Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad, evil, naughty Peace Corps!

This's not a post for family and friends, not that you can't read it, but it's more for people researching Peace Corps. Marie and I noticed (when we were researching the Peace Corps) that there wasn't much material to be found that didn't like the Peace Corps. I guess that implies good things about it, but it doesn't tell the whole story, either. I'm not trying to be mean, and I don't think I'm that bitter (we have a better deal to go to Taiwan now, anyway), but this's what happened.

There are several points I'd like potential Peace Corps volunteers to know about that we learned the hard way.

One: it takes months for PC to process and place you as a volunteer, but if you're going as a married couple, that process will take years, I'm not kidding. We started applying in June or July of 2006 and we were interviewed in October or so, where we were told that we couldn't possibly be placed until early 2008. Those are not typos. We weren't actually accepted until May of 2008. Almost two full years after starting the application process.

Two: you'd better answer all the questions on the online application right or it'll come back to haunt you. I don't know why (forgot, scared, dunno), but I answered a question wrong on the medical history and when PC found out, they stopped the whole process dead, which felt like a train derailing because we were two weeks from leaving. We had only the things we were taking to Armenia: no cars, no jobs, no place to live.

Three: don't think that because your doctor filled out three or four pages of medical clearance forms and you've submitted to a credit check and an F.B.I. background check that PC trusts you now. After all that they discovered I didn't answer a medical question right, and any trust just went away. They call that kinda thing "non-disclosure" and they used it as the reason for keeping myself and my wife from joining the Peace Corps.

Four: don't assume that because you've spent two years applying, and thousands of dollars of your own money on tests and vaccinations, and you've sold everything you owned, and quit your job, and you're two weeks from leaving that PC owes you anything. If they find a reason, they will drop you like hot metal. That's where we are. No apologies that mean anything. No support or medical insurance or readjustment fee. You're just out.

Five: if you have a run-in with a nurse or secretary in the PC medical office named Barbara Brogan, demand to talk to someone else. She's either burned out, overworked, evil, or stupid. Compared to the other PC people we've dealt with in two years, and the doctor from the medical office I talked with, she's an unprofessional, inept, selfish person who won't try and help. If anything, she'll make an effort to make your situation come out as badly as possible.

Six: just because you've got a one- or two-year deferment to join the Peace Corps that you've been led to believe can be lifted quickly with a little new information, don't assume that it can't get worse. For my mistake with the medical form, we were given a one-year deferment. We were told this was standard pending a full, current checkup. We appealed the deferment because we'd been waiting to go for two years, and we'd been two weeks from leaving; we didn't have anywhere else to go. After the appeal we were dismissed from consideration completely, largely thanks to Ms. Brogan. It was kinda like appealing a one-year prison sentence and getting five years instead.

Seven: if you do get stopped for some non-disclosure, don't assume that because you've been told you can provide more information or appeal the decision, that they've forgotten about the original mistake. After discovering my non-disclosure, we went through two months of providing health records and getting a me a checkup and waiting, only to be told we were being dismissed for non-disclosure, which they could've told us in the first place and saved us months of time and hundreds of dollars, but strangely, they didn't.

Finally, just remember what the Peace Corps told us: most people self-select themselves out of the application process. They realize it's not for them, it's not a good fit. But MOST people does not mean ALL people. You can be removed from consideration by PC, and if you are, it can be at any point in the process and you won't have any help from PC in the next thing you do.

I realize this might sound pretty grim and irritable, but I think it's mostly just blunt. These things can happen, and they have. I hope that preparing for them can prevent them or at least soften any blows you might take.


peg kernan said...

Thank you for posting this blog. My daughter was already to leave for Mosambique, we took her to Philly for staging and came home. My daughter (keely) did not want to take the anti malaria drug Lariam ( she was fine with the other drug given to some volunteers) She was told to talk to the nurse....Well we had to pick her up on Monday because she wasn't going to Mozambique.
She feels numb and in shock right now. She held off on grad school, jobs and the money we spent. The thing is she was probably the most qualified of all the volunteers at staging. Thanks for listening...good luck Peg Kernan

JWB said...

I know this post is really old but I've just been invited to leave for Mali in 6 weeks. Unfortunately I've been Diagnosed with Scoliosis a few months ago and have not told the Peace Corps yet. This post is going to make me call them first thing in the morning and tell them about my change in situation. I really hope this doesn't disqualify me, I've been looking forward to this for so long. I was even told I wasn't going when I didn't make my first nomination then they called me 3 weeks later and said I was placed somewhere else. I'm just going through all the info now and trying to find out if I should tell them about the change, I guess I should. I'd hate to quit my job that I love only to find out I'm not actually going.

Halco Industrial Solutions said...

Wanting to join!!!
I am eally excited about getting started, I have read your posts! I hope it isn't as hard as you suggest! I would love to help make a difference in the world!
Any comments, please inform me of any bad news, good news,or other wise. I want to make a sound and informed decision! Please e-mail me!

