Peace Corps Application Process and Staging

While I sit at home woozy between rounds of medication, I thought I’d go back and blogging about events prior to the October 2010 start of this blog.

The beginning of my Peace Corps experience was really the application process, which progresses at the rate of fossilization and is such a tremendous test of patience one could argue it is part of preparing you for the Peace Corps.

I started in June 2009 by filling out the application. The first part was a bunch of personal questions with some essays. That was followed by a questionnaire where you yes/no pretty much every medical problem imaginable. A few weeks later I got a call from a recruiter in NYC. I interviewed with him, and he gave me more paperwork to do–background check stuff, fingerprints, questions about my farming expertise, my relationship, etc. After chewing on that, in December I got a call stating there was a position in Sub-Saharan Africa I could be nominated for. I didn’t want to go to Africa (which was a bad decision in retrospect–I love it here), but the recruiter said I had to hurry up and jump on it because who knew when another nomination that matched my skills would come up…

I think he was yanking me, as I’ve since heard recruiters have quotas and such. But whatever.

After nomination, medical begins. Being a cheapo, I decided to do my medical through the Veterans Administration, the other option being to pay for the medical exam and get reimbursed a portion of the costs. The main reason I went to the VA was I did not want to pay for the dental exam with full x-rays. I ended up going to the VA at least 3 times, followed by a trip to a private doctor for a Polio booster. I got X-rayed, vaccinated, blood-worked, examined, poked, prodded, etc. Because I had seen a psychologist (about nothing really, I never got meds or anything), I had to have her do a massive set of paperwork to determine my level of crazy. I shipped my paperwork off to Peace Corps, and it came back needing more information.

My second round of medical paperwork came back about a month later (March?). I was too fat, had too many ear aches, had a bad knee, and was too crazy. I had to write an essay about how I wasn’t crazy, saw a physical medicine specialist who said my knee was fine and I wasn’t too fat, saw an ENT who said my ears were fine, and shipped it off again. It came back again because of my ears. I returned to the ENT who wrote another consult saying my ears were fine. I finally passed medical.

I thought I was in the clear, but at the very end of May (my nominated position was to ship out in July!), I got an email from the Peace Corps asking me to fill out another questionnaire about my relationship as well as a new form about my past issues with alcohol. My past issue with alcohol was a self-reported incident where I got caught with a can of beer when I was 16. So I filled out the paperwork, which was mostly about how I was an alcoholic and possibly a drug addict. Thanks US Government! (Little did I know then how many Peace Corps Volunteers do slip into alcoholism...)

In late May/early June I was informed I had made the cut. A few days later, my invitation to South Africa arrived. It was stuffed full of information about what I would do in South Africa (information that ended up being about 70% incorrect–but since most volunteers have a lot of independence about what work they do, this is to be expected) and more paperwork, mostly related to passports, visas, legal stuff, insurance, etc. I did it all as fast as I could. And on July 12th 2010 (I think), I showed up for staging at a city on the east coast.

Staging was fun and relatively informal. You spend a few nights in a hotel with your group of volunteers (I think there were 52 of us then), living large on your US Government per diem (like 60 bucks a day I think!) that we all should have saved but mostly drank. You do some easy sessions with US-based Peace Corps staff. But mostly, we just got to know one another. On Wednesday, the 14th, we awoke early for a bus to the airport, where we arrived 2 hours before we could even check in. 8 hours later we were in the air, on our way to South Africa!