Saturday, May 29, 2010

Up Until Now...

I'm going to start at the very beginning. Or, I should say, as far back as I can remember.

I first remember wanting to go into the Peace Corps in the summer of 1996, right before I started law school. But, as most of you know, then I went into law school. Then I wanted to go into the Peace Corps right after I finished law school, in 1999, but I wasn't able to go into the Peace Corps then.

Toward the end of 2008, I started filling out the application for the Peace Corps. But then I shelved the app. In retrospect, I can say that I just wasn't ready for it. I was too much under the grip of a fear of loneliness while being in the Peace Corps.

But after not too long, the idea started creeping back into my head. And I started receiving messages of encouragement from completely different and unconnected places. One such instance of encouragement came in early August 2009, when I went on a hike in the East Bay led by a woman named Greta Franklin. Greta quit her job to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. In one trip. She had never gone on long hikes before then. I remember one moment in particular on that hike she led in Sibley Preserve up in the Oakland hills. She said something like, "I encourage you, if there's some major change, some adventure that you've been wanting to pursue, to do whatever is you've been wanting to do."

The final push of encouragement, which was the catalyst leading me to irrevocably decide to be in the Peace Corps, came just days later when I was sitting in church one Sunday morning. The pastor was talking about doing what Jesus asks us to do, helping others. And that when we worry about being lonely, the pastor said, "Jesus says, 'It will be OK. I will be there, with you.'" And that was the moment when I decided that I would definitely go into the Peace Corps.

We often think of togetherness as being physically together. But there are different types of togetherness, different ways of being connected, showing that we care and that we want to help. And I've also reminded myself that I will be forming new relationships, and new emotional bonds, in addition to the ones I already have, all of which will help me when I'm in the Peace Corps. So, on that Sunday morning last August, I truly had thrown off the shackles of fear which had been preventing me from submitting my application to the Peace Corps during the previous year.

In late August 2009, I submitted my online application to the Peace Corps, and had my recommenders submit their recommendations on my behalf. In mid-September 2009, a recruiter interviewed me at the downtown Oakland office of the Peace Corps. The interview was a couple of hours long, and mostly consisted of his questions for me. Near the end of the interview, he asked me if I had any questions for him or other thoughts I wanted to convey to him. I told him that I really wanted to teach English in the Peace Corps, and that I would really like to use my knowledge of French. He told me that many of the English teaching positions in the Peace Corps are in French-speaking west Africa. He next told me that the Peace Corps now requires people who want to teach English in many French-speaking countries to demonstrate their proficiency in the French language before being invited to be a Peace Corps volunteer in those countries. He explained that applicants can do this in one of two ways: (1) have taken a certain number of semesters of college-level French within a certain number of years before applying, or (2) get a certain score on a test administered by The College Board (which also administers the SAT). I didn't qualify based on having studied French recently enough, so that only left the second option for me.

I researched the test, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test, a little bit, and learned that The College Board only lets people take it once every six months. Wanting to go into the Peace Corps as soon as possible, I resolved to pass the CLEP test on the first try.

Near the end of my interview, the recruiter also told me that the Peace Corps also requires people who want to teach English to have volunteered at least 30 hours over a three-month period, either tutoring English or assisting a teacher who teaches English. So, in early October, I started volunteering as a tutor and teacher's assistant, which I have been very much enjoying.

The recruiter also told me that because I wanted to teach English in the Peace Corps, he would hold my application until I gained the relevant volunteering experience. Once I knew that my application would be on hold for three months while I gained the requisite volunteer experience, I realized that I might as well take as much time as possible to prepare for the CLEP test. Having gained the necessary volunteer experience in early January, I took the CLEP test in early January, and did well on it, achieving more than the minimum score which the Peace Corps requires of applicants who want to teach English in French-speaking countries.

When I brought my CLEP test results to my recruiter the next day, he told me that given the volunteer experience I had gained, he could nominate me for an English teaching position in any of the host countries to which the Peace Corps sends people to teach English. He then immediately added that because I had spent so much time studying French, that it made sense for him to wait until he saw an opening to teach English in a French-speaking country. I agreed. BTW, when a recruiter nominates a Peace Corps applicant, the recruiter is recommending that an applicant advance to the next stage of the application process. In nominating a Peace Corps applicant, a recruiter is also suggesting that a particular Peace Corps applicant would be well-suited to a particular volunteer position in the Peace Corps which will become vacant.

In late January, I was nominated to teach English in the region which the Peace Corps calls "North Africa/Middle East." Now, the Peace Corps only sends volunteers to two countries in that region: Morocco and Jordan. My recruiter told me that the posting, listing the position for which I was nominated, stated that "knowledge of French is preferred." So, impliedly, I was nominated to teach English in Morocco.

Several days after I was nominated, I received forms in the mail for my dentist and doctor to fill out. I made the necessary doctor appointments, and in mid-February, I mailed the dental and medical forms back to the Peace Corps. Applicants have to provide this information to the Peace Corps because the Peace Corps provides medical and dental care to volunteers while they are serving in host countries. The Peace Corps needs to make sure that it will be able to provide the dental and medical care which a particular volunteer needs when he or she is serving in a particular country.

On March 1, I received my dental clearance. Several weeks later, I received my legal clearance, indicating that there were not any legal obstacles to my entering the Peace Corps, such as a criminal record, or any civil legal obligations or complications, such as involvement in any civil lawsuits.

The Peace Corps informs applicants of updates to their applications by sending them an e-mail telling them to log into the website to get the update. For some reason, those e-mails from the Peace Corps are always sent just slightly after 2 a.m. Very early in the morning on May 7, I woke up. Really it's more accurate to say that it was in the middle of the night. Unable to fall back asleep for a while, I finally got out of bed after 3 a.m. I thought, "Who knows? Maybe there's an update from the Peace Corps..." When I checked my e-mail early that morning, I indeed had an e-mail from the Peace Corps telling me to log into the Peace Corps website to receive an update. Upon logging into the Peace Corps site, I saw that the medical section had been changed to say that a decision had been reached regarding my medical clearance, and that I should look for a letter in the mail. WHAT?!?! I thought, "Well, there's no way I'm going to fall back asleep now."

Later that morning, I received an e-mail message from the Placement Office in Washington, DC informing me that I had received my medical clearance. The Placement Office Admin Assistant also asked me to send any updates regarding any new volunteer experience I had gained, as well as any new classes I had taken. I immediately sent them an update about my volunteering, and I sent them a record of the French classes I've been taking at the Alliance Française, both before and after I took the CLEP test.

And now, I wait, for an invitation from the Peace Corps. Basically it will be for wherever I'm most needed, which may or may not be Morocco.

So that's all there is for now. FYI, future posts will be significantly shorter. I wrote so much so that people who didn't know all of this would be brought up to speed. Also I was trying to anticipate potential questions. But if you still have questions, ask away! I love talking about, and learning about, the Peace Corps, and I'm very excited about it!