I remember being around 12 or 13 years old when the idea of the Peace Corps first appealed to me. We had lived in the Chicago suburbs for a few years, and even at that young age I had itchy feet to go somewhere new. I carried with me sweet memories of the exotic places I had already left behind–Guam, Taiwan–and marveled at the idea that I could go to a new place, experience a new culture, learn a new language, AND do something meaningful with my life: give back to the international community that I already felt so much a part of and help those in need. The “where” I went did not matter so much, only the fact that I could be doing something “good”. My preteen fantasy was crushed when I explored the Peace Corps’ website and read that 90% of volunteers had college degrees (never mind that you needed to be at least 18 to apply)… And for a dozen years, the dream has lain dormant.
Flash forward to fall 2015, I am a college graduate (at last!) and I haven’t a serious idea about where I want my life to go. Living abroad again was a must… I’d been in Southeastern USA for 4 years and the itchy feet were back. I found myself dreaming of this job that I wasn’t sure existed, or if it did I didn’t know what it was called. Before graduation, I had discussed with my adviser what I wanted to do in life: bring awareness to marine conservation, work in the field and with communities, and help make real changes in the lives of others and the status of our oceans. Most of the jobs that I looked at in the US required Master’s degrees or some line of experience that I didn’t have. A lot of the jobs involved a scientific research position, which I was not passionate about, although I appreciate the value of research. I was optimistic, but truly a little stumped. And then, while visiting my family in Israel, I finally remembered the Peace Corps.
I can still conjure the feeling of my heart thumping harder and harder as I started my search of the Peace Corps jobs site. “What do you want to do?” the page asked me, and I picked the ‘environment’ sector. “Where do you want to go?” I picked Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. I briefly contemplated South America, but I had lived in Central America for some time and I wanted to go somewhere with a less-familiar culture, somewhere a little harder to access without an opportunity like the Peace Corps. Only a handful of jobs came up in the results and most were agricultural-based or involved scientific education. But there was one position that truly struck me: Coastal Resource Management Volunteer, serving in the Philippines. I read through the job description and requirements twice, three times. I felt the beat of my heart stutter: this was IT. The job, the dream, the role I described to my professor, the things I wanted to do so deep within my heart… I had found them.
A Coastal Resource Management (CRM) position involves working with fisherfolk and communities in sustainable development of marine resources. A position could involve anything from creating management practices for a marine protected area (MPA), to helping fisherman come up with me sustainable and efficient fishing methods, to starting coral farms, or teaching local kids about conservation and science. There was a lot of variability. You need to be adaptable, someone who can be a leader and also roll with the punches. You need to be adept at learning languages and comfortable living in very rural locations that might not have running water or reliable electricity or Internet (there goes my other dream job as a career blogger 😉 ). You need to be willing to sacrifice your privacy, your home comforts, and your dietary preferences, in order to submerse yourself into a community and develop ideas for growth based on their needs. You need to be able to blend in and yet promote positive change. It was apparent to me, that you need to be a bit of a chameleon. As my best friend of 16 years once told me, “Stav, you are a chameleon; you fit into the hustle and high-fashion life of London as easily as you did into the wild jungles of Costa Rica.” Her words have always stuck by me and so I told myself: I am adaptable, never standing still and when it comes to the needs of the Peace Corps, I fit the bill; I believed it in my heart. Perhaps, I could really make this a dream come true.
I spent 24 hours dreaming of the Philippines and the Peace Corps before I sat myself down to write the 500 word application essay. It took me about an hour, then I contemplated it for a week while I took a trip to England and France, wanting to give my feelings on applying some more time to simmer. The day after I got back, I submitted my application, and the waiting game began. The Peace Corps application is a competitive process that is notorious for making applicants wait months before receiving personal contact and eventually a decision. Even with a new, faster application process, the PC website advises applying for positions 6-12 months prior to expected departure. I am not good with anticipation; I, quite frankly, lack the virtue that is patience, though I try to practice it often. I hoped that applying 8 days before the application deadline and just over two months before the ‘know by’ date (when they give you a final decision) would prevent me from losing my sanity in the waiting game. And I was right. It appeared that the Peace Corps was as interested in me as I was in them. The Monday after the application deadline (Friday, January 1st), I received an email saying I was officially ‘under consideration’ for the CRM position in the Philippines. A day later, I received my request for interview and references. The following Monday, I interviewed; a nerve-wracking experience where I lost Internet before the end of the interview and was informed that a missing reference was holding me back from a decision. With much determination, I chased down my referee from across the Atlantic who assured me she was submitting my reference as soon as we hung up the phone. The waiting game commenced, I wasn’t sure I’d ever wanted anything more… I was excited, anxious, nervous, sad, and thrilled all at once! The interview only seemed to push my level of desire through the roof… how long would I have to wait? It hadn’t been a day and I could already feel the craziness creeping inside of me. I went to bed that night jittery and dreamy-minded, thinking of the 7,107 islands that could soon become my home.
When I woke up the next morning, it was there in my inbox, my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps! I felt as if my heart exploded from joy, from relief, and from the small sadness within me knowing that I would be on the other side of the world from my family once again. It took me just a couple hours to read through the information packets the Peace Corps sent me before I accepted the offer without a second thought. And now I’m here; medically cleared, passports/visas obtained, and 65 days from starting a role that I have dreamed of, somewhat unbeknownst to me, for a dozen years… Let the adventure begin!