Okahoma State University Oklahoma State University

Frequently Asked Questions

General Peace Corps Information

What is the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government agency. We send American citizens to work overseas in developing countries for a 27-month assignment. President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to "promote world peace and friendship" through:

  • Helping people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower;
  • Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served;
  • Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. The Peace Corps' basic mission of grassroots, person-to-person development work, combined with intense cross-cultural exchange, is the same now as when it was founded in 1961. For nearly 40 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have been fighting hunger, disease, illiteracy, poverty, and lack of opportunity around the world.

Where do Peace Corps volunteers work?

Peace Corps Volunteers work in 70 nations in Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, South Pacific, the Mediterranean, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

What is the average length of an assignment?

Peace Corps assignments are 27 months: 3 months of training, plus the 2-year assignment.

What is the typical age of volunteers?

The average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2002 was 28 years old.

How old is the oldest volunteer?

The oldest Peace Corps Volunteer ever was 86 when he completed his service, and the oldest volunteer currently servicing is 84. The Peace Corps and the countries where Volunteers serve often welcome and value the wealth of experience that older Americans bring to their overseas assignments.

How many people have served in PC?

Ans. -Since 1961, more than 170,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps.

How long does the application process take?

The entire application process may take anywhere from 6 to 9 months. Many issues can impede the process, including medical or legal concerns, incomplete or missing reference forms, or the fact that the applicant's particular skill is not needed at the time of application. Married couple applications generally take more than 9 months to process.

Volunteer Life

Can I choose where I go?

In the application, you can indicate a preference for a region, but not a specific country. The Peace Corps makes every effort to accommodate your interests and preferences for serving as a Volunteer, but we cannot guarantee placement in any specific country or region. Our main priority is to place you in a country where your skills are most needed, so we encourage you to be flexible when you are offered an assignment. Peace Corps assignments are for two years plus three months of training in your country of service.

Can I bring my pet?

Peace Corps strongly discourages bringing a pet with you. If you truly love your pet, you wouldn't want to bring him/her with you. Many countries won't allow you to bring a pet in at all. Those that do, often require the animal to be quarantined. In many countries, adequate health-care is not available for your pet. There can be significant cultural differences in the way that pets are viewed and treated. Most pets would live outdoors and be expected to fend for themselves, living a "wilder" and more violent lifestyle. Sometimes, it is difficult to justify feeding a pet nutritious food, when the people around you are all on the verge of malnutrition. And then in some countries, these animals might even be seen as food. Bottom line, if you really love your pet, leave him/her at home.

What if I am a vegetarian?

There is no country in the world which has a solely vegetarian diet. Therefore, Peace Corps is not always able to take an applicant's eating habits into account when making placement decisions. Vegetarians are welcome to adapt locally available food to their eating philosophy, but you should be aware of the following challenges:

  • In some countries it is very difficult to get a balanced diet without meat and substitutions are scarce;
  • Peace Corps may send a Volunteer home who shows signs of malnutrition;
  • It is essential that Volunteers respect the cultural norms of their host country. In many cultures, it is considered impolite to turn down offers of food of any kind. It is also considered very "stingy" almost everywhere in the Peace Corps world to serve food without meat;
  • Volunteers may be asked to participate in the slaughtering of animals, especially during holidays or feast time.

Can I bring my laptop computer?

As the world is changing, so does this answer. For volunteers serving just 5 years ago, it may have been completely inappropriate to have brought a computer (or a stereo for that matter). It depends on the country and the type of assignment. It would be more likely in a more developed country in a business or education program, and less likely in an agriculture outreach program in a less developed, rural area. Keep in mind the golden rule that you shouldn't bring expensive items.

How much will I get paid in the Peace Corps?

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are not paid a salary. Instead, you will receive a stipend to cover your basic necessities -- food, housing expenses, and local transportation. While the amount of the stipend varies from country to country, you will receive an amount that allows you to live at the same level as the people you serve in your community. The Peace Corps pays for your transportation to and from your country of service and provides you with complete medical and dental care. At the conclusion of your service as a Volunteer, you will receive a "readjustment allowance" of $225 (rate as of January 2003) for each month of service. If you complete your full term of service, you will receive $6,075.

What do I have to pay for as a Volunteer?