Judith said...

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to put in my 2 cents. My son is now in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, having undergone the application and vetting process. All is going well so far. He's happy and we are very proud of him. I found your post when I was looking for info about Barbara Brogan in Google. Sorry you had a bad experience with her, but I want to say, in her defense, that I just spoke to her concerning an issue and she couldn't have been more helpful and supportive. So, I guess there are always several sides to a story. Hope you are doing well.

Miss Moore said...

I heard something crazy, like if your family member dies you cant go home for the funeral. Not to mention that if you get diarrhea, in PC's opinion sucks to be you. You don't get any help. While i was in India people where dieing from having severe diarrhea.

Anonymous said...

Miss Moore: Not true. If an immediate family member dies, PC will give you 2 weeks of leave (not to be counted against formal vacation days) & pay for your travel there & back. If it is outside your immediate family, they will not pay for travel, but will allow you to use formal vacation to return home for the funeral.

As far as diarrhea, everyone gets it all the time for the first few months you are in country. They give you ORS to drink to ensure you stay hydrated during these bouts. If the diarrhea persists for more than a few days, they do test you for anything more serious & provide medication.

Anonymous said...

The Peace Corps is just awful in terms of how they treat prospective volunteers. I went through months of work and stress applying just for my last few forms in the process (fingerprint, etc), to get lost in the mail. I've tried and tried contacting my recruiting office but I guess since I missed the "deadline" for getting the last forms in I may as well be dead to them. I suppose all that work was for nothing.

Anonymous said...

2 cents.
I'm a current volunteer in Mongolia. The reason the application process is so wretched is because they want to vet the volunteers. In many of the countries we work in, the work culture is such that accomplishing even simple things can seem impossible, and great patience is required of us. That's my take on the application process, anyway - it preps you for life abroad in the undeveloped/developing world.
As for medical care, PC volunteers, IMO, have the best healthcare in the world. I am farther from PC headquarters than any other volunteer in the world, as it would be, and I have great confidence in the advice and care I receive. I feel the same about the administration as a whole.
And yeah, if someone dies, they let you go home. Don't be silly.

Anonymous said...

I am a RPCV and I would like to point out that experiences vary. I served in Peace Corps Botswana and Peace Corps Philippines. The experiences were entirely diiferent not only because of the locations, but because of the country directors.

The post and subsequent comments are correct. You can be sent home at any time for any reason (even after you left the US and been in your host country for a few months). Refusing lariam in one country may mean not serving, but in another country with different staff, it may mean completing additional forms and meeting with a nurse to find a different anti- malarial.

Also, you are allowed to go home due to a death in the family BUT your country director can threaten you by telling you to ET since you want to go home. I am sharing personal experiences not heresay.

PC Botswana was difficult and challenging, but it was worthwhile. PC Philippines is a nightmare for many under the new director.

Anonymous said...

I was supposed to leave June 15th and everything came to a halt today... :-(

Anonymous said...

From these posts, it appears the Peace Corps is a fine example of Federal Government incompetence on steroids, accountable to no one and completely run amok.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I read all of these and had a little chuckle. :)

First, I had a grandmother pass away within the first 5 months of entering the country, (technically you can't take vacation this quickly) and PC could not have been more understanding. Let me take vacation and use $200 of my readjustment allowance to go towards my ticket home (that I paid for). Spent two weeks at home and all was well.

I was just taken out of my specific post in western Guatemala due to safety issues, made to move into a hotel near the PC office for a month, and told they could find me a new place to live in a safer region in two months or I could leave the country and start somewhere else. I have had several issues with PC staff and transparency regarding safety issues in my country specifically, but that didn't stop me from opting to try it again in the Philippines with a better job assignment.
*PC Guate recently cut the entire program by more than half on a months notice, discontinued our Food Security program, and the Food Security director retired, ha. So imagine going through that and still wanting more!

Overall, yes PC is a pain in the ass maybe 15% of the time, but if you are willing to wade through the obstacles that arise, you are in for an amazing experience. I'm a pretty average honest person, and if it were really so terrible I would never have been willing to give it another go half way around the world. Scheduled to leave tomorrow and couldn't be more content.

Just do it.

And obviously they are going to red flag you for not disclosing medical information. If something happens to you while away they are responsible. It's tedious, but honesty is always the best policy. Even if you mess up, calling the PCMO and batting your eyelashes/apologizing will go a long way. If you come at someone in the DC office with a bad attitude, you bet they're going to make your life difficult.

Blake Nolen said...

I know this is an old post, but ironically, there is hardly any negative blogs about Peace Corps. I was a PCV in México from 2010-2012.

I had horrendous experiences with the PC staff and my living situation. I completely discourage people from joining PC. Your blog has inspired me to blog about my experiences.

Anonymous said...

