Sunday, March 1, 2015

Waiting 11 months, or, the Story of the Application

          I applied to the Peace Corps in January 2014. I procrastinated a whole lot getting through the application and writing the essays, mostly because I was nervous about it. "What if I don't get invited?" or the even scarier question. "What if I do get invited?"  I'd been out of school for seven months and was hating my temp job. I loved the people I worked with, but there's only so much call center work and being yelled at that I can take, so planning for the next step of my life was feeling quite important.  After having my lovely boyfriend Michael, my aunt Ginger and her good friend Greg review and edit my future submissions multiple times, I felt ready to finally finish my application. Seriously, the only essay I've ever worked this hard on was the one I wrote for the Gilman Scholarship which funded my study abroad semester to China. 
          At this point in time Peace Corps was still working what we now call "the old system." I had an entire health history questionnaire to fill out and a week later had a Skype interview with my recruiter Kathy who was back in RI.  Kathy assured me that she would send in my nomination but was unable to tell me for what country because PC medical office had deemed that, due to my mental health history and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) they would be limited in which countries I could be sent to.  And then I waited.

          In June it was announced that the Peace Corps had revamped the application process and made it even easier to apply! This was a big deal and everyone was excited. Along with an easier and shorter application, applicants now get to choose which programs (countries) they want to apply to.  Since the beginning of Peace Corps volunteers have been sent to developing countries where they were needed, not necessarily where they wanted to go. This new aspect is still being discussed on forums.  In early July I got an email from the placement office asking for my assignment selections.  I was so surprised since I didn't consider myself part of this "new" system and was prepared to go wherever placement assigned me. Working with the countries listed that could support me medially, I had to choose three countries in order of preference. My list was as follows: 1. Cambodia - Education 2. Macedonia - Education  3. Azerbaijan - Education.  In short order I was informed that I was now "under consideration" for Macedonia with a departure date of September 2015.  Slightly freaking out because that was still over a year away, I called placement and asked if there was any way I could move to a different program with an earlier departure date.  I was so happy to hear that Cambodia, my #1 choice, was open and that I'd now be considered for that country.  And then I waited.

          And waited. And. Waited. Another 6 months. On January 8 I spotted an email from the Cambodia placement officer Tyler asking for a reply to the following:
1.Do you know how to ride a bike and are you comfortable riding a bike 1-5 miles per day? 
-This is the main mode of transportation for volunteers when they are in their communities. Peace Corps will provide bicycles for volunteers once they get to country. 
2.All volunteers in Cambodia live with a host family for the entire 27 months. (One host family for 3 months during training, another host family for the remainder of your service). 
This is to help volunteers integrate into their communities and assist with learning the local language and culture. Briefly, describe your thoughts on living with a host family for the 27 months. 

I answered within 10 minutes and sent it back hopeful; dangerously hopeful. By this point I'd schooled myself to not get too excited about anything related to Peace Corps! I called my dad to update him on this new development as I usually do.  Within the hour my inbox binged again and I found Peace Corps - Invitation!
Dear Nicole,
Congratulations! On behalf of the entire Peace Corps family, I'm delighted to invite you to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia. You've been selected to serve as a/anEnglish Teaching and Teacher Trainer, departing June 29, 2015By accepting this invitation, you will join hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to service and made a difference in communities around the world.

         And I cried. I actually cried. So many months of waiting and anticipation and anxiety about putting my life on hold were finally worth it! Then began the phone calls to both my parents and facebook announcements and congratulations and the emails. So many emails pouring in for medical clearance tasks and "get your passport and visa applications done tomorrow!" I began the most painstaking medical process I've ever undertaken.

          Presently I'm still in the middle of the final medical clearance and (hopefully) am 2 vaccinations and 6 cavities :/ away from being cleared.  I'm hoping this may help someone make it through the waiting game. The Future Peace Corps Volunteers group on Facebook has been ever so helpful as well as /r/Peacecorps and /r/PeaceCorpsVolunteers!