Why I decided not to join the Peace Corps

peace corps

I applied for the Peace Corps because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I figured it would be a good time to do it now that I’m no longer on a “traditional” career path. I don’t feel like it would kill me to stop working and volunteer for 2 years (unlike how I felt several years ago).

For those of you that might be thinking of applying, here are the concerns that pushed me to decide against moving to Panama as a volunteer for the Peace Corps.

1. Politics

Since I’m not a rich Republican or one of the 200,000 coal miners in the US, the current political climate is pretty hostile to someone like me. There are a lot of issues that are uncertain like health care, tax cuts for the middle class, and the protection of my civil liberties as a minority.

And in the unfortunate event that Trump serves out 4 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if programs like the Peace Corps see funding cuts, since it doesn’t put “America (or Russia) first.” Or because the Secret Service needs more funding to protect this guy when he goes golfing. And I don’t want to find myself in a situation where my safety, well-being, or volunteer benefits are put at risk in the middle of my service.

I would definitely consider the Peace Corps again if the US was more politically stable. But I don’t want to live in fear that an executive order might suddenly ruin my entire life as a volunteer, as an immigrant, or as a woman.

2. I already live outside of the US and I like it here

To the same point, I feel safer having my feet planted firmly in another country during this uncertain time. Politics aside, the division that fueled and is fueled by Trump’s presidency creates an environment I don’t want to live in. I would hate to have to defend my citizenship or love for the US to some ignorant asshole that has been emboldened to carry a tiki torch and march publicly about it.

Things are so ugly that I’ve even considered the fact that if I moved back to the US, I would do something I swore I’d never do: buy a gun. And my thoughts about gun ownership mirror an old writing adage: if you introduce a gun, you better use it. But I don’t want to live in the Wild West. I respect the second amendment, but I don’t think that’s how life is supposed to be.

As much as it pains me to watch the country tear itself apart, I’d rather watch from the safety of a foreign country where I have legal residency that’s not sponsored by the US government.

3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

I left the US last year because there were certain unfavorable aspects of my standard of living that I was no longer willing to accept. By this I mean: cost of living, wages, housing, and commuting time and cost.

So I moved to the Czech Republic, where I’m incredibly happy and comfortable. It seems kind of silly to give that all up to move to a jungle in Panama (a place I’ve never even visited) only to potentially realize that I hate it and that I gave up a good thing. Or that I gave up the comfort and privacy of my apartment to live with a host family. I’m 30… and I don’t even like the idea of roommates. So doing the volunteer equivalent of couch surfing sounds like a nightmare.

In Prague, I have a cushy standard of living in every sense. I left the US because the system didn’t work for me. But my life here works perfectly fine, so I couldn’t think of any good enough reasons to leave it behind.

4. Financial considerations

Though Peace Corps service can be hugely beneficial for people with student loans, those of us with any other debts might be put into a tight spot financially while we take two years off to volunteer (+2 months of pre-volunteer service). Car payments aren’t going to stop and neither are credit card bills. Creditors don’t give a shit that you went to go do some good in the world; they want their money.

The Peace Corps does offer a benefit package which includes $8,000 paid at the completion of your service, but that’s not really going to help much if you had to empty your savings to pay your bills while you were away. Or if you were ruining your credit by not paying them at all.

Under different circumstances, this wouldn’t necessarily be a dealbreaker. But I’m sure as hell not going to have my property seized in any kind of service to the US, where I’m a second class citizen anyway.

5. The ever-present issue of healthcare

Though I was hesitant about using the Czech healthcare system, it’s turned out to be great. My insurance company is honest and straightforward. Doctors are professional, thorough and easily available. And medical care is affordable (read: free) with insurance. If I joined the Peace Corps, I would be back on US health care (granted, it would be provided by the Peace Corps). But I would still be back on the bullshit US system of copays, coinsurance, and authorizations that is a racket in the strictest sense of the word. Even with free Peace Corps insurance, it’s something I’m not interested in dealing with.

I would also be in Panama, where access to certain kinds of care wouldn’t be available and I might have to be medivacked to the US. And though I’m relatively healthy – healthy enough to have been approved to work there anyway – I definitely don’t want to jeopardize my access to comprehensive health care.

6. Connectedness, or lack thereof

When you apply for the Peace Corps, you’re placed wherever they need you. Often, this is in remote rural areas with little infrastructure. Part of me loves this idea, and part of me is terrified of it. I know everyone complains about how technology has ruined social interactions and how it’s an addiction. All of these things are true, but it’s a luxury that allows me to connect with my family and friends in real time any time I want.

I don’t mind living six time zones away from my loved ones because I know that if anything serious happened while I’m away, I can always connect. I can always be reached. I could take the next flight out of Prague if I needed to. With the Peace Corps, it’s hit or miss. You might be in Bangkok, or you might be in a hut in the middle of nowhere where the internet doesn’t exist. And I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if I had the opportunity to be there for a parent or other loved one who was ailing or dying because it took too long to notify me of a problem back home.

Plus, my mother wouldn’t be able to function on a daily basis if she didn’t speak to me at least twice a day. And she’s my mother, so I have to respect that.

I applaud anyone that can overlook these concerns and still choose to serve in the Peace Corps. You are a far better person than I. But for now, I’ll pass.