September 26, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: PCVs in the Field - Tonga: Blogs - Tonga: Personal Web Site: The Palangi Files
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September 26, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: PCVs in the Field - Tonga: Blogs - Tonga: Personal Web Site: The Palangi Files
The Palangi Files
The Palangi Files
9.26.2004 - So Jim why on earth...
Did you join the Peace Corps?
So I haven't really written much in a while. I figure I'd finally share this one. A friend of mine was wondering about the peace corps and what they could do for you, how travelling was, what I thought about it etc. I started writing this a few weeks ago and I've been adding to it since. Its nice and long. Because its nice and long, I'm going to add some links for the little people. If you're looking for my thoughts and stuff on the Peace Corps, this is them. For right now anyways. More to follow.
* My Reasons for Joining the Peace Corps
* Benefits of Peace Corps Service
* Your Peace Corps 'Job'
* My Feelings About My Peace Corps Job
* Peace Corps Training
* Placement in Different Peace Corps Locations
* Peace Corps - Am I Glad I Did It
* Do I miss the states?
* Free Time in the Peace Corps?
* Safety and Stuff
My Reasons for Joining the Peace Corps
It was a couple of days before my 24th birthday and I woke up one morning and saw the rest of my life just sort of flashing before my eyes. My room was a hole and would continue to be until I got a steady girlfriend which was not really progressing very well, once I finished school I'd still continue to work for my old company with no room for advancement, the money I had saved up would be spent on buying a house and I'd settle down in Philly and do the 9 to 5 thing until I got my house paid off. I wasn't ready to work for the rest of my life yet. It scared the hell out of me. I just woke up and was like, if I don't change my life right now and do something drastic, I'm going to stagnate and get complacent. I hate complacency and I hate stagnation. I'm way too smart to let my life unfold the way it was and I haven't seen anything else. I started thinking about my options and what I could do.
Not only that, but the job market for IT people SUCKED so I'd have to work at my old job for a while until something else popped up and that could take a year longer than I wanted to stay there. My original motivation was to get out of the States for a couple of years until the job market got better and I could get an honest to goodness good job with a company that I could advance in and move out of system administration and into programming maybe even in the Non-Profit sector.
So I started looking around at volunteer jobs around the world. Teaching english in Japan, working in Thailand, volunteering somewhere in exchange for food and housing and some scrill. The more I looked, the less the real opportunities seemed to present themselves. Most shit I had to pay for and I didn't want to spend my loot hugging trees in Brazil. Somehow I stumbled on the Peace Corps. I totally forgot that was an option. I started looking into it and I thought "This is a great, safe way to see the world and exciting enough that it would be hugely drastic." So I liked the whole concept. They peace corps basically paid for everything, had a medical service in case something really bad happened, they'd pay me each month and give me a house and I'd be able to spend a couple of years getting myself together and figuring out what I really want to do for a living, plus they were established, they've been doing this stuff for 40 years now. Hopefully by then the job market would be better and I would be getting out of my shitty job and experiencing something new and just totally different from what I was used to.
Benefits of Peace Corps Service
Now to answer your questions. The Peace Corps provides a number of great benefits for travelling. One of the great things about the program is you end up getting like $5,900 dollars or something like that if you finish all 27 months of service. They also give you a fully refundable, mad expensive plane ticket back to the US that ususally ends up costing about $2500 - $3500 dollars (here in Tonga anyway). When you finish your service, you get a third of the 6 grand in your country (you can also put up to half of this money towards bills and stuff while you're in country which would reduce it, of course...) and you can trade your plane ticket in for an around the world ticket with a ton of different stops in other countries. You just have to generally travel in the same direction around the world. They also have a jobline subscription for mostly non-profit positions and teaching jobs, which is pretty helpful and you have access to some cheap medical insurance when you get back plus they have a number of universities that have programs designed for Peace Corps volunteers that want to get advanced degrees when the get back to the states. The travelling is far and away the best benefit though, when I arrived in Tonga I realized what I really wanted to do was travel and Peace Corps definitely makes that possible but only really after your two years is up. You get 5 weeks of vacation and they're pretty lenient about it, but here in tonga, the flights can get a little pricey. Its a good idea to save some of your own money for travelling while you're wherever you're at.
Those are tangible but the intangible are much better. You learn to live sort of on the cheap for a couple of years so you know how to save money and travel cheaply so you can really stretch your travel time to about 6 months to a year if you do it right. When you get back to the states there's about 60,000 returned volunteers in the states that keep an eye out for Peace Corps applicants. There's quite an extensive RPCV network that's been established and you become part of that community the instant you get back to the states. Some of the most important things that you learn though, really is patience and the fact that everything ends up working out in the end. I found that my stress level, for the most part has decreased substantially and that worrying just a tremendous waste of energy. I still have my up and down times just like the states, its just I'm a lot further away now.
