Peace Corps/Senegal: My application process

I turned in my Peace Corps application to the UT-Austin on-campus recruiter in November, 2003. This involved a statement of purpose, resume and volunteer info, college transcripts, contact info for my recommendation writers, preliminary medical info, and location and departure date preferences.

My interview was on December 16, 2003, at UT-Austin. This was when I turned in my sealed letters of recommendation. It lasted about two or two and a half hours and was mostly low-stress chatting—about my past volunteer work, my questions and concerns, my expectations.

At the end of the interview, my interviewer said she would recommend me for nomination to the Dallas regional office. She gave me four program choices to rank in order of preference—all in Africa and all with departure dates during September 2004.

My first choice was described as “Urban/peri-urban agriculture. French is more important than experience. Experience in tree propagation, agroforestry, fruit tree grafting, and awareness raising preferred.” French more important than experience? That’s me!

I was, however, tempted by “Forestry extension. Interest in beekeeping, gardening, formal/nonformal education, youth/sports activities, income generation, HIV/AIDS prevention, gender issues.” Interesting possible combinations, no?

In early January I received online notification that I was officially a nominee. My medical packet arrived in late January, with physical and dental exam forms. I made all the appointments for the next week or so and mailed the completed packet back within about ten days—early February.

I received medical and legal clearance mid-March, approximately five weeks after the medical office notified me they’d first received my completed packet.

I called the medical office about a week later and was put in touch with my placement officer. He told me they’d be looking at my file the next day, but not to expect anything right away since there were plenty of people ahead of me in line—April and June departures.

Three days later, I got online notification that my invitation was on its way. That was a Thursday morning: I spent the next few days compulsively checking the mail.

Monday morning, March 29th, there was a big fat packet on the doorstep. Senegal: September 16, 2004, until November 2006. Project description, country packet, and, of course, more forms to fill out. A week later, after an agonizing decision to say no to the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley, I called my placement officer to accept (they ask you to respond within ten business days of receiving the invitation).

I then submitted my motivation statement and an updated resume to my country desk, plus sent in the paperwork for my Peace Corps passport. I’ll also need to keep the medical office updated on any check-ups or changes.

On July 26th I had a message on my answering machine from a guy at Peace Corps HQ, saying there had been some changes in my program—”nothing major”—and could I give him a call back. I of course had visions of being switched to Turkmenistan or not leaving till next January, etc, but I called the next day and found out that it was just the title of my program: I’m now “Sustainable Agriculture Extension” rather than “Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Extension.” I think all that really means is that I’ll be in a rural location rather than an urban/urban-ish location. Plus, it’s easier to say.

My staging packet arrived on August 20th, about four weeks before my scheduled departure date of September 16th. The staging packet let me know that I’ll actually be checking-in in Philadelphia on Monday, September 13th—just a few days difference, so not too traumatic of a change.

I called SATO Travel on August 24th to arrange for plane tickets from Baton Rouge to Philadelphia. My itinerary and ticket receipt arrived September 4th. I showed up at the airport bright and early on the morning of the 13th with luggage that complied with Peace Corps’ weight and dimension restrictions (more or less), and I was on my way.