Saturday, January 21, 2012

Peace Corps Timeline

Edit: This application largely took place under the old process. It has changed quite a bit and, from what I gather, is more responsive due to being done mostly online, in addition to re-arranging the application steps. However, much of it does remain the same, and I believe and hope my experience can still serve as an informative tidbit. 

Bandwagon jumped.

Here I'll keep a running timeline of my PC application status, hopefully from applying to departure and beyond. For those of you who are interested in applying, hopefully it will serve as a general idea for the length of time/dedication/patience it takes to move through the entire process.

August 2011
29th: Application, Health Status Review submitted; First recommendation provided.

After my denial from Teach for America, I was perusing their long list of potential service opportunities that they send to everyone they reject and read "Peace Corps." I thought quickly about it and figured why the hell not? I want to serve others, travel, and learn, learn, learn. What better opportunity is there to help, gain knowledge and experience, and travel on Uncle Sam's dime? My application to teach in Japan came on a similar whim, after speaking to Tim one evening after graduation from UO. The circumstances are eerily similar- Recent break-up (both at 25 months. Yikes)? Check. Recent graduation? Check. Bleak job opportunity/economic prospects? Double check. Desire for something more than a 'normal' life? Triple check.

September 2011
10th: Second recommendation provided.
17th: Third recommendation provided.

After some hounding of my graduate adviser, he submitted my third letter. Hope he loves me enough to submit another for a PhD after PC. He said he would :)

The online toolkit that is automatically started for you when you apply typically updates pretty quickly. When it was slow to update after my third recommendation had been sent, I called PC with the facade of asking "why," but in reality, I was really going to ask about an interview. While my awesome recruiter had me on the phone, she figured that an interview should be in order.

21st: Interview!

Since I am living in Eugene at this point, I am five hours from Seattle's office and 10+ from San Francisco's. Lo and behold, PC typically expects people three to four hours out to make arrangements for a face to face interview, but five borders on unreasonable. So I got a phone interview, which was in one sense relieving, but in another, a potential negative because you can only then rely on your words to communicate your eagerness/skills/talents/humility, and your presence is mercilessly excluded.

PeaceCorpsWiki has a good list of questions they may ask you in the interview. I studied the shit out of these and prepared (what I thought to be) solid responses. It's basically the biggest interview of my life at this point.

Interview goes swimmingly and Ms. Recruiter things I'm a fantastic candidate. Nomination? Dunzo. Due to my recent break-up, my potential departure date is set for at least a year away (meaning Sept 2012), as this qualifies as a 'major life event.' As much as I want to leave immediately, I get it. PC needs people at the top of their game physically and mentally. You can't send someone 7,000 miles away only for them to shit the bed because they 'needed to get away from their ex' and were never able to hang in the first place.

Ms. Recruiter says that she needs to check into some of the potential service opportunities around that time and she'd have to get back to me. She informs me that they would likely be in the TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) or youth development sectors. I plotz. Ms. Recruiter calls me back maybe 20 minutes later informing me there are two English teacher positions open- one is in Eastern Europe where I'd live with a host family for 27 months. The other is in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa where I'd have my own mud hut at least. After an excited, yet tense, few moments (which felt like hours) pass as I contemplate where to spend 27 months of my near future, I eventually choose West Africa on the basis of learning French (a far more universal language than, say, Azeri or Romanian...?) and an indigenous African language and living in my own place.

Holy shit. I'm going to live in Africa.

21st: Nomination!
30th: Medical Kit mailed out.

October
??: Received Medical Kit.

Medical Kit just isolates itself on my dresser. No job? No benefits? No money? No appointments.

14th: Received my official nomination letter.

Assignment: English Teacher. Tentative Departure Date: Sept 2012. Region: Sub-Saharan Africa.

...
Medical Kit rots while I try to find a job and, more accurately, medical benefits.
...

November
9th: Job!

December
1st: Benefits kick in.

Finally. Enrolled in medical and dental insurance. I can continue freestyle walking and challenging wayward dogs without fear of thousands of dollars of medical bills. Oh, I can also start PC Medical Kit too, I guess.

9th: Medical Kit phone calls

I spend 90+ minutes finding local providers who are familiar with PC Medical kit, finding out what appointments/blood work/vaccinations/medications/cough-while-I'm-holding-your-balls/etc are covered, and making appointments.