Your Peace Corps 'Job'
Firstly, unless you manage to get placed in some wacky, specialized job category of some Non-Profit electrical engineering firm, my guess would be, no, there are no real special assingments for electrical engineers. We had two engineers in my group drop out in fact because they were pretty disappointed in what their jobs offered. They came here pumped to teach auto mechanics and welding, but realized they spend most of their time chasing some of the students around to make sure they didn't break the tools. Both of them ET'd (you can leave the Peace Corps anytime you want. No questions asked.) and went back to states to do their own things. The Peace Corps, after you finish your training and swear-in, assigns you to a primary job. For me it was teaching at an IT college.
Additionally, the Peace Corps expects you to work on a Secondary Project during the two years that your here. The reason they do this, in my opinion, is because if you're not happy with your first job, you get to do something else you want to do and you think will actually work. For instance, a buddy of mine has been building databases for the police department here and sort of finished up, so to speak. Now, he's teaching Calculus at my school for an hour each day and working on getting money to build a telescope. That's what he's into and what he likes and he's got the flexibility and time to do it. Me, I'm teaching database design, web design, vb.net and a myriad of other related classes that I never anticipated being here in country. I don't have too much time to work on a secondary project, but me and a couple of the other volunteers are trying to put together a sort of co-op center for getting students work experience while in school. There is no real rush on this, but its something long term that most of us agree needs to be done here in Tonga. We all share the same sort of long-term vision of a Proffessional Center here in the Kingdom, but we're all plenty busy with our primary assignments.
Finally, here's some of my thoughts on the way the Peace Corps is now. It is NOT the happy go lucky digging ditches and farming in the bush days of the 1960's. Most of the world is pretty well connected (for the most part) to what's going on in the rest of the world. Many of the jobs here really require skilled people, while many do not. In any event, when I was leaving for Tonga, I was expecting that I'd have a room full of kids in my coconut house staring at my laptop and admiring the palangi witchcraft. That was not the case at all. There's a pretty significant infrastructure in place already here. Of course this differs on a country to country basis, but I think you'll find people much more interested in learning how to use excel than to have you come to their plot of land and help them harvest papaya. Hell, I'm teaching stuff that I learned at Drexel, only better and much more in depth. The program that I'm teaching is pretty established and highly technical, in fact its often over my head and I have to spend a lot of time researching what I'm teaching because the curriculum is much more up to date. Of course I've got one of the most skill intensive positions in all of Tonga, but you're a smart guy and you'll probably end up doing the same sort of work too.
My Feelings About My Peace Corps Job
If nothing else, I would come to Tonga all over again just to teach. I absolutely, positively love it. I never really thought of myself as much of a teacher, but here I am, doing it 20 hours a week and absolutely loving it. I hate the grading part of the job and I'm still learing a lot about it, but it is really the hardest, most loved job I've ever had. Oh yeah, I've also decided that when I get back to the states that I want absolutely no part of system administration whatsoever. I hate it. The job sucks, people expect you to be able to fix everything instantaneously and don't really care what you're doing so long as their stuff gets fixed. When I get back to the states, I'm probably going to look into taking my certifications and becoming a teacher and maybe even working in my old neighborhood in Southwest Philly or even the Community College. I love it that much. Teaching students has influenced my life in ways that I never imagined. I'm sort of an exception here because I teach some of the richest, smartest kids in the country and my students work ethic is often far superior to that of the high school kids here. A lot of volunteers don't like teaching. Me, I love it. For some of the other volunteers, they get high on the culture. Even if they feel they didn't succeed in their primary or secondary project, they get to spend a lot of time experiencing the culture very, very in depth. If you're into learning about other cultures, the Peace Corps does it like no other organzation in the world.
Peace Corps Training
This is usually what separates the Peace Corps from all of the other volunteer organizations in the world. You most definitely learn the language. Training is usually from 8 to 12 weeks and a lot of countries, most I believe, have homestays where you live with a homestay family for a pretty significant part of that time. You also learn more about the culture, the language and technical training about your possible job. They don't teach you specific coursework so to speak, unless perhaps your an AIDS worker or something. That's something you have to pick up on your own. Actually, during my training, I found that I would have liked more language and cultural training and less technical training. Most of my teacher training was directed at managing classrooms of little kids. This was not the case AT ALL. I'm teaching in a college and hours of my training time was pretty much worthless to me. That's just my opinion, some thought it relevant, but I'm not worried about my teachers beating students or using stickers as "rewards". I would have much rather learned how to grade papers quickly than any of that stuff. In terms of the language, you will be AMAZED at how much language you learn and how quickly you learn it in just 12 weeks. It could quite possibly be the best langugage training program in the world. Peace Corps definitely does it right in the category.
