“You’re joining the Peace Corps! That’s so cool – your experience is going to change you so much! You’re really going to find yourself!”
I heard several versions of that before I left. And I even started to believe it a bit myself. After all, it was just responsible to not make too many concrete career plans while I was in business school and had an entire department of staff to help with the career search process because “I’m just, like, going to change so much while I’m there, so who knows what I’ll want to do after.” Right?
Most people join the Peace Corps for multiple reasons, one of them being “personal growth and exploration.” While this is definitely something that happens, I have a few words of warning for prospective/future PCVs:
You will not “find yourself” in the Peace Corps.
You will certainly have a lot of time for self-reflection that you likely wouldn’t have doing a job in America. You will be challenged in ways you can’t anticipate now. You will grow and you will change. But if you’re like the majority of Volunteers, you won’t have an epiphany about who you are supposed to be, or what your job should be.
Just like in life everywhere, the growth typically comes slowly, through reflection. While the reflection here may be spurred by situations, cultures, languages, experiences, and emotions you wouldn’t have otherwise encountered, you’re still the same person you were when you applied to the Peace Corps.
I certainly felt the same way. I had hoped that being in the Peace Corps would give me some clarity about what I want to do when I “grow up.” I have no idea what I want to do for a living when I get back, which is sometimes a little scary. I’m still a confused 20-something, just like I was when I started this adventure over 21 months ago.
That’s not to say that Peace Corps doesn’t help you grow and change. I may not know what I want to do for a living, but I know I want to work in a job that I feel has meaning. I know I don’t want to work for a big aid agency (although this may change as my Peace Corps cynicism wears off). I know I want to have some autonomy in my projects and not have every move dictated by a superior. And those things will help me with my career search. And I’ve grown personally as well.
But I’m still basically the same person as I was when I got on that plane in JFK in 2012.
So while the Peace Corps is an amazing experience, and I can recommend it to people, there are a few people I would caution before they apply.
If you’re applying because you have NO IDEA what you want and you think you’ll suddenly “find yourself” in a village somewhere, you’re probably wrong. I wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t do Peace Corps,” but you should be aware of what Peace Corps will and won’t give you.
It will give you amazing experiences that can’t be repeated with any other job. It will give you opportunities for personal growth, self-reflection, and a hell of a lot of learning.
It won’t give you a epiphany about your next job.
But who wants that? Life is more of an adventure if you don’t always know your next step, because your next step could take you anywhere.