First Steps as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Well…it has been a whirlwind since I was accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer one month ago. The amount of love and support that I have received has been incredible and I didn’t think I could be asked so many questions in such a short amount of time. And, let me tell you, for someone who is super uncomfortable being the center of attention…this has been a little bit of a challenge, but I am attempting to adjust. With that being said, there are a couple of written statements that we have to submit as Peace Corps applicants and volunteers that I thought you all might be interested in. The first piece, referred to as my motivation statement, was a personal statement I was required to write upon my initial application to the program. Here is my answer along with the prompt in bold.

Peace Corps service presents major physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges. In the space below, please provide a few paragraphs explaining your reasons for wanting to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer and how you plan to overcome the various challenges associated with Peace Corps service. This essay is the writing sample Peace Corps uses to assess your professionalism and maturity as a candidate. Please spend time editing your essay/writing sample (less than 500 words).

I am a daughter of Appalachia. Mountain water runs through my veins and bluegrass music is the soundtrack of my upbringing. Being brought up in rural Appalachia was not always the most desirable or glamorous situation, but it has shaped me into who I am today. Ever since I was very young, my family has instilled in me the importance of service and it is a value by which I guide my life. From volunteering with Special Olympics since the age of five to serving as an Americorps member in my rural community, service is one of the most important aspects of my life. One of my greatest achievements has come from mentoring high school seniors who had lost hope of attending college simply because of where they were from. When faced with a challenge, major or minor, I remember these moments for they are where I gain my motivation and focus.

Even though I hold my Appalachian roots close to my heart, I have always had the desire to see the world and experience new cultures. After studying abroad on two separate occasions, I knew seeing the world was no longer a wish for me; it was a necessity. During my time in other countries, I worked to integrate myself into the culture, not wanting to be just another typical American tourist, but someone who seeks to understand and embrace the differences between our country and theirs. These past experiences will help me overcome the challenges I will face and will aid me in becoming a contributing member of my community while remaining positive. While my Americorps services have been focused toward mentoring at-risk rural youth, I find myself craving the challenge Peace Corps offers. Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer has always been in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I always found an excuse to not apply. However, after enrolling in my graduate program, I knew applying to serve in the Peace Corps was what I was being led to do. My eyes had been opened to human rights issues all over the world and the desire to serve those in developing countries only intensified.

Another aspect of my Appalachian heritage is showing compassion and care to those around me. I remember, during a family vacation to Chicago when I was six years old, seeing homeless people for the first time. Instead of being scared, I asked my mom why no one was doing anything for them, why no one was offering them somewhere to live. It was then I realized that one of my main goals in life was to help those in need regardless of the circumstances. I can think of no better way to achieve the goals I have set forth for myself than through serving in the Peace Corps. I cannot wait to learn everything that the members of these communities can teach me and, hopefully, I can inspire some of them along the way.

After being accepted, we are required to submit an aspiration statement, which asks us five questions to which we have to respond succinctly (legit the biggest challenge I have faced). These answers are our host country’s first impression of us so, needless to say, I got a little more stressed out than I probably should have. My questions and answers are as follows:

A:  Three professional attributes that you plan to use during your Peace Corps service and how these will help you fulfill your aspirations and commitment to service.

Three professional attributes that I believe will assist me in successfully completing my Peace Corps service are my interpersonal skills, my ability to work as an effective team member, and my organization/time management skills. I have refined my interpersonal skills through working with several different organizations throughout my life, chiefly among those my service with Americorps. By working with at-risk middle and high school students as a mentor, I was exposed to many different lifestyles and belief systems. Through conversations and project development with these students, I was able to further develop my listening, communication, and problem solving skills. I will use these skills to connect with my co-teachers and my students in order to execute a successful English language teaching program as well as work toward the creation and implementation of other extra-curricular programs within the community.

