What does success look like as a Peace Corps Volunteer?

By Justin Tabor
Nov. 23, 2020

Since its inception in 1961, over 240,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in 142 countries. Each year Peace Corps deploys anywhere from 3,500-4,000 new Volunteers and receives thousands of applications. Often, these applicants have one question in common, “How will I know if I’m a successful Volunteer?” The answer, like much of Peace Corps service, is nuanced and not simple.

To begin understanding what success within the Peace Corps looks like, we must start with the agency’s three goals:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

The first goal of Peace Corps is to offer assistance to others. As a Volunteer, this goal can take many shapes. It could be found in your main assignment, a side project, or in simply helping your young neighbor with their English homework.

On a quarterly basis, you will complete a Volunteer Reporting Form (VRF), which provides data to the Peace Corps about your work. These reports are compiled on both country levels and global levels and they measure the impact of Peace Corps Volunteers in numbers. For many, reporting that they trained 50 local farmers, taught 200 students, or planted 40 new trees is a rewarding process—it’s quantifiable and satiates our modern love for data-driven work.

However, as evidenced by Goals 2 and 3, Peace Corps service is much more than numbers. Volunteers engage in cross-cultural exchange as part of their service and throughout their lives. These interactions are the bulk of the day-to-day that Volunteers live through in communities around the world. These are the informal moments—the chat with a fellow teacher before school starts, the sharing of a laugh with a shopkeeper. These moments are brief, unplanned, and hard to quantify. However, they are critically important to the -Volunteer experience, the life of a counterpart, and to the Peace Corps’ goals.

Success in Peace Corps service is demonstrated through a combination of project development and work—the countable aspects of a Volunteer’s life, and the cross-cultural exchange—the mosaic of moments that, gathered together, make the daily life of Volunteers. Peace Corps service is also incredibly variable—each Volunteer has a completely unique experience. Some Volunteers will be fully engaged in their work but, despite their best efforts, struggle to connect with the local culture. Other Volunteers might find themselves integrated quickly into their new surroundings but be slower to develop projects at work. Both experiences have value. Because each Volunteer’s service is a mixture of individual personalities and contexts, results—successes—vary. Volunteers who are comfortable with success taking many shapes are often the most productive and fulfilled.

For years, Peace Corps was branded as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” A lot of that sentiment stems from the nature of the work. Peace Corps Volunteers take on a wide variety of challenges–limited resources, new languages, and unfamiliar cultural norms–with the hope that, in the end, they will help others. Despite the challenges, the majority of our Volunteers find their experience rewarding. According to our Annual Volunteer Survey (AVS), Volunteers in 2019 ranked their personal satisfaction with service on average as 4 out of 5. Successes in service may by large or small, qualitative or quantitative, or take years to fully manifest, they can hard fought to achieve but, in the end, success as a Peace Corps Volunteer is yours to define.

Peace Corps has many blog posts from Volunteers. Try searching for keywords like “success” to learn about different ways our volunteers define the impacts of their service. To start your Peace Corps journey check out some of our recruitment events to learn more, or go ahead and start your application now.

Justin Tabor

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