Peace Corps 101 and a Slim Chance

A few weeks ago I was looking for some information for our work newsletter when I stumbled across a listed for a Peace Corps information event on campus.

Here’s what I know about Peace Corps:

  • they work out of third-world-ish countries
  • my co-worker did it in Ghana
  • Baby says that’s one of her ambitions in Dirty Dancing

Since this was the limit of my knowledge, I decided to go and see what they had to say. Some things that jumped out at me during the presentation:

  • 27 month commitment (hey, I’ve been saying all this time that I was looking for two years)
  • medical covered (yay for not having to figure out international health care!)
  • language training provided (another yay!)
  • one of the volunteers said she taught English as a second language (seriously?)

The biggest downside I could see: you don’t choose where you get to go.

I went home and sat on this for a few days pondering and the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. I thrive on service opportunities.

If I boiled down what I was hoping to get out of this whole bigwhatif thing, I’d say I want to either (a) experience another culture or (b) experience a place with a bit more history than America. Let’s be honest, a lot of (b) is about: I’d like to see some awesome, old architecture. All places European qualified for the latter but since they’re also first world not as much the former. Australia, with its history being even shorter than America, doesn’t greatly fill either need – but with that whole visa program it could be the easiest place to go.

Peace Corps satisfies the former. In a huge way.

Plus, so many of the unknowns are taken care of leaving you to just focus on the work you’re doing and the experience you’re having – none of this “I need to do that paperwork to renew my work visa” mess. I mentioned Peace Corps to a friend who said, “You know I’ll support you in whatever you choose to do, but I like the idea of you going with an established program like this instead of on your own.”

They said the application process takes 9-12 months, so I sat down this weekend to start looking at it.

One thing mentioned in the presentation was that you needed to pass a medical exam, and look online for more information about this. I found the PDF and scrolled down to the bulleted list of conditions. There were two lists, one resulting in deferred service and one “sorry, no-go”.

Near the top of the first list was “Allergies requiring desensitization injections”. My doctor has told me that if I want I can do allergy shots to help with my watery eyes and runny nose from pollen. Glad I never took him up on that. Also listed, “Anemia (cause must be identified)”. Um, I do have anemia. Cause is identified. If I take iron supplements, I’m just dandy. So, where does that put me?

I held my breath as I kept scrolling through the list and on to the no-go list with a specific fear in mind. Then my heart caught in my throat. “Major depression – recurrent.”

A voice in my head yelled, “Not fair!”

I do have depression. Or did. It’s genetic. I don’t know if it’s formally labeled “major depression – recurrent”. What I do know is that I’ve had episodes in the past but I’m doing well and have been off medication for over a year. Maybe two. I’m not even sure when the last time I took medication was.

Depression is a challenge. A major one. And I think it’s not without some pride that I can say that I can manage this condition. Seriously. It’s a lot of work. People struggle with alcoholism or substance abuse and fight back and overcome – but it’s something they’re going to have to work on for their entire life. They’re allowed to go and I’m not?

At this presentation, I asked my table host her opinion on something. I had heard some criticism about the Peace Corps volunteers getting more out of this experience than actually making a positive contribution. I saw her hesitate for a moment before she responded that, yes, there were some people that went and it was just an extended party for them – but that you get out what you put in. And you can make a difference.

Honestly, I think that being able to overcome depression – even though it’s something I will struggle with my entire life – has made me a stronger and better person. Also, I would imagine that nearly all Peace Corps volunteers would struggle with depression / loneliness / homesickness at some point. At least I have the advantage of knowing how to handle depression. Would Peace Corps really rather send one of those party kids on this trip instead of me?

I looked back at the top of the list.

After individually assessing each applicant, Peace Corps is typically unable to reasonably accommodate applicants with the following conditions.

I stared at one word: typically.

So maybe there’s a chance. Even a slim one.

P.S. Here’s an interesting blog post from another applicant concerned about depression.

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3 Responses to Peace Corps 101 and a Slim Chance

  1. Aimee Galster says:

    Depression can be a serious, and reoccurring condition, but if you know your own heart and mind, and you know the triggers, YOU probably know if the condition would be likely to affect your work. There are plenty of people out there walking undiagnosed, or those who could be hit at any time. I think if you are managing without medical intervention, and you have been for some time, that counts to me as being “in remission”. Stand for yourself and go for it. HUG

    • Alissa says:

      Too true! Yet another reason I feel I shouldn’t be penalized: I had the self-awareness to seek help when things got tough. Now just need to find out if PC will actually look at my case individually or if I’ll be automatically DQed.

  2. Pingback: Phone Tag: Not for the Weak « The Big "What If…?"

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