My ability to work as an effective team member is an attribute that I have used extensively since early in my educational career. From being a part of an athletic team to a member of several different university organizations, I have been able to work with a diverse group of individuals on a variety of projects. However, my teamwork skills were truly tested and refined during my time working at Walt Disney World. I was a member of a team comprised of many different people from many different countries from many different walks of life. Communication was not always easy, but by working together and understanding one another’s cultural and working behaviors, we were able to execute our job responsibilities and make magic for those visitors in the park. These skills will aid me in collaborating with other professionals at the school I will be working at as well as those individuals within the greater community on various ideas and projects.

One of my strongest professional attributes are my organizational/time management skills. I have always placed great importance on completing tasks in an effective and efficient manner. When involved in a project, one of my major goals is to keep all of those involved on track and working toward the same goal. I believe that a key component to successful execution of a project is by keeping organized notes and getting things done in a timely fashion as well as keeping open lines of communication. This particular set of skills will assist in keeping me on track, especially when it comes to organizing and/or assisting multiple projects within the site I am working in.

B:  Identify two strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.

In order to work effectively with my host country partners in achieving expressed needs, I plan to place a significant importance on cultural assimilation and in keeping open lines of communication. By understanding and adhering to cultural norms, integration into the environment that I will be living and working in will be much smoother and much more comfortable for everyone involved in the process. Dressing to country standards and respecting procedures within the workplace will be two of the major norms to which I will vigilantly work toward. Keeping open lines of communication is important because the host country partners needs cannot be successfully met if there is not open and honest communication between all parties involved. In order to establish understanding of one another and an effective working relationship, I will work to have transparency in my goals and objectives in addition to being easily accessible for those professionals I will be working with.

C: Your strategy for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.

During my study abroad programs, I learned the importance of adapting to a new culture while staying true to your own. This is not a task easily done but, by acknowledging and understanding cultural norms as well as stepping outside of one’s cultural comfort zone, the process of adaptation can be much smoother. Due to my background in sociology, I understand the importance of norms within a society and that these social conventions are the building blocks of culture. While some of the practices of a foreign country may make Americans uncomfortable at first, it is important that we understand these behaviors for what they are: a way of life. By adapting dress, conversational style, and social mannerisms, integration into a new culture should pose fewer issues. Another important strategy in this regard is stepping outside of the American comfort zone by eating foods that we have never heard of, participating in activities that we are not familiar with, and embracing traditions that we may not completely understand. All of these things are important aspects of culture and, by opening ourselves up to these practices, we have the ability to understand a new culture like never before.

D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.

During pre-service training, I hope to receive a vast amount of information and training regarding my new country-of-residence and my position within the Peace Corps. However, the training that I think will be of the most help to me will be the language and position-specific training. In order to effectively integrate within a new culture and society, the importance of understanding and execution of language cannot be understated. I know that learning a new language in such a short amount of time will be stressful, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs in the long run. While I will be teaching English, a firm grasp on Romanian and/or Russian will be integral in connecting and working with professionals and students within the school. In addition to language training, I am also looking forward to receiving training geared toward working in the classroom. I have experience planning for individual class sessions and leading lectures on the university level, but my experience with teaching English is limited to one-on-one tutoring sessions with native English speakers. I welcome the challenge of learning and developing basic tenets of teaching and plan to work toward being the best educator I can be for both my students and I.

E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

Ever since I was very young, I have placed great importance on volunteerism and giving back to those who need it most. My service as a Peace Corps Volunteer will allow me to expand these aspirations to a global stage, which is very beneficial for my career aspirations. Upon the completion of my service, I would like to work with an international organization, such as the United Nations, or a non-profit that focuses on working toward remedying inequality both domestically and internationally. I am interested in working in the field of women and children’s rights, especially in regards to education. I am extremely excited to have the ability to work in a country where the Let Girls Learn initiative is piloting and hope to work within the schools and community on projects that are geared toward the goals and objectives of this program.

I am currently in the process of acquiring medical and legal clearance so I will make sure to keep everyone updated as things progress!!

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