Those of you who know my blog probably know that volunteering is a big part of my life. On my travels I always try to include a volunteer placement as I believe it is important to give something back to the communities I am lucky enough to visit. For that reason I am excited to launch Volunteering Abroad. In this series I’ll introduce you to some inspiring friends I’ve met on the road — friends who at some stage in their life have undertaken a volunteer placement abroad. First up is my friend Amber who volunteered in Peru with the Peace Corps.

the peace corps Amber

Amber with her Peruvian host family on the left, and some fellow volunteers on the right

What’s your name, how old are you and where are you from?

Hi! My name is Amber Herber, I’m 28 years old and am from the United States, from Washington State.

Why did you decide to become a Peace Corp volunteer?

Peace Corps is well known in the U.S. and it was something I had always wanted to do. I met a PC volunteer when I was in high school during a volunteer trip to Honduras and I thought it was so amazing what she was doing in this small, remote Honduran village. I decided to join the Peace Corps because I wanted to get international experience, learn another language, have interesting life experiences, and of course to use my personal skills and knowledge to make a difference in a community.

What did you do before you became a PC volunteer?

I graduated from university in 2009, where I majored in Human & Organizational Development, and Anthropology. I did another volunteer service program in the States for 2 years called AmeriCorps NCCC, including spending a year as a team leader with a group of ten 18-24 year-olds, doing service projects all over the country. We built houses, responded to disasters like floods, worked with disabled children, helped maintain state parks, and did lots of other really awesome projects in different communities where we were needed.

What criteria did you need to fulfill to become a PC volunteer?

Peace Corps is a program of the US government, and as such you must be a US citizen to join. Volunteers need to be at least 18 years old, but there is no upper age limit. The most important requirement is that you must commit to serving for a full 2 years (27 months including the training period). Most volunteers have a bachelor’s degree, but some come in with extensive experience instead of higher education. Prior volunteer or international experience and language abilities are assets in the application process, however they are not outright requirements. Peace Corps now allows applicants to specify where they would like to serve (currently 65 countries) and what type of work they would like to focus on (education, health, economic development, environment, youth, agriculture, etc.).

Where were you based during your placement and what was your role?

I served in a rural mountain town in southern Peru for two years, and then extended my service for a third year in the city of Arequipa. I was a Community Economic Development volunteer and worked with an artisan association, other small businesses, entrepreneurs, and students, as well as supporting my local municipality, schools and non-profits. I mostly taught business planning, vocational orientation, financial education, and basic accounting. I also had other side projects like teaching English, art, cooking, and theater; running summer school programs and leadership camps for students; and whatever else I wanted to do in my spare time that the people of my town were interested in.

Did you receive any training from PC to prepare you for your placement?

Peace Corps has a three month training period when you start as a volunteer in your placement country. In my case, I lived outside of Lima during this time along with the other volunteers from my program, and received training in my main project areas, in addition to language and cultural training.

What was the best part of being a PC volunteer?

The relationships that I made with people in my town, and any time a project was over-the-top successful. I especially enjoyed big event-type projects like leadership camps, intensive business planning courses, and the college fair that I organized. Those big events were the sum total of my partnerships in the community and wouldn’t have been possible without hard work by everyone involved. The adrenaline and enthusiasm behind those projects were awesome to behold as so many different people came together to make them happen.

What was the hardest part of being a PC volunteer?

The first few months were the toughest because I missed my loved ones back home. It was also difficult because it was so different than what I expected from Peace Corps. Nothing bad per se, just very different than what I had imagined for so long. Once I was able to come to terms with the vast differences between my expectations and the reality I was faced with, I was much happier and had a very fulfilling experience.

Did you ever feel like quitting and going back to the US?

No. The first few months were definitely a period of adjustment and I missed my family, friends, and boyfriend back home, but I never considered leaving. That being said, I know a lot of my fellow PC volunteers did think about leaving, and I know a few who actually did. The challenges and frustrations of living and working in a foreign country, and being away from your home country for such a long period of time, are unique and hard to fully prepare for ahead of time.

When you finished your placement, did you feel you made a difference to the community you were working in?

I felt I definitely made a difference, but maybe not quite how I thought I would in the beginning. I didn’t have a lot of tangible long-term projects – most of what I focused on was education related, teaching people information or skills. This kind of work is hard to measure as there are few physical results at the end of the day. However, I know I impacted on people’s lives, I know I made friendships with people whom I will never forget and who will never forget me; be it because I taught them how to write a business plan, or because we sang or danced together, or because I made them pumpkin bread.

Amber the Peace Corps 1

What should people consider before signing up with PC?

