Gap Year Ideas -Peace Corps
John F. Kennedy, Jr., made a plea in 1961 that changed how Americans became involved overseas. He challenged America’s youth to serve their country by living and working in developing areas of the world.
If you’re looking for gap year ideas, (gap year defined), consider volunteer travel. Serving in the Peace Corp between high school and college has great rewards.
Forty years later, the Peace Corps has sent more than 165,000 Americans to 130 countries. Peace Corps volunteers help establish or run programs in education, business, environment, agriculture, health, community development or specifically focused projects such as HIV/AIDS education. These areas of training can land a Peace Corps volunteer just about anywhere in the world.
The Peace Corps’ mission is “to promote world peace and friendship.” To be eligible for volunteer travel, you must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. The application process includes an hour-long interview that delves deeply into your personal life, future goals and medical history. A four-year college degree is required for most assignments. Without one, three to five years of valuable work experience is required. You have to be willing to commit to two years of service, plus three months of training in your host country.
Dan VerSchneider, 22, recently started a Peace Corps stint in Thailand. Joining the Peace Corps was not a quick decision for him to make. An international studies major from New York state, VerSchneider took about five months of careful consideration to be sure of his decision to join. But he says “Peace Corps will be a great experience for learning, helping people and having fun.”
Getting ready for volunteer travel
Knowing what to expect ahead of time is important, so you aren’t shocked when you are chosen to be a farmer in Malaysia. “Be varied in your classes. I recommend you take a lot of basic geography and a foreign language,” VerSchneider suggests. “You never know what you’ll get selected to do based on your resume, so you want to be prepared.”
Erika E. Boehm, Peace Corps campus recruiter at the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry campus, says, “ I suggest taking any of the applied studies. The programs that we have right now include: agroforestry/agriculture, animal husbandry, environmental education, education, health and nutrition, AIDS awareness, water sanitation, small business and information technology. I also suggest taking any language.”
The interviewing process
Peace Corps administrators closely examine all your life experiences, from your tomato garden when you were 9 to your insect collecting hobby and high school grades. Factors such as these, from as far back as you can remember, become a part of your application.
“I taught English to Chinese students ages 9 through 14 during my study abroad in China. So I knew when I applied that I would probably get selected to do that again,” VerSchneider says.
Every Peace Corps volunteer has an area in which they become skilled. VerSchneider will spend the next two years teaching English to children fluent in Thai. “Returned Peace Corps volunteers say that the hardest thing is to be placed in a country where they do not speak the language,” Boehm says. “ Volunteers normally say that training is excellent and does prepare them, but it is always a shock to begin living in a community by yourself when you are so out of your element. It is also a challenge to self-motivate and devise and complete projects under limited supervision.
Most say that the friendships that they make with other volunteers and host country nationals are the best part of the experience.” Boehm would know. She returned to the States in 2001 after three years of Peace Corps work in the Republic of Panama.
Gap Year Ideas-Why choose the Peace Corps?
VerSchneider hopes his time with the Peace Corps will help him in a future career. “I want to be in the foreign service, a diplomat,” he says.
Boehm notes that most returned Peace Corps volunteers end up furthering their educations, teaching or going into social and community development-related careers.
Volunteer travel has its rewards
After a volunteer’s two years of service, Peace Corps benefits include 70 percent financial contribution towards your graduate degree, first crack at government jobs before they become available to the public or further training in your area of expertise so you can use your skills in the public sector.
You’ve considered various gap year ideas and decided that volunteer travel is for you. Now start preparing.
How to start planning for volunteer travel in the Peace Corps now
You can begin your Peace Corps journey while you’re in college. Follow these guidelines to get you on track early in the game.
Attend events hosted by the Peace Corps.
Study Peace Corps history.
Learn a foreign language, such as Spanish or French.
Take liberal arts classes. This will give you a well-balanced education to use in the Peace Corps.
Join clubs at your school to get used to working as part of a team.
Plan to finish all four years of college. A degree is important.
Find out if you qualify. Call 800-424-8580 and speak with a recruiter about your situation. APPLY!
You won’t know if you don’t try!
Stay in the U.S. with Americorps
The Americorps, founded in 1993, is a national program devised to meet America’s educational, safety, health and the environmental needs. More than 500,000 Americans each year become involved with Americorps.
To be eligible for Americorps, you must be:
17 years of age or older
A U.S. citizen, a national or legal permanent resident
Be able to serve for 10 months to a year at a time
Americorps volunteers receive:
An education award of $4,725 for college, graduate school or to pay back loans
Student loan deferment opportunities
A $9,300 annual living allowance
If you are interested in learning more about the Americorps, visit www.americorps.org or call 1-800-942-2677.