You will receive a stipend to cover your basic necessities -- food, housing expenses, and local transportation. While the amount of the stipend varies from country to country, you will receive an amount that allows you to live at the same level as the people you serve in your community. The Peace Corps pays for your transportation to and from your country of service and provides you with complete medical and dental care.

Can I have a roommate?

Yes, but be prepared to live alone, with another Volunteer, or even with a host family.

Did the food/water get you sick? What did you eat/drink? Did you have clean water, or a toilet?

For hygiene and sanitation, Peace Corps does have some minimum standards. You will have water to drink. It probably won't come straight out of a faucet, ready to drink, but you will have water. You might have to boil it and filter it, or pull it from a well, or pump it with a hand pump, but you will have water to drink. You will not starve. Food will be around. You will need to be careful that it is prepared well and cooked well, but you will be able to eat. You might not have your favorites. You might have to "get over" being a picky eater, but we will not send you somewhere where there is a famine, and there is no food to be had.

Sometimes the choices are not as varied, and you might not get as much of certain nutrients as you are used to (maybe it is difficult or not safe to eat dairy, so Peace Corps will give you calcium supplements). In fact, everyone in Guinea is given super-strength multi-vitamins, with 100% of everything!! We can't guarantee a beautiful porcelain flush toilet, but you will have "facilities" to use that you can keep clean and sanitary and that won't put your health at risk. In my town, the people in my neighborhood all shared a big communal pit latrine, and Peace Corps said "no way." They were afraid I would "catch" something if I used that regularly. So I had my own private latrine. I was the only one who used it, and I cleaned it with bleach regularly. In Guinea, they also wanted all of us to have tin (not straw) roofs because snakes like to hang out in the straw roofs. (Julie Kaminsky, Guinea RPCV)

What is it like to be a Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Volunteer?

Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age. Married couples without dependent children may be accepted if the spouse also qualifies for an assignment. There is no upper age limit. The Peace Corps does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. All Peace Corps services are administered on this non-discriminatory basis. Peace Corps accepts and considers applications for volunteer service from any qualified individual, whether heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, or gay. However, in accordance with the Peace Corps Legal Eligibility Guidelines, we cannot give special consideration to the joint placement of any couples who are not legally married. As same-sex marriages are yet to be recognized by the federal government, it is the Peace Corps' policy to consider such couples only as individual applicants.

This is true of any pair of applicants whether unmarried couples, friends, relatives or same-sex couples. Peace Corps will not make a special effort to arrange placement in the same location. Peace Corps provides cross-cultural training in the local customs and laws of countries of service. As a guest of a host country, volunteers are expected to live and abide by their customs. It may be necessary for a volunteer to change aspects of his or her physical appearance -hair length, facial hair, clothing in order to serve effectively in a host country. Open same sex relations may be prohibited by local laws. Out of respect of our host countries, same sex relations may be restricted conduct by volunteers. In some countries of service, Peace Corps Volunteers serving overseas have established gay, lesbian and bisexual support groups. Peace Corps staff is also trained to address concerns and cares for all volunteers, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Applying to PC/ Requirements

Is there an age limit?

You must be at least 18, although most volunteers are older since most programs require either a college degree or 3-5 years of professional work experience. There is no upper age limit. Currently, a few volunteers over age 70 are serving overseas. Likewise, volunteers in their 80s have successfully served in Peace Corps. At present, about 6% of all volunteers are over age 50. In general, volunteers of all ages have noted that age and maturity are valued human qualities in most countries in which volunteers serve.

Do volunteers need to speak a foreign language?

The Peace Corps teaches more than 180 languages and dialects. During your pre-service training, you will receive intensive language instruction to prepare you for living and working in your overseas community. While some countries where Volunteers serve prefer people who have studied French or Spanish, it is not always a requirement.

Can volunteers serve with their husbands/wives or boy/girlfriends?

Peace Corps service can be a rewarding, enriching experience for married couples. Today, about 9% of Peace Corps Volunteers are married. In all cases, both spouses must serve as Volunteers and live and work in the same community. The Peace Corps is unable to place couples with dependent children and cannot guarantee placement in the same country of couples or friends who are not legally married. Applicants can begin the Peace Corps application process while engaged, but must be married before departing for their overseas assignment.