For the lady whose daughter didn't get to leave staging because she wouldn't take Larium - GOOD FOR HER!! She potentially dodged suicidal ideations, night terrors, and overall batsh*t insanity. After begging the "health staff" to switch to another antimalarial and getting nowhere, I came home. It took another year before I felt like myself again. And I am someone with no history of depression, anxiety, etc etc - that's why they gave it to me in the first place.

To those considering the peace corps - think again, please. It is a crumbling institution that leaves you on your own. There are so many ways to do your part and help others (key word is Help, not "get nothing accomplished but feel good about it because you changed a little and can tell cool stories when you get back.")

Anonymous said...

I had an awful Peace Corps experience. After a year, I was forced to ET (Early Termination) by the deputy country director against my will. I was in a country where hitting women is commonplace, and apparently I had committed a grave sin by having a boyfriend, a local, who wound up hitting me. I reported it to Peace Corps the next morning. They told me to pack up my things and not tell anyone. They came and got me and held me in the Deputy Director's house, not allowing me to leave, "for my safety", where they kept me in the dark for 2-3 days without telling me what was going to happen. The Deputy Director (DD) told me not to tell anyone the address of her house, and I followed her orders. However, someone told the boyfriend where I was, and he hung a sign across the street, which the DD saw. She accused me of telling him, though later I heard it was a staff person. At this point, I became fed up and went out on my own after she had left for work on the third day. The DD had been calling me every day from work to make sure I was still in her prison chateau, and that day, she called my mobile and heard cars near me. I was on a street near her house. She became angry and said that if I didn't ET, it would be an AS (Administrative Separation - kicked out). Sure, the guy was wrong to hit me, but it wasn't my fault, and I got punished for it. There was no prohibition against dating a local, and I had been there five months before I became involved with anyone. Other volunteers hooked up during training and at times it seemed like half the volunteers were sleeping with each other. Another thing I couldn't understand is why they didn't just move me. There were female volunteers who had been stalked and had their homes broken into because they were single women living alone, and they just got moved. There was a demand for teachers because so many volunteers had been leaving.
It never occurred to me they were going to send me home, and I’ll tell you why: during week 5 of training, my mother died. It was awful. The training director, an American with a similar personality to the DD, told me that if I left training with two weeks to go, that she could not guarantee that I could return. She said my choices were to finish training and they’d pay for me to fly home round trip, or go immediately and likely not come back. I chose to stay and finish training, since it had been my dream to join the Peace Corps. I had an awful two weeks, and the other volunteers ostracized me, though they offered condolences. It felt like I was ruining their party and they didn’t want to get close to me. They enjoyed their drinking and socializing, and of course, I was really sad. Only a couple of women offered support, which was appreciated, but aside from those two, others who said anything to me seemed like they couldn't wait to get back to their fun, so it seemed superficial.
I went home for 25 days to take care of everything, since I was a co-executor of my mother’s estate. I came back with loads of materials that I’d planned to use in the school where I was posted, at a cost of $700 just for the extra baggage on the flight, not counting the investment in pens, paper, books, arts & crafts materials, learning toys, and other goodies for my students and host family. When I returned, the Country Director (CD) asked me why I hadn't left right away, and I told him what the training director had said. He told me that I actually could have left immediately and come back, even though I hadn't finished training. I was shocked.
This is only two pages of eight, and the story has many other disturbing parts, both related and unrelated to the above. I'm thinking of putting the rest of the story in a blog, but not sure it's a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask you some questions about Ms.Brogan. Please write me at blackcoffeeandasidecar@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...

To those of you looking to join the Peace Corps - please don't use this blog to make that determination!
Peace Corps is a wonderful organization. It is not perfect - but overall, I think fhe good far outweighs the bad. My experience with it was awesome! I have been out since 2007 and I have a great job today, and I have my Peace Corps experience to thank for it. I have friends all over the world that I wouldn't have had because of the Peace Corps. I feel awful that this couple had a bad experience, but not everyone does. We had a married couple in our group that married in September and were on their way to Guatemala three months later. If you expect an organization to be medically responsible for you for 27 months, I'm not sure why you would fail to disclose information?

Anonymous said...

I thought this comment bared repeating "And obviously they are going to red flag you for not disclosing medical information. If something happens to you while away they are responsible. It's tedious, but honesty is always the best policy. Even if you mess up, calling the PCMO and batting your eyelashes/apologizing will go a long way. If you come at someone in the DC office with a bad attitude, you bet they're going to make your life difficult."

I sorry about your experience Marie and Keith. I agree that there are bad and good experience with Peace Corps, but you shouldn't tell someone not to join because of your bad experience.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, how did the Peace Corps find out about the information that you didn't disclose? Was it something that happened within the two year timeframe they ask for, or outside of that?

Anonymous said...

so your dumb ass messed up multiple questions and YOU blame the Peace Corps??? GTFO.