In early 2011 I started browsing around the Peace Corps web site, just trying to get a feel for the application process, since the rule of thumb was to apply nine months to a year prior to when you wanted to depart. I started my application on March 23rd and figured I could take a month or so to really do a bang up job. On April 4th, I got an email from the Atlanta Regional Peace Corps Office with a huge banner at the top that said, “Apply by April 15th to depart for Peace Corps Service in 2012!.” Instant panic set in. Anne hadn’t even started her application and I could already tell the process wasn’t going to take the advertised 8 hours, more like 18 to 20 hours.
The next 11 days was a blur as we struggled with the application. Putting together all the details for 30 plus years of a working career, choosing three references for each of us, writing the essay questions and massaging our resumes to highlight our volunteer and community activities took an incredible amount of time, but we made the deadline. Little did we know that was just the beginning.
Here’s our application timeline with some of our insights about the process:
April 15, 2011 – On-Line Application Submitted
The application is pretty tedious, especially for older applicants with a long work history and lots of life experiences. The essay questions took multiple drafts to get it where we wanted. Get your references selected and notified early on because you can’t get an interview until all three of the references have returned their forms.
April 29, 2011 – Peace Corps Recruiter Assigned
We got an introductory email from our Recruiter saying he would be our contact through the initial part of the application process. He sent us the following list of forms and documents we needed to have back to him not later than May 10th or our application would be withdrawn from consideration.
- PC Assignment Information Sheets
- Skill Addenda Forms (Four for me and three for Anne)
- Divorce Decree
- My First Wife’s Death Certificate
- Couples Questionnaire
- Marriage License
- Military Service Record
- Reference Label Sheet
- Official College Transcripts
- Finger Print Cards
- National Agency Background Check Form
May 12, 2011 – Interview
The recruiter is located in Palm Beach Gardens on the East coast of Florida and we live about 6 hours away on the West Coast. He suggested that we have the interview as soon as possible since the new programs arriving on June 1st would probably go quickly with the current backlog of applicants. Naturally Anne was scheduled for a trip back to Wisconsin leaving May 19th and returning on June 1st, the recruiter was out of town from May 17th to the 20th and we were still waiting on the last of Anne’s reference forms. We scheduled it for May 12th and luckily the reference turned up the day before.
It seemed a little strange but we were interviewed at a local Panera Bread up the street from the Peace Corps office. The recruiter talked to each of us individually then together so we could respond to potential issues when serving as a couple. The interviews seemed to go well but he emphasized that placing couples was more of a challenge and it might take a while for him to find programs to nominate us for.
Lo and behold, he called us first thing the next morning and said he found a perfect fit for us and he would like to nominate us for programs in Eastern Europe departing in March of 2012. I would be doing NGO Support and Anne would be in a health care support program. We immediately accepted and felt as though we were the luckiest couple that ever applied to the Peace Corps.
June – December 2011 – The Dreaded Medical Evaluation Process
We had read that the medical evaluation process could be tedious, but when the package arrived it was worse than we thought. The instructions said to include everything about your health history, not the last 5 or 10 years, everything. To prove immunity, we would need doctor records of our childhood bouts with mumps, measles and chicken pox, do blood titers, or just get the immunizations again. And that was just the beginning. At our age, there was a whole lot of ground to cover.
Many lab and doctor visits later, we had the last of our paperwork turned in by mid-August. We were assigned a contact in the Medical Office and told that they were processing those applicants that were scheduled to depart in the next four months, so sit tight. I got a call in early November with two additional requirements: another colonoscopy and a polio booster. Anne also was required to get another colonoscopy and some additional lab work. We got a call back on December 14th that we had been medically cleared and would be passed on to a Placement Specialist. Eastern Europe here we come!
January 4, 2012
Since we were rapidly approaching three months to departure and we hadn’t heard from the Placement Office, Anne called and asked where we were in the process. Then we got the bad news. Due to the suspension of programs in three Central American countries and the closure of programs in Kazakhstan in November, they had more than 75 applicants that were scheduled to depart and now needed new placements. Our nominated program had been given away. She told us that they might have a better idea by the end of January, but that our Placement Specialist would contact us no less than three months prior to the departure date. A huge disappointment. Now our only hope was that we could be placed sometime in 2012. We weren’t sure we wanted to wait longer than that.
February 1, 2012 – Placement Process Begins
Our Placement Specialist sent an email and requested a time she could call to talk about our application to help her better find a program for us. We did a conference call with all three of us on February 8th. She had obviously had done a thorough review of our application because she was very familiar with our backgrounds, experiences and skills. She asked lots of questions about what we had read and learned about service in the Peace Corps, what our time frame for departure was and if we were willing to consider more “remote” assignments. We said we were ready to go yesterday and that we would be willing to serve anywhere needed. She said she would look first for placement in programs departing from April to June, but placing couples was more of a challenge, so the timing might slip to the July to September period.
February 16, 2012
The phone rang and I looked to see it was a 202 area code – Washington, DC; Peace Corps Headquarters. My heart was racing as I answered the phone and it was our Placement Specialist. She began by saying she might have a program for us, but wanted to check and see if we had any reservations about a more “remote” assignment. She offered to try and put us in touch with a gentleman who was in his 60s and had just returned from the country. She also said the country normally accepts four couples but were willing to take a fifth if the fit was right and that we would be the fifth. I said we would be willing to talk to the RPCV about the country and program, but that I didn’t think there would be a problem, even if the site was more remote. I asked her where and when the assignment would be and she said Africa with an April 10th departure. She told us she would get back to us when they got hold of the RCPV so we could talk.
I immediately jumped onto the Peace Corps Wiki site for the staging calendar and found the date matched the Botswana, BOTS12 group. In a strange coincidence, I have been following a couple that were in the BOTS10 group that left last April. We knew our assignments would be in support of Botswana’s national program to deal with their HIV/Aids epidemic and a little bit about the country and living conditions.
That afternoon, Anne was checking her emails and to our surprise, there was one from the Peace Corps that said they had decided to move forward with an invitation and that we would be receiving our packet in the next 5-7 days. We didn’t really expect it to happen so quickly, but once the shock wore off and we realized the long process was almost over we were ecstatic.
February 21, 2012 – Invitation Packet Arrives by UPS
Our neighbor had stopped by late in the afternoon and found the UPS package on our front porch. We played it cool until she left then we looked at the package for a long time before deciding to open it up. It really was the culmination of a tremendous amount of effort to get to that point, and while there was a feeling of relief, we were also excited for what lay ahead.
February 23, 2012 – Acceptance Email Sent to the Peace Corps
Without really discussing it, we both seemed to want to wait a day before accepting the invitation. A sobering moment to reflect and make sure in our minds that this was really going to happen and were we really ready to do it. The night before we talked one last time to make sure it’s what we wanted, and the next day sent off the acceptance emails.