Peace Corps – A Launching Pad for a 21st Century Career

by Felicia Bechtoldt

March 18, 2016

I was 15 when I found out that English classes were offered by a group of Americans in my native city – Chisinau. I didn't know why Americans were in Moldova teaching English, but I jumped at the opportunity to learn English with native speakers. But I learned more than English; I learned about American values, such as tolerance towards minority groups, the concept of community service, and freedom of speech and the press. Soon I discovered that my new educators were members of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps played an important role in my upbringing and I am grateful to all Peace Corps volunteers that make a difference in people's lives all over the world.

Benefits of Joining the Peace Corps

The skills developed by Peace Corps volunteers are important to employers across all sectors of the economy. Acquiring international work experience in a particular area of expertise, as well as cross-cultural competency, leadership skills, professional savvy and fluency in foreign languages prepare Peace Corps graduates for today's global economy. Most employers regard job applicants with Peace Corps experience very positively. Depending on your work area in the Peace Corps and the job you would like to do, many employers consider Peace Corps service as work experience.

Peace Corps volunteers return home with proof that they enhanced professional abilities in specific areas and overcame challenges, setting them apart from other job applicants. During service, volunteers are given a tremendous amount of responsibility and autonomy. In order to successfully complete their tenure as a volunteer, they must develop the ability to self-manage and solve challenging problems without intensive management from their supervisor, because often their supervisor is located in a different city. They learn to adjust quickly to the needs of the community and implement projects in unknown environments with limited resources and limited experience.

Volunteers develop the ability to embrace ambiguity as their role and tasks can change overnight in the communities they serve. Working in the Peace Corps can be challenging, however. They learn that it takes a long time to see a change in their communities. They become effective communicators, negotiators and change makers of perspectives in the communities they serve. These experiences teach them to be a self-starter, flexible, resilient, and innovative, skills that are highly sought by today's employers.

A significant employment advantage for volunteers is the one-year noncompetitive eligibility for jobs in the federal government. After completion of service, federal agencies may expedite the hiring process for returned volunteers by hiring them without a vacancy announcement, formal screening, interview or other federal recruitment steps. The decision to hire a returned Peace Corps volunteer, however, remains at the discretion of the hiring agency and the candidate must meet the minimum qualifications for the position.

In addition, when volunteers return home, they earn more than $8,000 (pre-tax) to help with the transition to life back home. Volunteers having public student loans may be eligible for loan forgiveness or deferment as Peace Corps Volunteer Service is qualified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Volunteers having Perkins loans may be eligible as well for a 15-70 percent cancellation benefit.

What Programs are Available for Peace Corps Applicants?

Peace Corps applicants can choose from four programs:

  • Peace Corps Volunteers
  • Peace Corps Response
  • Global Health Service Partnership
  • University Programs

Peace Corps Volunteers is a two-year assignment, where volunteers work in one of the program sectors shown in the graph. Education is the Peace Corps' largest program sector with 37 percent of volunteers serving in 2015, followed by health (24%), youth and development (10%), and environment (10%).

Another program that provides targeted assistance to specific areas is the Peace Corps Response, which is a short-term assignment for professionals that have an area of expertise. They work in areas such as food security, information systems, civil engineering, ecotourism, girls' empowerment, youth entrepreneurship, website development, and vocational education. In 2015, only 4 percent of volunteers took part in the Peace Corps Response.   

Global Health Service Partnership is another program focused on building the healthcare capacity in countries that have shortages in healthcare providers. Eligible applicants are physicians and nurses willing to train the next generation of health professionals, enhance the use of high standards of clinical practices, and improve the medical and nursing education in developing countries.

Lastly, there are university programs that allow students to combine Peace Corps service with a graduate degree, or complement undergraduate studies with training that that prepares students for the Peace Corps service should the students decide to apply for the program.

