Last spring, I decided I had enough of the job so I sought out my local Peace Corps recruiter. He told me the first year in the Peace Corps is really, really hard but then the second year he didn’t want to leave. Fast forward to now – I decided to move to Madrid for the year, get my TEFL certification to teach English, and learn Spanish. I basically did this to add to my resume for the Peace Corps and because I had always wanted to learn Spanish. Anyway, I wanted to email you to see if you could just give me all the positives and negatives or anything else that is interesting. Thank you!
– Madrid Teacher
Like the recruiter said, the first year is pretty hard — but moreso if you’ve never lived abroad and don’t know what to expect. With regards to the first year of Peace Corps, here are a few of the negatives:
- Feeling isolated — it can definitely be lonely if you’re the only foreigner for miles.
- Language barriers can add to the sense of isolation, and create a feeling of incompetency (why can’t I figure out how to buy a bottle of juice!?!?)
- FOMO — especially when it comes to dating, going out, and other “normal” 20-some activities.
- Lots of downtime = potential for boredom. Not everyone knows how to deal with this.
- Sometimes the restrictions placed on you by Peace Corps can be a burden — you often don’t have the flexibility to choose where you want to live (in terms of town and house), just pick up and take a trip whenever, drive a car / motorcycle, etc.
Of course, there’s plenty of positives too:
- Your PCV friends and bonds with your host community
- Getting to intimately know a new country / culture
- Learning how to be a self-sufficient bad-ass who can start a fire, recommend a cure for dysentery, bake english muffins without an oven, and hand-wash all your laundry
- The newness and excitement of it all
You may notice I didn’t say much about the work itself. This is because you don’t really make much of an impact in your first year of service. Instead, you’re learning how to your a job, cultural nuances, and what sorts of projects are most effective. Don’t stress if your work doesn’t feel like “work”. I think that’s what gets a lot of people down — this inaccurate expectation that they’ll swoop in and “change the world“.
That said, it’s great that you’re teaching in Spain beforehand. I also taught abroad before joining Peace Corps. They probably would’ve accepted me anyway, but it was good to have that foundation. I felt like it made me a better volunteer — especially since my CELTA training was far better than the ESL teacher training Peace Corps Madagascar did.
In short, it made me a better volunteer even if it didn’t necessarily make me more qualified as a volunteer. In the end, that’s more important anyway. In my opinion, I think too many people join straight out of college and may not be as effective than if they had gotten a year or two of experience elsewhere first.