Throughout our preparation for service as Peace Corps Volunteers, many of our friends and family have asked tons of questions about Peace Corps as an organization, how you join, and why we decided to join. You’ll find a few of those questions asked and our answers down below. Of course, if you’d like us to elaborate further or have any further questions not addressed below, visit our Contact page.
A reminder of the site disclaimer: the content of this website is ours alone and does not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Peruvian Government. As always, for up to date, accurate information regarding Peace Corps, visit their website at: https://www.peacecorps.gov
1. Do I have to be a US citizen to join the Peace Corps?
Yes. To be a PCV, you must hold US citizenship. Peace Corps is sponsored by the US Government, and as Volunteers, we are like unofficial ambassadors for the United States. Therefore, you must be a US citizen to join the Peace Corps. If you do not qualify for service with the Peace Corps, there are hundreds of short or long-term volunteer organizations around the world that are happy to accept anyone qualified. They may share similar goals and frameworks that Peace Corps has! Do some research and find out which ones are best suited to you and your goals.
2. Do you get paid to be a PCV?
The short answer here is “no,” we do not get paid to be Volunteers. Peace Corps is not a paid position, it’s a volunteer position. The long answer is “sort of.” Peace Corps doesn’t leave us high and dry. While we do not receive salaries, we receive small, monthly living stipends which help us pay for necesseties like food, housing, clothing, travel, phone service, mail, etc. This living stipend varies by country. It is possible that not everyone will use all of their monthly living stipend; some Volunteers are able to save a little bit of money, but this greatly depends on your position and country location. Generally, though, you shouldn’t be leaving Peace Corps with money.
After successful completion of your Peace Corps service, however, you will be awarded a “resettling” allowance, meant to help you adjust to life back home. Currently, this amounts to about $10,000 USD, which is taxable.
3. Is there an age limit to join the Peace Corps?
There’s no upper age limit for Volunteers, but you must be at least 18 years of age or older to apply. There have been Volunteers that have been as young as 21 and as old as 75+ serving here in Perú. If you’re qualified, your age will not be a factor.
4. Do I need a college degree?
Most Volunteer positions require a college degree, however, there are some positions available for people with a mix of educational and professional experience (most often the Peace Corps Response Program). These positions are typically best suited for older applicants who are mid-career and can offer direct technical skills. Make sure to check the Peace Corps country pages to see what positions are needed at the moment. Each has varying requirements, skills, language requirements, etc. and you will have a better idea if you are qualified. Currently, as of July 2019, Peace Corps Perú has four sectors of work available: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), Community Economic Development (CED), Youth Development, and Health. Available sectors/positions vary by country, and there are others than the ones we listed here specific to Perú.
5. Can I maintain my vegetarian/vegan lifestyle in the Peace Corps?
As with almost every question we’re asked about the Peace Corps, this can only be answered one way: it depends. Personally, we’ve found it relatively easy to maintain our vegan lifestyle here in Perú. There are several other vegans (as well as many vegetarians) currently serving with us in-country.
Our community understands vegetarianism, and often the jump to veganism is explained by just including what else we don’t eat. People normally just write it off as something unique/weird to our “American culture”, and other times we find it easiest to just explain that we’re allergic or that it hurts our stomachs if we eat a certain animal-based food product. Perú, unlike many other Peace Corps countries, is very connected to the western world, and in major cities like Lima and Trujillo, you can find everything you would in the States, (vegan) food included. Of course, there are extremely rural sites in Perú that barely have any fruits or vegetables, let alone full-on vegan/vegetarian food options, but you will always find some sort of market at least a bus or mototaxi drive away to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to have in-site. Rice and potatoes are the stable food here in Perú, as are beans. So that’s basically 50% of our diet (this also tends to be the case in many developing countries, too). The challenge is to get Peruvians to understand the importance of eating fruits and veggies (and lots of them). That’s where our vegan diet and lifestyle choice can be used as educational tools and to teach more about the diversity in the United States. There’s a bit of Goal 2! Anemia (especially in children) is also a huge problem in Perú, so teaching about the importance of eating dark green colored veggies and lentils as a source of iron is a great way to teach more about why eating plants is important, and how our diets are actually healthy (and show our communities how we are in fact eating an incredibly balanced diet and won’t die of protein deficiency!). Much to our surprise, our host family during Pre-Service Training (PST) went vegan after they learned more about the health benefits of veganism and tried it out for themselves. It was amazing to leave this little vegan mark in Perú!
