20-Something Question: Is It Too Late to Do The Peace Corps?


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Q. I’m in my late twenties and I’ve been accepted to the Peace Corps. I have a steady job but for the past few years I’ve been fighting with myself. Should I save up and then quit my job to teach english abroad or join the Peace Corps. But since I am in my mid-twenties I sometimes feel like my window is gone because I didn’t do it right after college.

I love to travel and I go on small trips here and there to really cool places but it’s not the same as just taking off and living some where else.

I guess my biggest fear is coming back and not being able to get a job at all.  As much as I want to travel, I also want a career not just a job. I also think about my parents getting older and I don’t want to regret not spending time with them now. A lot of my friends are now settling into careers and relationships so I worry about having to re-establish myself when I get back.



A. The first reaction of most 40-somethings is go. Many women I have interviewed over the past two years say unprompted that they wish they had done something like the Peace Coprs when they were younger.

 “Live your life to the fullest. Do things that you’ll never regret. In my twenties, I could’ve done so much more. I could have travelled more or joined the Peace Corps. I thought I could always do it later. But I can’t do it now because I have my children. I have financial responsibilities. I would have loved to join the Peace Corps. People talked me out of it. They made me afraid because of financial security and the conditions or that I might get sick.  So just live your life to the fullest. It’s an investment in yourself.” – 40-something, artist, business owner, Cleveland, OH

Now for some perspective from women who have been there and done that. The following stories are from two 40-something women (or almost) who decided to join the Peace Corps in their twenties and share how it impacted their professional and personal life.

This woman, a PCV in Senagal from 1988 to 1990, turned her experience directly into an related career while discovering many interpersonal skills and lifetime relationships.

On professional life…

Professionally, I benefited greatly and I am still in the field of development working for the US Agency for International Development covering West Africa.  I have been back to Senegal twice this year, once to serve as an elections monitor in the Presidential elections and the second time to work on developing a plan for integrating humanitarian and development assistance across the Sahel.

On personal life….

Personally…. Where to begin? I learned two languages and also learned how important communications and inter-personal relations and cross-cultural skills are.  I met a lot of kindred spirits in the other PCVs as well as some really amazing Senegalese people.   I will always treasure the slower pace of life and the gift of two years to slow down and work at something so meaningful.

I also met my husband while there. He was a PCV a year ahead of me. We started as friends but when it was getting close to the time for him to leave we realized there was more there.

On friends and family….

My friends and family were very accepting of me going. They were understandably very sad to see me go and worried about me living in Africa but they also knew that it was a longtime dream of mine.

On regrets?

I regret nothing. I lived in Kenya and Nigeria when I was a kid and was always determined to get back to Africa.  Peace Corps was the fastest way back. I met great people and learned so much…things that I use daily like the importance of really taking time to greet people and understand where they are coming from. My husband and I talk of joining the Peace Corps again when we retire and who knows, we may actually do it.


This woman went for 27 months after graduating in 1993 with a degree in Chemisty and German Studies. Her experience opened up her mind to opportunities for a career in communications and strategy and gave her a new perspective on the world. After college she didn’t know what she wanted to do but she knew she didn’t want to do the post college scene of trying to figure out what you wanted to do in the same city as all your friends.

On professional life….

Professionally it was a leap for me. My family saw college as a pre-professional step. I was brought up to see college as something practical to do to get a job. I was interested in politics and sociology but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to apply my degree. The Peace Corp gave me a whole new appreciation for how to use my communications skills and taught me leadership principles that created a career path for me.

I was in Tanzania. We started an AIDS education and sex education program. It was still very controversial. There was a lot of suspicion and confusion about what caused it. In essence we were teaching girls how to negotiate life skills. They weren’t empowered. It was scary. Men…their teachers, older men… were praying on them. It was challenging but as a result I learned about cross cultural communication and how to develop strategies to effectively communicate.

When I came back I thought I wanted to get into a non-profit but a head-hunter I met with told me I should be an account planner. It tapped into a lot of cultural insights and communication strategy. I thought I would get some experience and then move to a non-profit. I ended up loving it. Today I am able to balance that with other interests, freelancing 3 days a week.

So yes, you could say it’s a risk. You never will imagine going in what kinds of opportunities it will open up for you.  It will never be what you expect. If you are looking for an answer…just realize you won’t know it until you do it.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and wonder what you will learn. You will learn but it’s different for everyone.

Impact on personal life…

Personally, it connected me to people in so many ways. Of course you are exposed to a different culture and way of life…but also you will meet such a cross section of America …people from all areas of the country.  It gave me a very different filter than my view coming from the east coast. There a so many different opinions and ways of thinking.

On a physical level, I didn’t love it. I guess you could say I’m not naturally a 3rd world person. The conditions are difficult but you can deal.

And there is no such thing as a dishonorable discharge. Just because you sign-up doesn’t mean you have to finish. You can drop out. You are a volunteer. It definitely opened up the world for me.

On friends and family…

I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything at home. The post college scene wasn’t for me. I suppose in your late twenties there is more happening. But today you have the internet. You have Facebook. You can stay connected. All of your friends will want to be in touch with you. They will look forward to your Facebook posts. They will be interested. It’s like voyeurism and living vicariously through you. Even back then I got lots of letters and two friends even visited me. It was an opportunity for them to see things you would never see as a tourist so don’t be surprised if your friends show up.

On regrets?

I missed my family but I would never trade it. Never.  My parents were very conservative. My dad was a former military guy. They freaked out at first but they get over it and then they will be your biggest champions.


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