Master's International allows students to combine their graduate studies with the Peace Corps. Tim Facemire is one of the students completing both a Master of Forestry at Oregon State University and a Master's International with the Peace Corps. When Tim was 13, he decided that one day he would serve in the Peace Corps. One of the reasons for serving in the Peace Corps, Tim explains, is "to understand and gain a new perspective on how the world works outside of the United States". After gaining an undergraduate degree in fire protection engineering and working for three years at a nuclear fire protection consulting agency, Tim decided that his time for Peace Corps has come. This summer Tim will depart for Guinea for 27 months, which was one of the top three projects he selected. Initially, he will have a three-month language and cultural training in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, and then he will be assigned to one of 31 Peace Corps locations in the country.  

While Tim is in Guinea, he will receive a monthly stipend for overseas living and housing expenses, compensation for transportation costs, 48 paid vacation days, leave for family emergencies, and full medical and dental coverage. Oregon State University is the only institution in Oregon offering a Master's International, which is provided by the Engineering, Forestry and Applied Economics Departments.

For undergraduate students, two programs are available: Peace Corps Prep and Campus Ambassadors. Peace Corps Prep is a certificate program that builds the competencies of participants in various program sectors, including intercultural competence, leadership, and proficiency in a foreign language. Campus Ambassadors are university students that act as local experts in raising the Peace Corps' profile and reaching diverse communities on campus. 

Furthermore, returned volunteers seeking to pursue a graduate degree can receive financial aid through Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program. In Oregon, Willamette University and the University of Oregon offer scholarships to Paul D. Coverdell Fellows for advanced degrees, such as Master in Business Administration, Master in Public Administration, Juris Doctor, Master of Laws, and Master of Legal Studies.

Where do Peace Corps Volunteers Serve?

Currently, Peace Corps volunteers have the opportunity to experience the cultural, linguistic and geographic diversity in 61 countries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Applicants can choose their country of service and program sector. The figure "Peace Corps Destinations" illustrates the countries, where volunteers can serve.

Nearly half of all volunteers (45%) provided technical assistance on girls' education, prevention of environmental degradation, information technology, democratization process, and HIV/AIDS prevention and education in 27 countries from Africa in 2015. The second largest number of volunteers (22%) served in 15 countries in Latin America and the smallest number of volunteers served in North Africa and the Middle East (3%) and Pacific Islands (3%).

The Peace Corps Demographics

Since the establishment of the Peace Corps, about 220,000 volunteers have served in 141 countries to further the agency's mission – the promotion of world peace and friendship. In 2014, 6,818 volunteers and trainees served in 64 countries, of which 63 percent were women and 37 percent were men. Men and women over the age of 50 accounted for 7 percent of the volunteer population. The median age for a Peace Corps volunteer was 25. The oldest volunteer that served in the Peace Corps in 2014 was 80 years old.

Oregon ranks eighth in the number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita in the nation with 4.0 volunteers per 100,000 residents in 2015. Vermont leads the country as having the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita with 8.3 volunteers per 100,000 residents. California continues to hold its spot as the largest producer of volunteers with 915 residents in service. Other states that produce large numbers of volunteers are New York (416 volunteers), Washington (319 volunteers), and Florida (299 volunteers). States that had the lowest numbers of Peace Corps volunteers are Delaware (12 volunteers), Mississippi (10 volunteers), and North Dakota (9 volunteers).

Oregon's universities rank among the top Peace Corps volunteer-producing schools in the U.S. The University of Oregon is positioned number 10 among large colleges and universities (those with more than 15,000 undergraduates) with 44 undergraduate alumni in service. Portland State University is positioned number 4 among graduate schools with 13 graduate alumni serving abroad. In the small colleges and universities category (less than 5,000 undergraduates), Willamette University shares position number 10 with other schools with 11 volunteers, and Lewis & Clark College and the University of Portland share the 20th position with other schools with nine students each.

From government to business to non-profit sector, Peace Corps volunteers use their experience as a foundation for successful careers. To learn more about how Peace Corps can help you advance your career, visit www.peacecorps.gov.


Our Latest Articles Our Latest Articles

Latest Items