...
Waiting game... Getting better and better at it.
...

January
6th: Physical appointment, finally.

It's been 3.5 months since I was nominated and I feel so behind! I also get scared when I see that 80% of all deferrals are a result of borked medical paperwork. Additionally, PC warns medical evaluations take one to six months. I guess the 'major life event' at least bought me some time.

The paperwork looks super intimidating, but it's not nearly as bad when you finally go through it and learn what needs to be done by you and done by the physician. In the Health Status Review you submit with your application, you mention any maladies that you had/have. In addition to the PC physical, I also need to have a doctor review the hernia I was born with (and subsequently dispatched of before I was even one year old) and my dumb flat-as-a-duck's feet. However, these needed to be done by an orthopedist/podiatrist. Le sigh.

Fortunately, the medical team that worked with me had their shit together. Filling out paperwork, knocking out directions, pumping me full of vaccines and simultaneously analyzing my various bodily fluids.

There were a few potential hiccups in my paperwork. But I was determined to NOT be one of those people deferred by errors in the medical paperwork, so I sat and reviewed it all in the facility. With hiccups cured lickity split, I'm out. I owe them a thank you card still.

13th: Visit to the podiatrist.

I had to see the podiatrist because during the "volunteer all the times you've been infirmed," I made mention about my flat feet and wearing some insoles. However, seeing as how I run the fuck out of these Eug streets and my feet and legs feel great, I expect the visit to go as such: Walk in, fill out paper work, take off shoes and socks, explain previous injuries and current conditions, get poked a couple of times, have paperwork signed, exchange pleasantries, and get the hell out.

And that's what happened. Like a boss.

30th: Dentist appointment.

Ouch.

My entire mouth is sore. Please, don't go ten years between dentist visits. So, overall, my teeth and mouth are healthy. However, I have two teeth that have "natural" cavities, in that the usual peaks and valleys of a tooth are unusually valley-ish. The dentist recommended to fill these crevices with sealant, and as a result, was unable to ethically sign off on my dental paperwork, noting that the "all decayed teeth have been repaired" pre-requisite has not yet been met. Again, it's not decay or lack-of-care-induced cavity, just the natural formation of my tooth. He stated that if his son was going to rural Africa for two plus years, then he would recommend it was sealed. After that procedure is done, then he would sign off on the paperwork...

So, I have a second appointment on February 1 to fill in these cavities and finish the paperwork. Only then will I be able to finally send it off. Le sigh.

Oh, also, all of my wisdom teeth are jacked. Fortunately, three of the four are locked in bone and shouldn't be going anywhere. My lower right one is completely perpendicular to my molar and a potential disaster. The dentist said he wasn't concerned about the bone-locked ones, but there is mild concern about the one that is not. In some cases, this tooth rears an ugly head in less than a year. Other cases, it never does anything. However, again, being in rural Africa where services are spotty, at best, one may not want to take those chances. I'm going to wait to see what PC says about them and then make a decision to remove (or not) one or all of them.

February
1st: I had my natural cavities filled today and got all my dental paperwork filled out! I made copies of all my paperwork and put it in the mail!

Snaps! I could potentially get my invite in a month!

13th: I finally got confirmation from PC that they finally received my medical and dental paperwork. Ugh. That seemed to take forever. Here's what they updated my application status with:

Peace Corps received the results of your physical exam on February 13, 2012. If the program you are nominated for is not scheduled to leave in the next four months you may not hear from Medical until the time of departure is closer. Currently those programs scheduled to leave in the next four months are being reviewed.

Bleh. So, potentially, I have to wait until May before a nurse and placement officer even crack open my file? This had me down for a couple of days until I realized today that on PeaceCorpsWiki Timeline, people have listed their staging dates as far as September, meaning... they have already had their medical/dental exams reviewed and these individuals have accepted an official Peace Corps invite. My nomination is also for a program  that opens in September. Perhaps my hope for an invite within a month isn't too far off?

16th: I received an email from Peace Corps that my file is officially under review! So, as suspected, perhaps my invite is closer than I think. While I'm very confident in my medical health, I'm pretty nervous about my dental status due to my potentially volatile bottom right wisdom tooth. I'm really hoping they clear me without needing me to remove it. Time will tell.