Be as realistic as possible about the 2-year commitment you are making, and the emotional strains this will put on you being far from home, friends, and family. Also, now that PC lets you specify a bit more where you would like to go or what you would like to do, I think educating yourself on those aspects are essential. Learn some of the historical context of your country and follow current events before you arrive. Definitely look into current volunteer blogs to have a better understanding of volunteer life as a whole. And more than anything, after all that research, keep in mind that every experience is both entirely unique and wholly dependent on what you make of it.

What skills are useful to have as a PC volunteer?

As I mentioned before, it is useful to have spent time abroad before, whether studying, travelling, or volunteering. And additional language skills are extremely useful as well. Although you will receive language training in-country no matter what, having any background in the language will give you a good head start and additional confidence right from the beginning. You MUST also be extremely patient, perseverant, flexible, have a good sense of humor, relentless personal drive, and be both a collaborative team-player and/or fiercely independent, at alternate times.

Is there anything you wish you had known beforehand?

I wish I had done more research on Peru and about volunteer experiences in Peru once I knew I was being sent there. I also wish that someone had told me about the wonderful friendships I would make with other PC volunteers, and that they become your resources, your support system, and essentially your family. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was a wonderful surprise.

And finally, would you recommend volunteering with the Peace Corps?

Absolutely! It’s an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone. It comes with the highest highs and lowest lows, and is often extremely difficult, but I loved my time in the Peace Corps and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. They say it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Amber! Let’s leave this awesome girl some love in the comments below, and let me know if you would ever volunteer with the Peace Corps, or a similar organisation?

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

37 Thoughts on “Volunteering Abroad: What’s it like to volunteer with the Peace Corps?

  1. I’ve never volunteered with the Peace Corps or similar organizations but I’d love to one day. The only two volunteering experiences I had so far have been in Thailand in two different dog shelters, I loved it so much that at the second shelter I ended up staying for a month instead of the initial planned week.
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  2. That happened to me so many times that I initially only planned on staying for a short period and then ended up staying much longer, Franca. I always find the longer you stay the more rewarding the experience is really.
    Tammy recently posted…Volunteering Abroad: What’s it like to volunteer with the Peace Corps?My Profile

  3. Volunteering is definitely a grand idea to include in one’s own travels, congrats! 😉
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    • Tammyonthemove on January 29, 2015 at 4:30 pm said:

      Thanks Kinga. I agree, for me it is so important to include volunteering in my travels. Glad you feel the same way.

  4. I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps (problem being I’m Canadian!). I think the hardest part would be the reverse culture shock, returning to the US after 3 years! What an incredible experience, loved reading about it!
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    • Tammyonthemove on January 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm said:

      You will pleased to know then that next month I am doing an interview with a former CUSO volunteer (the Canadian equivalent to PC). 🙂

  5. When you talk about traveling deeper, getting to know the people, staying in one place for a long time…the Peace Corps is the way to go! Lovely interview!
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  6. Hey, I’m from Washington as well 🙂 Peru seems like an interesting place to live/volunteer for 3 years. I would have considered being in the Peace Corps if I was single and didn’t already have roots here at home. I went on a 2 week volunteer trip to Uganda though and it was life changing and I feel like I was really able to make a difference there.
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    • Tammyonthemove on January 29, 2015 at 4:35 pm said:

      I think once you volunteered once it becomes really engrained into your lifestyle. It changes you for the better and teaches you more than any other job could I think.0

  7. Wow, such good information. Even though I’m from the States, I really didn’t know that much about the Peace Corps. I only wish now that both my husband and I could volunteer and bring our dogs with us! 😉
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    • Tammyonthemove on January 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm said:

      Well, there are definitely countries you could bring dogs to. I know and aid worker who bought her dog from Afghanistan, to the US, to Mexico. Some countries are easier than others, so it might be worth checking that actually.

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  12. I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps (problem being I’m Canadian!). I think the hardest part would be the reverse culture shock, returning to the US after 3 years! What an incredible experience, loved reading about it!

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  17. 1st of all, going with the end goal of welfare of individuals is an exceptionally fearless undertaking. I am happy there are individuals like you still in this world… Keep up the great work..I admire it all that much

  18. I’ve for a long while been itching to join the Peace Corps (issue being I’m Canadian!). I think the hardest part would be the converse society stun, coming back to the US following 3 years! What an extraordinary ordeal, cherished perusing about it!

  19. really! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for supplying this information.

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  21. I think once you have volunteered once it is really engrained in your lifestyle. It changes you for the better and teaches you more than any other job I could think of.

  22. This really seems like an awesome organization and volunteering with them seems great! Do you choose the country where you’ll volunteer yourself?

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