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A few years on

colmoses

Wow. It’s weird reading back over the posts I put up here three or so years ago. So much has happened. Some good, some terrible. But a lot has happened. To recap and follow on from my last post in which I was applying to be a volunteer with the Peace Corps…to now…I am a volunteer, but not in quite the way I’d imagined.

So…I’d done my Peace Corps interview, blogged about it, and was ruminating about it’s fate. It’s hard to recall the exact order of events- I’d not been rejected, but they weren’t exactly banging down my door with a enthusiastic offer either- that much I do remember. I seem to recall there wasn’t much happening at all for some weeks following the interview, when I received an unexpected email.

It was from the United Nations Volunteer program. Apparently I’d submitted (and promptly forgotten about) an application to their pool of wannabe volunteers some time…

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A few years on

Wow. It’s weird reading back over the posts I put up here three or so years ago. So much has happened. Some good, some terrible. But a lot has happened. To recap and follow on from my last post in which I was applying to be a volunteer with the Peace Corps…to now… I am a volunteer, but not in quite the way I’d imagined.

So…I’d done my Peace Corps interview, blogged about it, and was ruminating about it’s fate. It’s hard to recall the exact order of events- I’d not been rejected, but they weren’t exactly banging down my door with a enthusiastic offer either- that much I do remember. I seem to recall there wasn’t much happening at all for some weeks following the interview, when I received an unexpected email.

It was from the United Nations Volunteer program. Apparently I’d submitted (and promptly forgotten about) an application to their pool of wannabe volunteers some time prior. They’d pulled my application from file and were considering me for a volunteer role…in Afghanistan.

I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not sure what I was expecting the email to say, but I’m fairly sure that, had they not picked me, I probably wouldn’t have volunteered to volunteer for a role in quite so dangerous a place.

But there it was, right in front of me. A chance to go to the middle-east. What now? I’m a white, unmarried, agnostic-with-strong-atheist-leanings woman with a distinctly Jewish sounding surname. And they want to send me to Afghanistan?

How much do I really want to volunteer?

A great deal of soul-searching-what-am-I-thinking-how-will-I-break-this-to-my-poor-dear-Mum ensued. It’s one thing to volunteer to go to a undeveloped or developing country- it’s quite another to go somewhere where your kind are in the ‘soft target’ category (as I was later to learn UNV’s are, to some groups thinking, regarded in that part of the world).

At any rate, to cut a not so long story even shorter, I responded to the email, was interviewed, selected, and within a month or two of contact was standing in queue to board a plane to Dubai to get my Afghan visa. Looking back I should have known once I’d been made the offer I’d have to go- there’s no way my curiosity wasn’t going to get the better of me. And so the adventure began.

I heard from the Peace Corps some time later. They didn’t want me.

Long Distance Interview

I had my interview with Peace Corps returned volunteer KF on Friday night via a webex internet meeting conference.

My interviewer K is in Providence, Rhode Island and I’m in Melbourne, so the interview was 7:30am her time, 9:30pm my time. Fortunately my mobile phone service provider has enabled tethering on my mobile phone so I was able to hook my PC in to do the interview. I wasn’t sure the tethered internet connection was going to be fast enough but it worked well, despite a short time delay in seeing her speak and hearing her words. We had a quite long chat, about an hour or so. She asked me all sorts of questions from whether I would have any objection to modifying my dress slightly to adhere to the community norms to how I would deal with the three month, six hours a day intensive language training Peace Corps provides prior to service, to whether I’m currently involved in a romantic relationship and how I would handle being distanced from family and friends for so long. We also covered food, religion, privacy, being a ‘novelty’ and the object of curiosity within the community and what I’m going to do with my dog if and when I go. She spoke of her experience working in the Philippines and the ‘cheese flavoured ice cream’ they have there. She said there’s a saying in the Philippines, the diet consists of ‘rice & fish…and fish & rice’. She said if she hadn’t liked fish or rice it would have been a very long 27 months. She asked if I had any questions and I mentioned that I’d done some internet research on the Peace Corps and found the story of a Peace Corps volunteer that had been murdered in sub-saharan Africa. The article seemed to focus on what it claimed was Peace Corps trying to whitewash the incident. She said that in response to the murder congress had recently passed new legislation in the service of protecting volunteers. K said she’d read the new Act and, having worked in the field of protective services for women, she was convinced it wasn’t just paying lip service to the incident, and that they’d re-allocated significant funding to additional safety training for volunteers. She said she’d spoken to other volunteers working in the same region and their biggest fear was that the incident would cause future volunteers to be afraid of working in the region, as their host families were all wonderful, the incident was rare and volunteers in the region are quite safe. That was reassuring. K seemed quite comfortable all efforts have been taken to ensure volunteers safety and that that region was not one to be concerned about. And she reiterated that she felt a lot safer in her host community than she would in many downtown cities in the USA, what with the proliferation of guns. She has a point.

