What do you do when you finish college and can’t find a job in your chosen field? Many new grads take whatever they can get.
Of the 22-year-olds who graduated college and got a job in the last three years, more than half took positions that didn’t require a college degree, reported Bloomberg.com. 115,500 people with bachelor’s degrees are working as janitors, according to CBS News. That’s not a bad job, but if you’ve spent four years earning a degree, you might want to find work somewhat related to your studies.
Here’s one alternative to this tough job market: Why not help people in other countries, explore a new part of the world and get experience you can use to land a great job later?
If you join the Peace Corps, you can postpone or eliminate part of your student loans and get a chunk of cash at the end of your two-year stint.
What is the Peace Corps?
The Peace Corps is a federal agency which calls itself, “a leader in international development and citizen diplomacy for more than 50 years across more than 139 countries.”
For decades, Peace Corps volunteers have worked to feed the hungry and eradicate diseases, among other goals. In recent years projects, have also addressed gender equality and climate change issues.
What It’s Like to Volunteer in the Peace Corps
Peace Corps volunteers’ experiences vary widely.
For example, Jazzmine Oshitoye, a young black volunteer, told the Peace Corps Times that she was placed with a host family in Ecuador that was clearly racist, but fortunately came to see her as “buena gente” or “good people.”
Here’s how Jennifer Carvalho describes her experiences on Quora.com:
I had an image of myself riding a bike in the hot sun to some picturesque village. And this vision came true when I served in Cameroon. When I transferred to China, however, my Peace Corps experience became more about bullet trains and neon-lit megacities. Peace Corps programs encompass a variety of experiences, and it’s hard to know what it’s like until you get there.
Carvalho also describes her experiences as “maddening,” “confusing,” “intense” and “boring,” but adds that it was “ultimately rewarding.” She adds that as a volunteer you’re given adequate housing, food and medical care, but there are challenges, like being three hours away from the nearest (slow) Internet connection when in Cameroon.
What Kind of Work Do You Do?
That varies too. The Peace Corps website lists six categories of assignments: education, youth development, health, community economic development, agriculture, and environment.
Depending on your particular skills and the project to which you’re assigned, you might:
- Teach English to elementary school students
- Educate people about HIV/AIDS
- Start a sports program
- Help locals market their products online
- Work with farmers to prevent soil erosion
- Distribute materials promoting gender equality
- Promote sustainable use of natural resources
Assignments are not exactly two years, but actually 27 months, with the first three months devoted to training.
Benefits of Volunteering With the Peace Corps
You get the opportunity to make a difference in the world, but there are professional and financial benefits to joining the Peace Corps as well.
After your service, you’ll get a year of noncompetitive eligibility (NCE) for federal government jobs. This means you get preference when applying for any federal position. You’ll also get credit toward federal retirement plans if you go this route.
Job Placement Help
Among the things done to help returning Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) transition back into civilian life, the organization provides online tools for finding jobs with RPCV-friendly employers.
As part of your training you’ll learn administrative policies and procedures, but also project-specific knowledge and possibly language training.
You might also enjoy less structured training while on assignment. Married couple Sean Fredericks and McKinze Cook spent a lot of time in home kitchens while serving in Georgia. After their two years of service, they used that experience to start a business selling authentic Georgian street food in Portland, Oregon.
When you finish your 27 months of service, the Peace Corp gives you a readjustment allowance of more than $8,000.
Living Expense Stipend
During your service, the Peace Corps gives you a monthly stipend that covers living and housing expenses and pays for any necessary travel. In other words, if you live simply, you may not have any out-of-pocket expenses.
You receive complete health and dental care during your service, and you can buy into an affordable plan for three months after leaving.
Student Loan Help
You can defer payments on many student loans while you’re in the Peace Corps, and under the U.S. government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program you can even have some of your debt eliminated if you serve long enough.
Your service can be counted as credit toward master’s degrees in various fields at more than 80 academic institutions.
Work as a Couple
Peace Corps policy allows you and your significant other to volunteer together and be assigned to the same location, as long as you’re both qualified for that particular project. This policy applies to opposite-sex and same-sex couples, whether you’re married or not.
How Do You Apply?
You can apply online for the Peace Corps. The organization even provides advice on how to strengthen your application. For help from those who have been through the process, join and participate in The Peace Corps Forum.
The organization hosts regular events around the country where you can talk to Peace Corps recruiters in person. Use the recruiting events search tool to locate one near you.
Your Turn: Have you or anyone you know ever volunteered with the Peace Corps? If so, tell us about your (or their) experiences.