More special social events like birthday parties, weddings, etc. are much more meat-heavy and diary-heavy here in-country, and we’ve elected to not partake in the food eaten at these events. Food is of huge cultural importance in Perú (and in many of the countries Peace Corps Volunteers serve) and it’s entirely up to you if you wish to skip-out on this potential confidence-and-relationship-building opportunity. There are other ways to connect and build worthwhile personal and professional relationships, even in a country as food-centric as Perú, so don’t feel like you have to stop being vegan/vegetarian during your service if you don’t want to.
That’s just our own experience. There’s no telling whether or not other countries/communities will be so understanding. It’s a risk we all take as vegetarian/vegan Volunteers. We made sure to specifically apply only to countries where it seems like we could reasonably maintain our lifestyle, which reduced this risk and has made our service possible. You’ll just have to see how it goes in your community and do your best. The key thing is to be flexible and be willing to make sacrifices in the moments where you have no choice but to eat an animal-based product. This is, after all, what both interviewers and in-country staff will be looking for in any volunteer, especially one with an elective, restrictive diet: flexibility. Enter service with an open and flexible mind, and you’ll be able to thrive.
6. Are there cultural and language barriers while serving as a PCV?
Absolutely! You have chosen to live in another culture, a culture completely different than anything you’ve ever known. Therefore, you’ve chosen to accept that you’ll be struggling through cultural and language barriers for the remainder of your service.
Some countries of service require that you know a certain language before applying, like Spanish or French. Perú is one of those with a certain level of Spanish needed in order to qualify for a position in-country. Many countries speak languages that we’ve never heard of in the States, but regardless, you’ll have three months of intensive language learning and training at any post, that will get you to the language level needed in order to swear-in and begin your service experience. Spanish is an easy language to learn, but some countries have very difficult languages. Volunteers in these countries will likely struggle with the language throughout their entire service, only learning the most basic level of language. This would make service much more difficult, but a fun challenge and opportunity nonetheless. We’re lucky that Spanish is relatively similar English. So again, with language, it all depends, and each country will approach language training in a way most suitable for that country.
7. Has it been difficult to serve as LGBTQIA+ volunteers? As a same-sex couple?
There are many areas of Perú that are still very conservative, but there are many other parts that are a lot more liberal and open-minded, where those who identify as LGBTQ+ aren’t really a problem. In general though, many volunteers choose to remain closeted throughout their service (to host families, work counterparts, and other general community members) out of personal choice, be it because of their own preference or for what they feel are safety reasons. There are many other volunteers who, through time, choose to come out as LGBTQ+ to people in the community, sometimes only to their host family, other times to their families and work partners, and more. Overall, it’s a very personal decision to come out or not, and many volunteers successfully complete their service having either come out or stayed in the closet. That is a journey that you will have to figure out for yourself as you go along your service.
For us in particular, to give you more insight into our unique perspective, we’re the first same-sex couple to be living and serving in Peace Corps Perú. As a result, we’ve had a more unique situation than other queer volunteers (and volunteers in general), as in-country staff have been working on our arrival for over a year, much more than they typically do for individual volunteers. We are actually living and serving together, in the same community/house and in the same sector (WASH), which is not normally what happens with couples. If you are a couple (heterosexual or other), expect to have to apply to/be assigned to separate positions in different sectors, although you will be able to live together. If you’re a couple, your options of countries and positions are more limited (more-so if you’re a same-sex couple) so be sure to check the Peace Corps website for the current position listings and filter for “Accepts Couples”.