Placement in Different Peace Corps Locations
I've heard rumors that other countries trainees know where they're going about a week or so off of the plane. That wasn't the case for our group. We found out a week before training was over. In terms of placement, for the most part, the answer is no. You will not be placed at different sites during your two years unless you need to be moved for safey and security reasons. Actually, you kind of work on getting acclimated to your neighbors and live with them for the two years. Eventually, theyll end up protecting you and making sure that your safe and your stuff is safe. That's a big component of the whole training program. Some placements allow for travel usually government jobs and highly funded organizations (UNICEF, EU, UN, etc.) , but most don't. Its really up to what your primary assignment is or what you want your secondary assignment to be more than anything else. Make no mistake about it, joining the Peace Corps is not the same as travelling. You're here for two years, working in a country you don't know much about, teaching or doing something you never anticipated and speaking a language you don't really know. It takes a while just to get the hang of that, and by that time, you've been here almost a year. If you want to see the world, save up and travel. There is a definite distinction.
In regards to the picking your country, you don't really get to pick. You can pick from one of I think six regions. South Pacific, South America, Eastern Europe (which, ironically used to include Vladivostock in Russia), Central Europe and Africa. Once you get one of the regions picked you can say stuff like "Don't send me to East Timor or the Phillipines." Peace Corps will take that into consideration and assign you to another country instead. You have to rank the three places you'd like to go to in order of most to least and then they'll ofter you descriptions like this: "School-Based community educator in small, South Pacific country. May be required to perform IT work as well as Small Business development." Its not much to base two years of your life on, but that's part of what I found exciting about the whole process anyways. You're not really sure what the hell is going on the whole time you're applying. You just know that you're leaving. Of course, this is after you get all of your paperwork filled out, your anus prodded and teeth checked. The paperwork is a hassle and so is the waiting. All in all though, it ends up costing you next to nothing if you do it right.
Peace Corps - Am I Glad I Did It
All in all, I'd probably do it for the plane ride to staging. That was quite possibly one of the hardest, most exciting days of my life. I still think about packing up everything I was going to bring with me for 2 years and lugging it around the airport. Then I got to meet 20 people that I would probably never, ever know and found out that they rocked like nobodies' business. I have a hard time being social sometimes so leaving the US for two years for me was a HUGE decision, but its something that I feel I needed to do in order to challenge myself and shake things up. The first couple of months that I arrived at my site and started working I was like "What the hell did I get myself into?" I realized that what I really wanted to do was travel and not be a volunteer. Now I've been here for 10 months and I realize that what I really came to Tonga to do was teach and I love the job enough that I'll stay here and hang out and do the best I can for my students.
Do I miss the states?
Generally speaking, not as much as I thought I would. Actually, I don't miss the "states" as much as I miss my friends and family. That's the hard part about being away for so long. I know my friends are still going to be around and still doing the same old thing and I made a decision that would isolate me from them for 2 years and that's hard. Same thing with the family. I email my parents on the regular and miss them a ton even though I wasn't at their house like every weekend or anything like that. My first Christmas here was tough. I also miss stuff like football, pizza (although a new place opened up and its not bad at all), Ben and Jerry's and making fun of Pete. I'll tell you what I don't miss about the states. Commuting, rushing around for "free time", too many choices, cell phones, local news, Bush, my old job, no time to think and lounge about, bills, clothes, dumb people. The hardest thing is really the friends and family. I'm heading back to philly in december though for about a month and that should give me enough time to spend with everyone and remember that I'm just in Tonga for a couple of years.
Free Time in the Peace Corps?
Hmmmm.... That's sort of a toughie. I do more here I think than I've ever done anywhere else in my life, although for the most part I don't do anything very well. Actually, that's not true. I get stretched out a bit and pushed and pulled all over this island, but I managed to learn a few things about myself. Namely, (Pete don't laugh) I actually work a lot more than I have to. For some reason I thought that it was my schedule and my life at the time etc. The truth be told, I actually find a lot of stuff to do then bitch about being overwhelmed. I do it all the time. I've had a hard time learning to relax, but I think I'm getting better at it. The other thing that I've learned about myself is that I work in spurts. I have up times and I have down times. Up times, I do 9,000 things in a day. Downtimes, I have a hard time pulling another book off my shelf, let alone updating my blog. One of the things that I've learned about the Peace Corps in general is that you can be as busy or as unbusy as you want. Its really up to you. You're a volunteer and, as such, can't really get fired for stuff like 'job performance' or 'work ethic', although, for the most part, you'll find that your work ethic is far superior to that of many of your counterparts. Some of the volunteers on the other islands have a TON of free time and do stuff like read and jog and cook and do stuff they like for a couple of years. Me, I like being busy so this week its programming and networking stuff next week it'll be linux. I guess the easiest answer to that question would be yes, you get a lot of free time, in fact, as much as you want.