I'm not a U.S. citizen. Can I join Peace Corps?

We appreciate the interest of our friends around the world, but the answer is no-- only U.S. citizens may join Peace Corps. You may wish to learn about other volunteer organizations.

Does working for the CIA or having a background in intelligence disqualify you from serving in the PC? Why? Is that discriminatory?

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers' safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

How tough is it to get in?

Annually, Peace Corps receives about 10,000 applications and sends about 3,500-4,000 trainees overseas. A large percentage of those who apply and do not become trainees have decided, on their own, to drop out of the applications process. Only about 5-10% are "rejected" outright. When evaluating an applicant the Peace Corps considers the "whole person," including your life experiences, community involvement, volunteer work, motivations, and even your hobbies. Your Peace Corps recruiter can work with you to help you gain the skills and experiences needed to qualify for a Volunteer assignment.

What are the minimum requirements needed to be accepted into Peace Corps?

Most Volunteers have at least a 4-year college degree (currently, 86% of all volunteers have a bachelor’s degree or higher). You can qualify without a degree if you have significant agriculture experience, have worked full-time in carpentry, construction or woodworking, have four years experience as the manager of a business or if you have five years full-time experience working with at-risk youth.

What if applicants don't have a college degree?

Most Volunteer assignments require a four-year college degree. Applicants without a college degree may qualify by having three to five years of work experience in an area such as managing a business. In general, this is the type of experience we are looking for:

  • Agriculture & Forestry Extension: Demonstrated ability in planning, organizing, counseling or leadership and one year experience in vegetable gardening, nursery work/management, tree planting, tree care, urban forestry, fish (fresh or marine) cultivation/production.
  • Construction & Skilled Trades Education: 18 months work experience in general construction, cabinet making, machining, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, electricity, welding or metal working.
  • Urban Youth Development: Five years full-time experience with at-risk youth between the ages of 10 and 25 in a youth-oriented organization.
  • Water and Sanitation Extension: Demonstrated ability in planning, organizing, counseling or leadership and one-year experience in construction, masonry, carpentry or plumbing.
  • Business Advising: Four years experience as the manager of a business.
  • NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Development: Five years full-time management or organizational development experience with non-profit organizations.

Can I receive college credit for my Peace Corps Service?

There are two ways you can receive credit: The first is called Masters International; the other is called Fellows USA. Some of these programs do offer scholarships or stipends or fellowships. Each program is different, depending on the hosting university. You can find detailed information on both programs through our website: www.peacecorps.gov From the home page, go to the bottom to the section marked "take me directly to..." and choose Fellows USA or Masters International.

Here is a brief summary: Through partnerships with more than 30 schools offering master's level studies in a variety of subjects, the Master's International Program allows qualified applicants to both serve as a Peace Corps volunteer and earn a masters degree at the same time. In the "MI" program, individuals become Peace Corps Volunteers as partial fulfillment of a graduate degree. In fact, many schools will grant credit at no cost for Peace Corps service. Programs are not offered in every area, but are offered only in disciplines where there is a shortage of skilled people who can serve as Volunteers. The Fellows USA program offers opportunities to continue with graduate studies after completing the 27-month Peace Corps Assignment. In exchange for a two-year commitment to work in a community that needs your help, you can earn a master's degree and establish your career. 26 Universities currently have Fellows USA programs. Each university, with financial support from foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individual donors, will assist you in this process. You may receive any number of benefits such as tuition assistance, yearly stipends, housing, paid employment, and health benefits. The exact nature of the award varies with each university.

What are you looking for with regard to volunteers?

Every year, close to 4,000 Peace Corps Volunteers head overseas for two-year assignments. Approximately two-thirds of these volunteers have Liberal Arts degrees! The most competitive candidates are those with experience in planning, organizing, counseling, or leadership within the past 4 years. In addition, specific experience and skills are required to qualify for programs, as listed below.

Benefits of PC Service

Post- PC Benefits

How does PC help volunteers after they return home? What kind of job placement assistance does Peace Corps provide when I complete my Volunteer service?

