September 23, 2008

Peace Corps People
Deva, Romania

Our new CouchSurfing hostess is a Peace Corps volunteer. At 28, I think she's older than most, but still of that disillusioned age where perhaps they think volunteering abroad will make some sort of positive, tangible impact.

Now I'll be the first one to say that I don't know much about the Peace Corps, or NGO (non-governmental organization) volunteering. In fact, Laura is only the second of such people I've ever met (after the sweetheart of a character Mike in our previous city, Lugoj). It would seem that Romania is just chalk full of Peace Corps people, many of which have started popping up on my CouchSurfing searches.

Peace Corps, United States agency created to promote world peace and friendship by training American volunteers to perform social and humanitarian service overseas. Originally an agency of the United States Department of State, it was created by executive order in 1961, and made an independent agency of the United States government in 1981. The volunteers help communities in developing countries improve their social and economic conditions. Each volunteer serves for a 2-year term.

So, Peace Corps people, perhaps my opinion on the subject will change slightly as I meet more of you, but I've just got to ask—why?

You tell me that you're treated like children; given numerous restrictions on travel and daily life; given a monthly stipend of next to nothing for living expenses; given a "readjustment allowance" of about $6,000 upon the completion of your two-year contract ($225 for each month of service); and given unfulfilling duties and responsibilities in a country that you and your colleagues seem to care little for.

Did you really think you needed to sign a contract to live abroad, to take you someplace interesting, or to take you someplace tropical? Did you think that teaching English to undisciplined students or creating the monthly Peace Corps newsletter or wiping your ass with the now discontinued Newsweek magazines you've been provided with, piled in your corner, would bring satisfaction, or get you closer to a government position back in the States? Do you really enjoy your living conditions, of which you have little control over, or even your place in the country that you've been stationed (of which you have no control over)?

Do you really enjoy your lifestyle, when you could be in entertaining Guatemala, living on less than $8/day, traveling about as you wish, or even freely volunteering your time to a local school?

How does this organization manage to perpetuate itself?

A damn good tagline, that's how! "Peace Corps: The hardest job you'll ever love"


The United States


December 17th, 2008

Brutal yet 100% accurate skewering of peace corps. The people i met that seriously considered joining were recently out of grad school, not excited about starting work in an office, but sure they eventually want to make the big bucks and believe the peace corps will help pad the resume while maybe helping some poor people. My guess is that it's only considered by the upper middle class.

The United States


December 18th, 2008

My guess is it's several things. First, being a PCV does a lot to reduce or eliminate many of your federal college student loans, and while you're abroad you can pause your repayments. So people who graduate with loads of debt are able to have an international experience while simultaneously tossing aside some of those loan payments. Second, if you don't have the start-up cash and savings to get overseas and travel for $8 a day (for whatever reason(s)), being a PCV is your vehicle to do so.

I know several people - including my Dad who was in his mid-40s at the time - who have served as PCVs and really enjoyed it. I think it's all in what you make it. And while your experience allows you the freedom to travel and move on at your will, I'd at least posit that being a PCV for two years gives one a much greater insight into the local culture/customs… a deeper, if not wider, experience.


Craig |

December 19th, 2008

PCVs are not allowed to leave their host country without explicit permission to do (removal from the program if caught). It's amazing to think that so many Romanian volunteers never leave the country after two years to even visit neighboring Bulgaria or Hungary.

So they leave secondary education in serious debt and have little savings — forced to live off the tiny stipend that hardly allows them to purchase drinking cups, let alone travel.

Hell, I'm sure after two years in a single country I'd have crazy insight into the place, Peace Corps service or otherwise.

For sure I'd use that time start something up to make money off the Internet (presuming I even had Internet access), establishing a relatively hands-off income stream by the time I got out of the Corps.

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.