How To Survive The Peace Corps

Enclosed in this post are three not-always-easy steps to surviving your Peace Corps service, what some call “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” I just completed 10 months of living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, so obviously I’m the expert. (Oops, I better review Rule #2 below.) Taken loosely these rules apply to other walks of life too. Check ’em:

1. Expect nothing. When people ask you what your service is going to be like or what you’re going to be working on or where you’re going to be living, just answer honestly that you don’t know and leave it at that. Going into the situation with a “take things as they come” attitude is superior to me than painting an inaccurate picture in your mind.

Trinidad 1

2. Get over yourself. So you’ve traveled to every continent? Speak 10 languages fluently? Have a doctorate in Saving The World? Get over yourself! If you enter your Peace Corps service with the mindset that you are the panacea, you’re going to be mighty frustrated when people don’t want to work with you. (Well, if I’ve pegged you correctly you’ll probably just think the natives are crazy for not seeing what a gift you are.) It takes time. You must build relationships. You are not in the USA and things don’t work the same here, so take a deep breath, get over yourself, learn the local rules of the road and partner up with your townspeople to get some real, sustainable work done.


3. Be honest. Mostly with yourself. Do you need a day by yourself? Or do you need to push yourself out that door and into the strange new world where you find yourself? Deep down you know, so be honest and then follow through, as hard as it might be. Do you need a meet-up with fellow Peace Corps volunteers to speak English and have some down time? Or are you escaping your site a little too often and then wondering why you don’t have any friends there? Be honest. It’ll help you survive.

Peace Corps G39

I as much as anyone need to check these rules often to actually make them part of my life. They’re easy to forget so now I have them in writing as a reminder!

Peace Corps volunteers or Returned Peace Corps volunteers – what other rules of survival can you add to this list? And the rest of you – could any of these apply to your life as well?


2 thoughts on “How To Survive The Peace Corps

  1. I like your list–as a college professor, I think it applies very well to my professional life, too. One point I would add would be: Don’t expect an immediate, dramatic impact. It’s not always easy to know when your work has meaning and what seeds are being planted, and you won’t always be around to see what sprouts or grow–that are the changes that will come from the things you’ve said or done. It’s often not until you hear from ex-students years later that you realize what you’re doing day-to-day sometimes, actually does mean a lot. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Do your best with the knowledge that you can’t control what others do or don’t do with the teaching you attempt.

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