Soon, I’ll be embarking on a journey to China – again. To explore the cobblestone hutong alleys, eat my weight in noodles coated in spicy chili oil, take the bullet train to rural China to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year, educate locals on how to eat avocados, and teach English. China has become one of my favorite places on the planet, and I didn’t even go there initially by choice.
My love for China is in large part because of my experience in the Peace Corps. I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and I have a message for all future college graduates: join the Peace Corps, you won’t regret it.
Maybe when your mind wanders, it isn’t necessarily into a dream sequence of great expeditions through China. Maybe walks on the white beaches of the Maldives are more appealing to you, or silently perusing through the Louvre in Paris. Maybe you’d like to visit the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, hang out with penguins in Cape Town, or gaze upon the salt flats in Bolivia. Unfortunately, many of us convince ourselves we don’t have the time, the resources, or the courage to go to those places – especially alone.
The stigma of never leaving home is on the decline, according to a study that shows in 2018, 93 million Americans traveled out of the country. Of those 93 million, 45% of those travelers went overseas. Traveling abroad is not an unattainable dream anymore, and there are ways to make taking your first trip abroad easier.
If you’re a college student getting ready to graduate with a huge craving for adventure and absolutely no idea how to travel the world without a disposable income, I have another option for you: Peace Corps.
There are so many incredible benefits of joining Peace Corps as you’re finishing your undergraduate or even graduate degree. Not only are you getting to travel to a different country for free, you’re gaining real world skills in the field of your choosing, learning a language you can use in future career paths, eating exotic and delicious food, experiencing the culture of neighboring countries firsthand, and forming lifelong friendships with your fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and Host-Country Nationals (HCNs).
These are only the most basic perks of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. And believe it or not, the list goes on – especially for people interested in eventually working for the government.
All volunteers who complete their two-year service with Peace Corps will gain Non-Competitive Eligibility status, giving them a leg up for U.S. government jobs and even foreign service jobs. They also get a substantial readjustment allowance for every month of service completed. If you serve the 24-month minimum amount of time required by the Peace Corps, that’s over $10,000 given to you when you close your service. And that number goes up if you decide to extend your service for a third year.
The Peace Corps can also offer relief to those who carry the heavy burden of student loans. With Peace Corps under your belt, you may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Volunteering for Peace Corps benefits graduate students too, as it can aid them in getting financial assistance to further their education.
When you go into the Peace Corps, you are given a place to live, monthly living stipends including a travel stipend and a language-learning stipend, and full healthcare benefits. Living situations are similar to that of the average community member you work with everyday, but within reason and with safety and security in mind. In the present-day Peace Corps experience, potential volunteers can choose what country to serve in and what program to focus on, giving you more control over your experience abroad.
Perhaps the most rewarding thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer is the possibility that you will absolutely fall in love with the country, the people, and what you’re doing. Whether that be teaching English or helping with the environment, agriculture, or economic or youth development. Anybody who wants to make an impact on the world, a single individual, or are on a search to do something meaningful with their lives, Peace Corps is one of the best options out there.
There are two mandatory requirements to apply: one, that you are a U.S. Citizen. And two, that you are at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps Recruiters are with you every step of the way if you need any help with the application process.
So why is Peace Corps important? Why should you care? Why fly so far from your home, your family, and your friends? Why not make a difference where you’re at and take care of people in your own country? There are plenty of opportunities for you to do impactful things at home here in the U.S., and I’m not saying you shouldn’t.
People often accuse Peace Corps of representing “white saviorism”. It’s the idea that Americans, or white people, act as heroes or saviors of everyone in other countries. That we justify infiltrating people’s lives and homes by rescuing them from their economic and environmental problems.
In truth, Peace Corps harbors one of the most diverse groups of individuals I have ever seen, and they encourage people from all backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities to join the family of over 230,000 Peace Corps Volunteers and alumni.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer isn’t about encouraging white saviorism. It’s about saving ourselves. As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The Peace Corps is about making ourselves into a better person so we can make a better, more united world. It’s breaking down barriers, learning about one another, speaking each other’s language, and accepting that we aren’t that different from one another.
I was changed in monumental and fundamental ways by Peace Corps and two years living in a foreign country. I wasn’t just a tourist, I was a part of that community. It was my home. Joining and serving gave me a better understanding of people, made me more humble, and saved me from the entitled American attitude that threatened to jam a big wedge between me and my brothers and sisters overseas.
I am forever thankful for my time in Peace Corps and for experiencing things I never would have if I stayed in Colorado. Being in the Peace Corps brought me great friendships, great job opportunities, and chances to see a world vastly different than my own. If you are a forward thinker, or if any of these things appeal to you, well, maybe it’s time to join the Peace Corps.
For more information on how to apply, or to learn more about Peace Corps in general, visit their website: PeaceCorps.gov.