Archive for May, 2009

A Change of Strategy

May 26, 2009

Over the last few weeks I’ve had to figure out a new path forward to the Peace Corps. I know it’s something I still want to do. Yes, I was a little disappointed when I learned of the news. And no, I won’t be able to wait on them forever. But not getting nominated the first time isn’t going to stop me.

So here’s where I’ve been:
After the initial letdown, I began searching for some of the skills that would make me more marketable.
-Spanish seemed out of the question since it required a 202 level class. That would be well over a year of classes, or a year of condensed classes (no thanks). I barely learned elementary German over 4 years…better look somewhere else.
-French was my best option. I began looking for classes online in the local community, both through universities and adult-education centers. While Forest Park CC had a nice adult learning course, I would need to take the actual 101 course. There was one evening offering, but no one had signed up for the class. Plus, I still wouldn’t be able to meet the 102 requirement by August. I didn’t find any 101/102 condensed classes. I was quite bummed that French, the best option, didn’t seem to be working out.

Then last week I had a follow-up call with the PC Recruiter about Community Services programs. While rejecting me the first time, she sounded very willing to put my name in the CS pile, even though I would be a long shot (CS nominates a bit later in the quarter for some reason). But when I talked to her last week, she was not going to even consider me for nomination because there were so few spots. That made me a little mad. If I’m not qualified, that’s one thing. But don’t withdraw my application just because the opening is competitive. I politely requested she add my name in, and she quickly agreed. CS is a more general category, so it is even harder to get. I am supposed to get the (bad) news today or tomorrow.

Anyway, the real fruit of that conversation was the ESL program. Teaching English is the PC’s bread and butter operation. They have open spots right now. She said she’d nominate me right now if I met the requirement. The requirement is 3 months/30 hours of ESL teaching to people 12 and older. I quickly went to work contacting the International Institute of St. Louis. I had heard of IISL from SLU’s Service Leadership Certificate Program. While I had never really seen myself teaching English, I figure that anything I do in the Peace Corps will be so far out of my comfort zone, I might as well try to go for it.

One issue I brought up on the phone was that I wouldn’t be able to complete the 3 month requirement before the August nomination. The recruiter gave a startled reaction and then realized that August was a mere 2.5 months away. She said maybe they would be able to bend the rules if I got the 30 hours. Hmmm….I”ll take that as “get the 30 hours and then we’ll maybe nominate you a little bit late.” It’s the best shot I’ve got, so I gotta go for it!

I hurried to fill out the application, contacted my Service Leadership Certificate Program director for a form of recommendation, and mailed off my application fee to the International Institute. Thankfully, the director promptly replied. Now, I’m just waiting on IISL to process the application. I hope to get started next week, but they only have a few orientation sessions during the summer. If I can’t get oriented before mid/late June, getting the 30 hours will become a larger challenge.

Oh, what a journey!

This Chicken Didn’t Hatch

May 6, 2009

How silly my words look one week later. I called the Chicago office today to learn that I was not nominated.

Why was I so sure I would get nominated? At my interview, the interviewer said things like, “Next you’ll contact the regional recruiter for your nomination.” The recruiter’s emails said things like, “Please call me to discuss your nomination options.” I guess I read too much into these statements. There is also the conventional wisdom that it’s fairly basic to get nominated for the Peace Corps. But we are not in conventional times.

rejectionWhy was I not surprised? The economy sucks. Obama inspired people to serve. The Peace Corps is underfunded. Applications rose 16% last year. And, the one that is harder to swallow, I wasn’t a good enough candidate. I was competing against other people who don’t speak Spanish or French, which narrows my chances. I don’t have an advanced degree. I don’t have any recent service. I didn’t have amazing extracurriculars. While I do believe I would have been nominated under “normal” circumstances, the fact is that I didn’t get it, so I need to just figure out my next step.

I am going to be considered for Community Services nomination in the next two weeks. Since I am much better suited for Business Advising, and then IT (again, all non Spanish/French nominations are gone), I am a long shot. But I figured I might as well throw my name in the pile.

PC only does nominations once a quarter. So I will be up again for Business Advising in August for a July, August, or September 2010 departure. When I first started applying for Peace Corps, I kept hearing 9-12 month application cycle. I was thinking I might be heading out in September 2009. Waiting a full year later would be very hard, considering how much I want this opportunity right NOW. It may sound weird, but I would like to get going ASAP and be able to return to the US in my mid-twenties. Now I fear I won’t be getting back until I’m 27 or 28, which is very odd to think about. I know I shouldn’t worry about age like that, but for some reason it matters to me. Applying is turning out to be an 18 month ordeal rather than a 9 month journey. You do have to take a step back and ask yourself how bad you want it.

I still want it. I asked the recruiter about teaching English. I would need 30 hours of ESL (which I guess is equivalent to about 3 months). I need to do some research here. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be considered for nomination until I get the ESL done, even though I would have plenty of time to do it between nomination and placement. Again, it just pushes the timeline out.

So, I’m thinking I won’t make the Community Services cut. I’ll need to regroup and shoot for an August nomination. To make myself more competitive, I am considering taking French classes. If I take French 101 and 102, I will meet their requirements. While I would rather learn Spanish, their Spanish requirement is a 200 level (intermediate) understanding. There is a small chance I could get 2 French classes in this summer, but no chance to get that much Spanish done in such a short time.

I will also begin formulating a Plan B. While I still really want to get in to the Peace Corps, I need to be prepared with something else in case I keep getting pushed back or if I don’t get in. There will be a certain point where I’m not willing to wait forever.

Overall, I am not upset at all or anything (a tad bummed is all). I understand that not everyone gets nominated right now. I wish it would have happened, but far worse things have happened to far better people. Now I need to show them just how badly I want it.