March
5th: I called my recruiter to ask if there was anything I could to do to speed up the process under the guise of being proactive (i.e. "I want to make sure I'm a highly qualified nominee; What other information can I get for you; Anything you want, I'll do"). Ms. Recruiter stated that the medical review is essentially a 12 week buffer. While PC may not necessarily take that long for the review, they claim that span of time as their own just in case. She gave me the name and number of the nurse (?) who is reviewing my file, but she said that I'd likely receive an answer that consisted of no more than "We've had your file for three weeks. If you don't hear from us in nine more weeks, call us again."

And so the waiting game recommences.

April
11th: I awoke at 3:00 am to a wonderful e-mail from Peace Corps noting my status had been updated. Alas, I am dentally cleared! Hopefully medical clearance follows shortly.

14th: Once again, expecting that I should be hearing back from PC shortly after my dental clearance for medical clearance, I'm all antsy when it comes to sleeping. I sleep lightly, checking the clock until 2:00 to see if I have received an email noting an update to my application status. Sure enough, I get one!

A hold has been placed on your file. This may mean simply that your file is under review. See below for further information.

What is this shit?! I look below.

MedicalHOLD. All nominees have a medical hold while they are under review. No further action from you is required, unless the Office of Medical Services contacts you to request additional information.

I get scared. I stare at the red words, seemingly taunting me with their redness, as if a teacher just corrected the shiz outta a paper with their Red Pen with +5 Judgment. I immediately hop over to the wonderful Future Peace Corps Volunteer Facebook group and pose the following eloquent question:

wtf, mates?

Fortunately, a number of fine future PCV make mention that it's just standard operating procedure, and that I really should actually do nothing. More than likely, as it states, medical review is happening over the next few days and there will hopefully be a decision rendered soon. I will be (im)patiently awaiting my letter in the mail stating my medical clearance over the next week.

Lo and behold, this was not the case, and Peace Corps required additional paperwork on a condition I had.

(Insert Life here- Had second thoughts, a relationship, and said relationship end. During this time, I was just sitting on the final medical document that Peace Corps needed to clear me medically, unsure of whether I should send it. Peace Corps, trying to make sure that I reach my initial Sub-Saharan Africa September 2012 departure, passed my file onto placement and they began the next steps (legal clearance, skills assessments, questionnaires) while awaiting my document. It was all PC needed to commence invitation. Simple as that...)

September
24th: I receive an email from a new Placement Office, asking me where I was, essentially. I had effectively fallen off the map for all Peace Corps knew. The email offered three choices, a) If no longer interested in service, please let us know to withdraw you from consideration. b) If you are still awaiting medical procedure(s), please let us know. c) If you have the necessary paperwork, please submit them and notify Placement and the Medical Office an approximate arrival date. I stare at C for a long while. 

How foolish of me to at least not see this through until the end- My relationship was making me feel uncomfortable and was not what I dreamed it would be. Additionally, since my initial nomination was completely blown up at this point, I knew they'd be looking worldwide to place me. While I would have still considered Francophone Africa, I was incredibly nervous about it for safety reasons. The thought that I may not be sent there, and potentially to places I had more of an inclination towards, persuaded me further.

25th: I fax Peace Corps my last medical document from work.

28th: I receive a confirmation letter from PC Office of Medical Services that I had officially been dentally and medically cleared. The whole thing starts to feel (sur)real again. I become anxious to know to where I might be invited to serve. I immediately start to contact my Placement Office to attempt to be "pro-active providing further information," if only to meet my ulterior motive of starting a discussion on placement.

October
2nd: Miss Placement Officer (PO) thanks me in my emails for being pro-active, but suggests continuing to gain ESL teaching/tutoring experience first hand, as she expects to contact me within two weeks to begin discussion next steps. Poop. Two weeks?

