Career alternatives: Joining the Peace Corps.
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
With unemployment levels up and student financial aid down, students are looking for alternatives to graduate school and the old "nine-to-five."
Students gathered in the Albert J. Kuhn Honors and Scholars house Tuesday evening to learn about opportunities in the Peace Corps.
"I think the motto says it all," said Jesse Kwiek, assistant professor of microbiology at Ohio State who was a volunteer in the ‘90s in Malawi. "It's the toughest job you'll ever love."
Josh Becker, a regional recruiter from the Peace Corps Office in Chicago, agreed.
"No matter where you end up living, you do end up being part of the community. Your best friends end up being Malawian, Fijian, Botsawanian," he said.
After a video presentation and general introduction, the men encouraged the audience to ask questions. At first, students voiced concerns about conflict within the host country.
Becker responded that it is the policy of the Peace Corps not to send volunteers into conflict zones.
"You can't be a good volunteer if you're in an unsafe area," Becker said.
The Peace Corps also provides medical and dental insurance coverage during the term of service. Each volunteer receives a comprehensive medical exam prior to landing in their country. Each is given a briefcase of medication, including malaria medication and aspirin, to treat local illnesses.
"You will get sick — homesick, real sick," Becker said. "Treat what you can treat."
Jack Campbell, OSU's local recruiter who served in Botswana and Fiji, reassured students that there were Peace Corps offices in each area with nurses and doctors available. He also said that safety was the top priority for the Peace Corps and that thanks to cell phones, radios and the Internet, there will always be communication between the volunteers and the offices.
"If you're sick, call into the capital city," Becker said. He also said that all volunteers are trained to map out the resources in the area, so if a volunteer does get sick, they know how to contact the city and find transportation.
Other students asked about student loans. Becker said all loans had the opportunity to be deferred, and up to 15 percent of Federal Perkins Loans could be forgiven. Volunteers would also have a grace period between six and 12 months to begin repayment.
Becker said it is up to the individual to contact their lender for the paperwork in order to apply for deferment. Students also need to keep in mind that all of the paperwork would need to be resubmitted after a year of service.
Although it might sound like a lot of work, volunteering with the Peace Corps can be quite rewarding, they said.
Kwiek said that he feels his experience was beyond compare, even though it raised many issues and left him with many stories. After experiencing extreme loneliness and homesickness, witnessing corporal punishment, and making friends with natives despite sometimes extreme cultural differences, he said, "I think that I can't ever give back to Malawi what Malawi gave to me."
The Peace Corps gives volunteers a monthly living stipend, intensive language training and transportation to and from the host country, as well as providing returning volunteers slightly more than $6,000, job placement support and extended health benefits at an affordable price.
Campbell, who met his wife during his service, said 2 to 3 percent of volunteers marry another volunteer.
"Thanks to my Peace Corps training, I do my own ironing every day. Ladies, that's something to keep in mind," he said.
The economy has prompted more citizens to apply this year. Becker said there were 16,000 applicants this year for 4,000 spots. In previous years, the recruiting offices typically received 12,000 to 14,000 applicants. Because of this increased competition, students thinking of applying should start volunteering.
"Do as much as you can do, put in as many hours as you can," Becker said. "When we tell you to fill out the application you have the opportunity to tell us everything you have ever done in your entire life. Please tell us everything."
This includes agricultural experience, business or management experience, nonprofit volunteering, youth and community involvement and educational background.
Becker told students that prospective volunteers should apply early. With medical examinations, legal processes, paperwork and interviewing, it takes the typical applicant close to a year to land their position.
"The quickest I have heard anyone get in, from the time they applied to the time they were on the plane, was six months," Becker said.
OSU students interested in applying should visit Campbell in his office in room 113 at the Agricultural Administration Building. Campbell is available to answer questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m..
Becker encourages everyone to apply. "It's a unique experience in that you have the opportunity to get involved outside of your field of expertise," he said.