Peace Corps recruits Elon students

Miriam Williamson

With increasing economic problems in the U.S., many volunteer programs and volunteer opportunities are forced to cut back.

The Peace Corps is one of these.

Because of the cutbacks, the Peace Corps can send fewer volunteers abroad.

“Peace Corps has become more and more competitive than ever,” said Sherlene Ferguson, regional recruiter for the Peace Corps.

Ferguson visited Elon Sept. 18 to provide information and guidance for anyone interested in joining the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps: continuing an altruistic tradition

The Peace Corps was originally created under the Kennedy administration with the intent of promoting world peace and friendship with three goals: help people of countries interested in hosting volunteers, help promote a better understanding of Americans and help promote a better understanding of people from different countries and cultures.

The Peace Corps only sends volunteers to countries that request them, and today, the Peace Corps volunteers serve more than 70 countries.

While there, volunteers may live in a community without any other Americans, but this helps volunteers develop meaningful relationships with the people they are living with and helping.

“People in developing countries and communities have myths about Americans,” Ferguson said.

By living with or being neighbors with community members, volunteers can dispel these myths and show a new, usually better representation of the U.S.

Peace Corps volunteers serve for 27 months, three of which are dedicated to the training process.

The Peace Corps takes on the expenses and provides housing for volunteers. Volunteers also make a monthly stipend equivalent to what a community member working in the same position would make.

Focusing on the volunteers’ safety

The Peace Corps is very good about ensuring the health and safety of its volunteers as well. There is a medical office in each country, and there is extensive training to prepare volunteers for any sort of danger.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” Ferguson said. “We can pull the volunteers out in a 10 minute evacuation if need be. Even if there are rumors circulating about anything that may endanger the volunteers, the Peace Corps removes the volunteers from the area. Recently volunteers were removed from Bolivia and Georgia, before the public was even aware that anything was going on.”

Anyone 18 years or older is welcome to apply to the Peace Corps, but the application process is complex.

A graph of the different Peace Corps programs volunteers work in. Information courtesy of Peace Corps

Completing the application process

First, there is a 14-page application, consisting of basic background information, primarily about the past five years of an applicant’s life. Ferguson urges applicants not to be modest, and put down everything, not just the things that seem are relevant.

Since countries often request unusual positions to be filled, it is important for the volunteer to be a good match.

“In order for us to know you’re the ideal candidate, we need to know your life story,” Ferguson said.

There are two essays – one about cross-culture experience and another about motivation.

Cross culture experience does not necessarily mean visiting a different country though. It could be something that happens on a trip to a different U.S. region, or even an encounter with someone with a different lifestyle.

The motivation essay is when applicants have the chance to explain what led them to the point of applying, and what they want to gain from the experience.

The application also requires three references. Ferguson encourages applicants to ask people before listing them as references, and ensure that they will give a good reference – do not just assume.

If applicants move past this stage, they will be contacted for an interview.

For this, applicants should never assume it is a casual meeting. They should dress appropriately in business casual and act accordingly.

If the interview goes well, there is a medical packet that must be completed.

“It is definitely the most difficult part I think,” Ferguson said.

The legal portion though, is probably the easiest. The Peace Corps will check fingerprints and do a background check.

Ferguson emphasizes the importance of being honest about everything, and not being embarrassed. She said that even if someone has gotten into some sort of legal trouble in the past, it is OK as long as the applicant is honest about it and everything has been cleared up.

Finally, the Peace Corps will match the applicant to a job invitation. Usually there is about a six to eight week period from the time of the invite to the leaving time.

Most applicants have a preference of where they would like to go, and while they can list these preferences, the Peace Corps can’t guarantee that location. The Peace Corps tries to honor requests, but because certain skills are needed certain places, it is not always possible.

Ferguson said anyone interested should apply about a year before he or she would want to leave the country. She said she is available as a resource for anyone interested or going through the application process.

She is returning to Elon’s campus in October.

Learn more about the Peace Corps at www.peacecorps.org.

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2 Comments on “Peace Corps recruits Elon students”

  1. Janna Says:

    Good work getting a story with interesting details for the local community! GREAT!

    Now I will get nitpicky and tell you how to improve. The graphics are good but I want to see a photo of Ferguson with the story, since you quote her a lot. OR, you could see if University Relations has a photo or two of former Elon students who went on to the Peace Corps, because they have done stories and run blogs from Peace Corps people from Elon in the past.

    You should add another deck to the headline or another line to the headline to give it weight and add more specific details for search engine optimization. Add more specific details in the headline.

    A story this long could really use subheadlines to help the audience move through. How many people are serving the the Peace Corps right now, and how many fewer people are they going to be recruiting than usual? Can she give you the number of people who were recruited last year and the number they will get to recruit this year? or – even better – can you get the annual recruiting stats for the past decade and put them into a graphic? You see what I mean.

  2. Italiak1 Says:

    Thank you for valuable information.


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