Staff here in Peru had several phone conversations with us ahead of time to let us know how they were preparing for our arrival as a couple, and one of the decisions that was made was to inform our host families (both the host family we had during Pre-Service Training [PST] in Lima, and then the host family at our permanent sites for the two years of service) as well as our counterparts at the municipalities, etc. This was done in an effort to have transparency and to avoid having any potential misunderstandings or issues later down the road for us that would potentially interfere with our service. Additionally, we were placed in a coastal region of the country, La Libertad, where in general, the communities are much more open-minded and accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals than say, up in the Sierra. This has essentially taken a lot of the work away that we would have had to do ourselves in terms of potentially having to explain that we were a same-sex couple had the staff not done any of that for us. The in-country staff here in Perú have, in our opinion, gone above and beyond for us in terms of our circumstances in preparing our sites, host families, and counterparts for our arrival, to ensure we have a safe, healthy, and successful service, hopefully without any issues associated with our LGBTQ+, same-sex couple identities. However, this is entirely unique to our situation as a same-sex couple serving together here in Perú. As a result of all of this, we have yet to have any issues whatsoever with anyone who knows that we’re a couple, and the staff, fellow PCVs, as well as our host families and counterparts have been entirely supportive and/or just indifferent to the fact that we’re a couple, and are simply excited to have us as resources, volunteers, and new family members. Please take note, (and we apologize for this repetitive, yet important re-iteration) this is unique to our own personal situation in Perú, and other couples in other countries may have entirely different experiences, and certainly those that are applying as individuals.
As was just mentioned, the experience for other LGBTQ+ volunteers both here in Perú and in other countries that are here by themselves (or as a same-sex couple), is different. They are expected to come to the decision of coming out to who they wish to at site (or not) and actually do that on their own. However, during PST, the staff in Perú provided an abundance of resources and support to all of us that we had access to throughout PST and will have access to the rest of our two-year service that include, in particular, extensive LGBTQ+ support for volunteers. This is (usually) the case in other countries of service. Your LGBTQ+ identity, should you choose to disclose it to staff (and to the USA based staff during the interview process) as well as other volunteers, which we recommend you do during all phases (interviews/acceptance/training/etc.), is taken into account when it comes to determining your site placement, but it by no means guarantees that you’ll be placed in an open-minded, more liberal area of the country of service you’re assigned to, like we have, for example. You may find yourself in a super remote, very conservative area of your country, like high-up in the Sierra in Perú’s case, or in a country where being LGBTQ+ altogether is frowned upon or even illegal. You are expected to adjust to that situation and make it work for you as best you can, within the confines of a safe standard of living (note: if you are a same-sex couple, you would only be sent to a country that has been designated as “approved” to receive a same-sex couple, that is one where homosexuality is not illegal or persecuted. LGBTQ+ volunteers applying individually may be sent to a country where being LGBTQ+ is frowned upon or even illegal). This is directly linked to one of the ten core expectations of Peace Corps service worldwide, which is to “go wherever Peace Corps asks you to go and serve under conditions of hardship, if necessary.” However, from our personal experience here in Perú, the LGBTQ+ volunteers in our cohort (there are many of us) all feel as though we have a lot of support from both in-country staff and other volunteers, and should other queer volunteers decide to come out as LGBTQ+ at some point during their service, they know that they won’t be doing it all alone and have the support they may need.
We’ll close by saying that Peace Corps service is not an easy thing, and you’ll get a taste for that during PST should you have the opportunity to be invited to serve in a country in need of a volunteer. Your sexual and gender identity/expression is definitely not excluded from potential difficulties that you may encounter during your service. All that being said though, the Peace Corps is an amazing opportunity to learn and grow all while doing so in the service of others. We can’t recommended it more!