The Peace Corps' Office of Returned Volunteer Services (RVS) provides career, educational, and other advice and assistance through its Career Center in Washington, D.C., and through the Peace Corps regional recruiting offices. RVS publishes bimonthly job bulletin and career manuals, provides self-assessment tools to help returned Volunteers explore career options, and facilitates career-planning activities throughout the United States. In addition, returned Volunteers have non-competitive eligibility status for appointments to U.S. government executive branch agencies for a period of one year after the completion of their service. Under some limited circumstances, this status can be extended up to a maximum of three years after completion of Peace Corps service.

I have student loans. Can they be deferred or canceled while I serve in the Peace Corps?

In general, while you are a Volunteer, you may defer repayment of your Stafford Loans (formerly known as Guaranteed Student Loans), Perkins Loans, Federal Consolidation Loans, or Direct Loans. In addition, Volunteers with Perkins Loans receive a 15% cancellation of their outstanding balance for each year of their two years of service. The Peace Corps does not grant deferments, cancellations, or grace periods for government or private loans. You must obtain these directly from your lending institution. The regulations that authorize loan deferment and cancellation are sometimes complicated. I recommend calling your loaning institution and asking them about their policy concerning Peace Corps.

What are some of the benefits after service?

It's important to join the Peace Corps for the right reasons. Because of a sincere desire to make a difference. To change something for the better. But it's important to know that, for all the giving Peace Corps Volunteers do, they also receive a great deal in return. From practical benefits such as student loan deferment to career benefits like fluency in a foreign language to the intangible benefits that come with making a difference in people's lives, there are a variety of reward for the dedicated service of Volunteers. Rewards that last a lifetime. And, the benefits of Peace Corps service don't end with one's overseas service. The experience will affect your life long after you return home. It's an experience to draw upon for the rest of your life. As is often said, the Peace Corps isn't simply something great. It's the beginning of something great.

  • Career Benefits: In the global marketplace of today's business world, the overseas experience, cross-cultural knowledge, and language skills that you gain as a Volunteer are extremely valuable and highly sought by employers. From government to business to literature, returned Volunteers have used their Peace Corps experience as a foundation for successful careers in a variety of areas.
  • Educational Benefits: The Peace Corps is, in itself, an education, but there are many other benefits to your previous or future education. Volunteers can defer payments on many types of student loans. In some instances, academic credit is granted for Peace Corps service. More than fifty colleges and universities offer scholarships and assistantships for returned Peace Corps Volunteers. And the Master's International Program allows select Volunteers an opportunity to earn a master's degree while serving overseas. And the Peace Corps Fellows Program helps Volunteers continue their education and their service here at home.
  • Financial Benefits: While the other benefits are of lifelong value, Volunteers' financial needs are not ignored. A monthly living allowance enables Volunteers to live similarly to others in their community. Medical and dental care is provided, as is transportation to and from the country of service. Volunteers also receive 24 vacation days per year. Finally, after the completion of three months of training and two years of service, Volunteers receive $6,075 (monthly allowance increased to $225 in January 1999) to help them readjust and begin life upon their return home.

Does the Peace Corps provide medical coverage for Returned Volunteers?

Peace Corps provides extended medical coverage to volunteers who take that option upon close of service. Also, the National Peace Corps Association offers affordable health insurance to RPCVs.

Health Issues

What happens if volunteers get sick?

In each country there is a Peace Corps office (usually located in the capital city) where a full-time Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) is on duty. The PCMO provides medical care for volunteers in country. If something were to happen that the PCMO could not treat in country, the volunteer would be evacuated to the closed country where that problem could be treated, or back to the US if necessary. Peace Corps covers all medical costs while you are a volunteer, and if something happens that requires treatment after you finish your volunteer service, you can apply to receive worker's compensation.

If you get sick, who is your doctor? How far away is the doctor?

There is a PCMO in each country, who will be providing you with most of your medical care. Depending on the medical standards in your country, you MIGHT see someone locally, if you can't get into the capital, but usually, PC prefers that you get your medical care from the PCMO. The PCMO is usually located in the capital, so it could be several hours away. But PC will always pay for you to come in if you are sick or injured, and if something serious were to happen, PC would come out and get you. If it were so serious that the PCMO could not care for you in country, you would be evacuated to the closest place where they could care for you by our standards, back to the US if necessary. And PC covers ALL the costs of your medical care.

What happens if someone at home gets sick or dies?