Anyway I enjoyed the interview and of course as soon as it finished I thought of about a dozen more questions. But overall I think we covered the basics. She said she’d look into what they have available and see if she could find an assignment for me, although she did sound somewhat doubtful, so it may take a while. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and get my first preference China. I guess we’ll see. I’m excited at any rate and looking forward to seeing what the future holds, fingers crossed it’s positive. She said she’d get back to me in a few weeks, so now I wait.

First Letter

My first snail mail letter from the Peace Corps arrived in my Post Office box last week. Very exciting opening the letter to see the Peace Corps logo at the top. The sort of letter to keep in a memory box somewhere. I also received a large envelope from my health insurance fund with an A4 size X-Ray of my head. Must have been taken several months ago just before I had my braces fitted. Most unexpected. I must say it’s quite disconcerting to receive an unanticipated X-Ray of your head in the mail. Quite caught me offguard.  X-Rays always remind me of my own mortality in a seeing-yourself-in-flesh-&-bones kind way. I’ve no idea what to do with it, turn it into an artwork perhaps.

So the Peace Corps letter has three parts. First an introduction & welcome & thanks for applying. It then refers to the other two documents included in the envelope- two FBI fingerprint forms, and a Privacy permission form. It’s all rather official looking and makes me feel important for some strange reason, despite the fact that I’m about 12 months still from a) being accepted into the program and b) being offered a place. I felt the same way when I got my voting ballot form for the last US election. Something about ‘official’ mail and ‘US postage paid’ stamps with the little wavey lines that seems important. Silly I know but it’s like the mini salt & pepper shakers you get on planes…for some unexplained reason I just like them.

So I called the Victoria Police as the fingerprint forms need to be ‘professionally’ done, and signed off by someone in an official capacity. The only police station that does them in Melbourne is in the CBD at the World Trade Centre, and they’re booked up until November which is a bummer as the letter says the forms should be returned within two weeks (although it also states that they can make an exception for overseas applicants to extend that period on advise, which I emailed them immediately). The other stations that can do fingerprints are located in regional Victoria, and I’d made an appointment for today to have them taken in Ararat (about three hours away by train), but cancelled my appointment this morning as I woke up with a headache and didn’t want to risk getting halfway there and have it turn into a migraine. The last migraine I had was followed by three hours of dry-reaching on an empty stomach, and I’d really rather not risk having that happen on a long train journey. It was bad enough happening alone in the confines of my bedroom.

I got an email from the Peace Corps recruiter ‘Shari’ this morning in response to my email requesting an extension of the two week return period. I’m not sure if Shari is a she or a he yet, but they replied that an extension to the two week return period would be fine. They also said that I’d need to send in my uni grades, either via scan or snail mail. I’m fairly sure I’ve got them scanned somewhere so will have to dig around and see if I can find them. They also sent through a second email saying that my preference to be posted to China was by no means guaranteed, and that being flexible in terms of geographic placement is the best way to improve chances of being allocated a post. I replied this morning that although China is my first preference I’d be quite willing to be posted elsewhere. I really am hoping for China, but being posted anywhere will be an experience, so I’m not fussed. Hopefully nowhere too hot!