10th: I play phone tag with my PO, as I look for any kind of real-time conversation with her, again under the guise of being absolutely ready with information for them that they may need (not that this is necessary at all at this point). After I miss her call while playing basketball at work with the kids, and completely agonize over it, I receive another email from her, and further disappointment- "Your application has been forwarded to my colleague for consideration, and she will be in touch with you in the next couple weeks regarding next steps." Now, I know two weeks really is nothing, but when you've already waited eight days (of an alleged fourteen) for any kind of contact to have a discussion about where the next twenty-seven months of your life will be spent and what you'll be doing, I promise you, too, will be anxious checking your smartphone every fifteen minutes for emails/missed calls anxious, and fourteen more days will seem like an eternity.

I eventually relent and have to remember to practice patience and mindfulness.

11th: Neither patience nor mindfulness were observed this day, yet again. It's near noon, and Tim and I are on our lunch break at work. He's washing the dishes in the break room and I utilize the restroom. Now, perhaps this story crosses the boundaries of "too much information," so read ahead at your own peril, but I do also promise some laughter. Ahem, so, as I begin to pee, I remove my phone from its denim housing to check my email that hasn't been checked for some thirty minutes (again, a lifetime these days). Immediately, an email downloads and I expect it to be Banana Republic, Living Social, Express, Amazon, but no. It's from the colleague to whom my previous Placement Office passed my file. I immediately notice the words "Invitation to..." in the subject line and I mash the screen as fast I can. I scan the email quickly and see one particular word in bold, the only of its kind-

Thailand

I scream, "YES!!" pinch off midstream, barely tuck my junk back into my pants, and fly out of the bathroom, screaming who knows what. Poor Tim is looking at me (later telling me he heard my initial yell, and wondered if I needed potty help), completely baffled. I mean, how many times have you ever seen anyone explode from the bathroom in pure ecstasy? Sure, you can be proud... I guess. But this was overdone. I can only say one thing; Thailand! Thailand! THAILAND! I tell Tim I received my Peace Corps invite, and it's for Thailand, and give him a hug (with the opposite hand!). I rush back to the bathroom to wash my hands and return. I am elated, overwhelmed. I hug Tim again, a huge embrace, and am nearly on the verge of tears. In one miraculous, good karma filled moment, all the things in my life in which I deemed disappointing, frustrating, hopeless, ceased to exist.

I accept the invitation that night.

12th: Bright and early, I receive another email from my new PO congratulating me on my decision to serve the Kingdom of Thailand and that I know have a whole new heap of responsibilities to cover. Attached to the email are guidelines for an Aspiration Statement, updated resume, and passport and visa directions. That weekend, I work excruciatingly hard on the Aspiration Statement, being annoyingly meticulous about word choice and fluency. Sadly, I feel as if my typical creative eloquence was mysteriously absent, but it still got the point across- humility, diversity, inclusive/participatory, extreme eagerness. Even more sadly? What I write spills onto four pages. After (re)reading (for the first time, heh) the instructions, I need to be at two pages. Max. Whoop.

16th: Big Blue Invitation Kit of doom arrives.
Boggle. All of this serves to remind you of how difficult the next three months will be, putting your entire life on hold for twenty-seven months. 
Mom sits down with me to process every word of the kit. Bless her. While it is difficult to fully convey how intimidated this makes me feel, I know thousands before me have completed all the necessary tasks to serve, and I would do just the same.

18th: I call off from work to take care of numerous tasks that are easier only accomplished during business hours. Phone calls to financial institutions, DMVs, loan agencies. Filling out paperwork. Trips for passport/visa photos, making copies, and mailing documents. Finishing/editing/emailing the Aspiration Statement and reformatted resume. I feel accomplished, but know there is still so much to do.

...
The past three months, I have spent hours on the phone figuring out my phone, car, and student loan situations. I have ran errands, gone on shopping sprees, done homework for PC, filled out forms, been frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, excited... You name it, I did or felt it (giggity).
...

January
11th: Staging.

12th: Departure for Thailand!

3 comments:

  1. DANG, I had no idea so much was involved! Kudos to you for sticking with the process and jumping through all their hoops. Um... you haven't been to dentist in over ten years?! YOWZA! And I thought my 2+ year lapse awhile back was bad...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yay for francophone Africa nominees (and hopefully invitees)! I hope the wisdom tooth thing doesn't cause any problems, and good luck getting cleared ASAP!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Sarah! Much obliged. I hope you get your invitation packet soon! You should record it and post it on YouTube. Or at least your blog :)

    ReplyDelete