if you’ve ever purchased prescription glasses before).  All you need is your pupilary distance, and prescription, and at least a month (because the glasses come from overseas).  You can even get stellar clip-on shades for your glasses for an additional $3.00. Yes yes.
  • Exofficio underlings (panties and boxers): For when you do venture to wear underpants, seriously this stuff is amazing. Cotton frays and dies on bike rides and in 130 degree heat. I think you also can get a peace corps discount on exofficio gear.
  • Leatherman or Multi-tool: I’ve found the most useful gadgets on my multi-tool to be: pliers, little scissors, sharp knife (or mini saw), bottle opener/can opener, cork screw, and screw drivers of various shapes and sizes.
  • A headlamp.  Maybe two.  Love, cradle, and whisper sweet nothings to your headlamp.  Getting one with a strobe-light mode for dance parties is always a good idea as well.
  • Solar Charger: A lot of volunteers (including myself) have various models of Solio chargers. BUY AT YOUR OWN RISK; I l-o-v-e-d mine (I had the “classic”), used it every day for my cell phone and iPod, then one day it just stopped working. Didn’t drop it or say mean things, it just decided it was done. I’ve heard of this happening to other volunteers as well. On the other hand, some volunteers have and use these chargers for their entire service and have absolutely no problems, (I’ve only seen people with the “classic” or “rocsta” models). So, it’s your call, but rest assured that the solio chargers work for at least a bit.
  • An overnight bag or backpack, as in a bag that is not your massive camping bag for short trips.  A note on your bigger bag if it’s a backpack – my bigger backpack opens only from the top which I find to be incredibly annoying when traveling, as you have to empty out your entire bag to get to the one thing you need that you packed in the bottom.  Avoid these.
  • Waterproof dry-sack: One of those bags that rolls down a few times at the top and then clips together.  This is good in the rainy season for your electronics and important personal papers.
  • Quick-dry Towel- think along the lines of a microfiber towel.
  • mp3/music player of some sort, with extra head phones. Even if you’ve never had any sort of mp3 player before, trust, you will want one here.
  • For girls: built-in-bra tops/tanks.  Seriously, during every season but the three months of the cold season, you want to be wearing as little clothing as possible.  Built-in-bras are heaven.  Think old-navy.  Their fold-over jersey knee-length skirts are great as well.  Buy brown – it matches everything you’ll spill/sit in/rub against.
  • If you’re coming to Senegal, you don’t need to bring a gift for your host family from America because there are many things that you can buy for them here that people love (like kola nuts, tea, sugar).  If you do want to bring things: for the women in your family, any sort of cheap-o gold jewelry and bangles are awesome (think claire’s, H&M type stuff), small colory beads; deflated soccer balls and decent pumps are good for the village/family/town as well.
  • Oh yes, and steal your airplane pillow (especially if you fly South African).

Don’t bring:

  • A Senegal Travel Guide – seriously there are about 400 in country already, dating from 1962 to 2010 if you feel so inclined to peruse.
  • Bed sheets, unless you are freakishly attached to your jersey cotton sheets.  Wax sheets (wax being the fabric you can buy here for cheap) are colorful and sufficient.
  • Another copy of Three Cups of Tea or any book written by an RPCV.  Just kidding… not really.

 

 

3) Advice for Prospective Peace Corps applicants

Peace Corps will change your life if you put everything you have into it and stay completely open to everything it has to offer. … and I just lost my draft. I hate the interwebs, will return to this soon.

 

A “good-cop, bad-cop” version on life in the PC:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s