Living Conditons in the Peace Corps
My living conditions, relatively speaking, ROCK! With a capital R. I have a little concrete house with a stove, a refridgerator, a HOT SHOWER, a 17in" monitor, a big phat 128K internet connection and a washing machine. Needless to say, I live the life. Most other volunteers don't have these amenities. Some don't even have running water or hot showers. A friend of mine who's bitty is all up in Zambia or some noise saved up for about 8 months to buy a stove and icebox. The Peace Corps can still be a pretty rugged place if you want it to be. A girl I met from Uzbekistan said she would share a heater with like 9 other volunteers in the wintertime and sleep in big-ass mummy bag. On the other hand, you could get a cushy job with a ministry doing engineering type stuff and have a DVD and phone in your house. You are not in the middle of the jungle when you think about the Peace Corps. There are more mobile phones in the world than there are land lines. People have heard of Marlboro and Coca-Cola and the Philadelphia Eagles. My thoughts on this is that the Peace Corps nowadays is not the digging ditches/jungle fever/showing electricity type stuff in the old days. Things are different, the world has moved on so to speak and I feel the Peace Corps is as well.
Safety and Stuff
Tonga is quite possibly one of the safest places I've ever lived. It is significantly less dangerous than a midnight stroll past N. 38th street in West Philly. I've stumbled home from just about everywhere here in town and I've yet to be beaten up or robbed or any of that nonsense. I hear different stories other places, but honestly, you only hear about the bad shit on the internet and in the news. The Peace Corps philosophy of establishing yourself in your local commmunity and having your neighbors watch out for you is a pretty tried and true way of keeping safe. Once your neighbors dig you, you're golden. In terms of stuff, with the exception of maybe my laptop, my camera and my passport, I don't give a rats ass about my stuff. I WORRIED ABOUT THIS NEEDLESSLY FOR SOOOO LONG! Oh yeah, my coffee pot. I would kill the fool that stole my coffee pot. Its the best one I've ever owned and makes the perfect cup of coffee. Other than that stuff, I guess I'd be broken up. The people in Tonga respect my house and my stuff and I don't mind lending things out because they almost always get returned. Other than that, I feel really quite safe here. I don't think I've locked my front door in like 6 months or something.
So I guess that's it from me here. If I don't cut myself off I'll end up writing "So You Wanna Join The Peace Corps" which, if you're really interested to know what's going on in the Peace Corps, you should read. Anyways, a couple of things to think about in the conclusion (1) Joining the Peace Corps is not Travelling (2) Almost everything depends on you and your attitude about it (3) Some places are harder than others but for different reasons (4) Its hard sometimes. I guess those are my concluding gems. I have to stop myself right...
When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:
| Our debt to Bill Moyers|
Former Peace Corps Deputy Director Bill Moyers leaves PBS next week to begin writing his memoir of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Read what Moyers says about journalism under fire, the value of a free press, and the yearning for democracy. "We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country," he warns, "or we'll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we'll not save democracy from its own inertia."
| Is Gaddi Leaving?|
Rumors are swirling that Peace Corps Director Vasquez may be leaving the administration. We think Director Vasquez has been doing a good job and if he decides to stay to the end of the administration, he could possibly have the same sort of impact as a Loret Ruppe Miller. If Vasquez has decided to leave, then Bob Taft, Peter McPherson, Chris Shays, or Jody Olsen would be good candidates to run the agency. Latest: For the record, Peace Corps has no comment on the rumors.
| The Birth of the Peace Corps|
UMBC's Shriver Center and the Maryland Returned Volunteers hosted Scott Stossel, biographer of Sargent Shriver, who spoke on the Birth of the Peace Corps. This is the second annual Peace Corps History series - last year's speaker was Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn.
| Charges possible in 1976 PCV slaying|
Congressman Norm Dicks has asked the U.S. attorney in Seattle to consider pursuing charges against Dennis Priven, the man accused of killing Peace Corps Volunteer Deborah Gardner on the South Pacific island of Tonga 28 years ago. Background on this story here and here.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
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Story Source: Personal Web Site
This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; PCVs in the Field - Tonga; Blogs - Tonga
By igbogrl (70-59-237-164.phnx.qwest.net - 18.104.22.168) on Wednesday, November 01, 2006 - 11:02 pm: Edit Post|
How do the local tongans percieve Blacks?