Peace Corps provides an emergency home leave in the event of the death of an immediate family member. In an emergency, the Office of Special Services can be reached 24 hours a day. They will be able to get a message to the volunteer overseas.

Do I need to get shots first (before I go)?

Peace Corps will provide you with all the shots, vaccinations and medicines you will need while serving. You don't need to get any before hand.

What if I have braces?

You won't be able to start your Peace Corps assignment until your braces are off. Unfortunately, we can't guarantee that there will be a dentist or orthodontist in your COUNTRY, let alone in your town, or anywhere nearby. So in order to be medically (dentally) cleared, you'd have to be finished wearing your braces.

I'm afraid to go to Africa because I might get AIDS/HIV/Ebola virus.

Cases of AIDS/HIV are now found everywhere - in the US as well. You know how to protect yourself in the US, and you will need to take those same precautions overseas. I personally didn't feel like I was at any more risk in Guinea than in the U.S. As for Ebola and all those other viruses you hear about. First, Peace Corps provides you with all the vaccinations and medications you will need. And an overwhelming majority of these viruses and infections can be prevented if you take care of yourself. If your PCMO tells you not to go swimming in the river, don't swim in the river. If you are told to boil and filter your water, do it. If you drink unclean water, you'll probably get sick, feel awful, and then they'll give you drugs and you'll get better, and you won't drink from that water source again!

Safety Questions

How safe is it? What does PC do if a region becomes unsafe?

What happens if there is unrest/civil war in a country? In each country Peace Corps has an emergency/evacuation plan. You will develop a personal plan for your town. There have been a few countries that had to be evacuated. As soon as anything starts "brewing" in the country, Peace Corps knows about it, and the PCVs are the first ones out, along the spouses and children of Embassy personnel. That's one nice thing about being affiliated with the U.S. government. The PC office is in direct communications with the Embassy and the State Deptartment, so they know about things before they happen.

The U.S. government also officially knows about your presence in the country- they know where all the PCVs are, and will come in and get you if they need to. But, for the most part, PCVs are NOT serving in countries that are unstable. We are doing long-term development work, so we are not in the countries that are in the middle of a civil war. They need emergency relief, not long-term development projects. Also, most volunteers are serving in rural areas, or small towns and cities... NOT in the capital or large cities, where most of the civil unrest occurs. By establishing close relationships with the people in your village, you know that if anything happens they will take care of you. Peace Corps is very careful NOT to be affiliated with local/ in-country politics. The people in your town know that you are not choosing sides in any of these political/ ethnic debates. Also, PCV are only serving in countries where we have been invited to serve. We are not in countries where they HATE Americans, so Americans would not be the intended target of any violence.

What if there's a war, civil unrest, hurricane, flood...etc.

Each Peace Corps post has an emergency plan to be activated in case of a natural disaster or other threat to a Volunteers well-being. Volunteers are never placed in areas known to be dangerous.

How many deaths, rapes, assaults, thefts occur in PC countries?

Some 1999 statistics: In 1999, the mortality rate was 3.1 per 10,000 Volunteers (Annual Report, health section, figure27). In 1999, the incidence of major physical assaults was 1.9 per 100 Volunteer/trainee-year (Annual Report, safety section, figure 1).

How many deaths have occurred during the Peace Corps history?

The 1999 Annual Report noted that between 1961 and 1999 there were 239 deaths.

What is the leading cause of death among PC volunteers?

Car accidents.

Women's safety issues: did you live by yourself? did you feel safe? did you know anyone who got assaulted or raped?

Most Volunteers live by themselves, and feel very safe. Some Volunteers share sites or housing with other volunteers, but the majority of volunteers live alone, or as the only Peace Corps Volunteers in that town. Each country and each site is different. Each site is visited by a Peace Corps administrator, and a health/ safety evaluation is performed at the site before any PCV is placed there. You will be discussing these issues with your Associate Peace Corps Country Director when site assignments are made (usually some time during training). Some Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of assault or rape, but this happens everyday in the US too. Peace Corps Volunteers are probably no more at risk in the PC than you would be at home, but you must take precautions and be aware of your surrounding. You need to take responsibility for your personal safety, and follow the guidelines and recommendations that Peace Corps gives you in your country. Just like in the US, often alcohol plays a role.