My next step will be calling to make another appointment to have my fingerprints taken. I might just make it for the CBD in November. I’m just being impatient making the appointment earlier at a regional centre.    So I’ll make that call this morning. Seems ironic that I can’t get them done sooner given my parents house is about three metres from the Victorian Police Academy.

Volunteer Application- the US Peace Corps

I’m sitting in the Pancake Parlour because my home WiFi connection is very weak. The Pancake Parlour’s WiFi is fast, and they tend to let me sit here all afternoon, so I’ve been coming here most days for the past month. The manager knows me by now, by sight if not by name. Since coming here I’ve learned that the Pancake Parlour is a “Melbourne Institution’- started in the 1960s (in Adelaide of all places), then quickly migrating to Victoria. They’re not a US based franchise at all, which is odd given there’s plenty about them that screams ‘US/Canada inspired’. They’ve got to be one of the few restaurant chains not supported by a major corporation that has survived so many decades…and in Australia…serving pancakes…of all things. I suppose Melbourne does kind of have the climate for it. And turns out they play nothing but soul music, which I’ve learned I can listen to for hours on end without it bothering me. I’m quite familiar with their soundtrack now, ‘signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours’ is indelibly carved into my memory as a groove specific to the Pancake Parlour.

So I’ve submitted my application for the Peace Corps. It’s not exactly a swift process. The website estimates it takes about 8 hours to complete the online part of the application, but my guess it’s more like double that, especially if you’ve got a slow internet connection. In addition to uploading your CV, you need to fill in four or five work field entries with dates, contact names and phone numbers of previous employers over the past ten years, accounting for any gaps of more than a few months between employers. You also need to provide a minimum of three ‘recommenders’,  one work, one volunteer or uni supervisor, and one friend that’s known you at least two years. You provide your recommenders email address to the Peace Corps and they send the recommender an email providing a link to an online form which they fill in. I’ve no idea what the form asks as I elected to allow my recommenders to provide their recommendations without me being privy to them. But Peter (my supervisor recommender) assured me it was a very slow site.  Then once your recommenders have all submitted their recommendations, you have to provide answers to two essay questions asking you why you want to volunteer in the Peace Corps, and how you plan on managing/fulfilling the 10 key Peace Corps expectations. Fortunately my answers came out quite fast and naturally, I didn’t really need to think much, it all just flowed. Oddly enough though I ended up specifying a preference to work in China and learn Mandarin, which is strange because at the outset of the process I had no inclination in this direction at all. It must have been mulling around at the back of my mind somewhere though because at the point at which they offered the option to choose a preferred geographic location I didn’t hesitate, I just wrote ‘China’ and that I’d like to learn Mandarin. Sometimes I think these things stew in the background without your conscious awareness until it’s crunchtime and then out it comes as if from nowhere. But when I really think about it, and about the future, I think Australia’s about one step removed from being a great big cousin-province of China, so perhaps that’s why I veered so decidedly towards China and learning Chinese. But I  could be placed anywhere, depending on the match between the regions needs and the skills I have to offer.

Anyway, on top of the essay questions I also I needed to provide my Social Security number, which fortunately my Dad still had in his files. If he hadn’t, and being in Australia, it might have taken a lot longer to get a hold of one. Probably would have involved at least an appointment and one or two visits to the US Embassy here I’m guessing.

Then once you get past all the initial formalities, you move onto the online medical review, which is an eye-opener in itself. It’s about ten web pages long, listing so many ailments it seems impossible not to have had at least one of them. But fortunately my bill of health is for the most part clean so hopefully I should have no trouble on that score.

So now that the online part is submitted, I wait for them to make contact via snail mail sometime in the next few weeks.

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