One of the first questions they ask you when interviewing for the Peace Corps is,
"Why do you want to be in the Peace Corps?"
An honest answer would have been something like this:
"Well, I’m coming to the end of my fourth and a half year of college, my graduation gown has been ordered, the invitations sent, and I’m leaving this institution without a single practical skill I can use in the real world, the balance of which stands at approximately $50,000 in perpetual student loans. In Addition, I’m entering a job market that has little use for literary scholars in the Feminist-Marxist tradition. Quite frankly, the Peace Corps offers a two year job with a regular salary, healthcare, dental, loan deferments, free training, exotic locals, and a paid ticket out of Northern New England and I don’t have to kill anybody. I will say whatever I need to say, jump through whatever hoops necessary to do so."
My actual answer was, well to tell the truth, I can’t remember what I said, but it must have been socially and politically correct enough to get me in.
It isn’t actually that hard to get into the Peace Corps. It generally requires the following things
1) A College Degree
2) No criminal record ("convicted of course.")
3) No history of psychotic episodes
4) The properly politically correct answers for the interviews
5) The patience to be poked by numerous doctors for numerous months.
6) The hopelessness of any improvement or upward mobility in your current state.
(See "Army recruiting manual.")
You also have to write essays, sign a lot of documents you never really read and provide several samples of blood and urine. The slightest blip on your medical recorded must be checked and rechecked to make sure it would never lead to any future legal entanglements.
Finally, you have to kiss a lot of ass.
It seems to take forever, up to a year. So what happens is similar to a bunch of guys trying to out wait each other for the attentions of a girl at a college party. The vast majority gives up after a while and only the most determined and patient get to give her a ride home. They also get into the Peace Corps.
It isn’t actually a bad idea.
So it was that on one morning in March in 1998 that I received the letter. I opened in the parking lot in front of my apartment building. I scanned quickly for the text in bold. It read, Group 6, Estonia. Underneath read, Teacher of English as a Second Language. I let out a shout of joy so loud that one of the hippy girls next door opened her window and said, "Right on!"
I ran to the liquor store, got two bottles of the cheapest sparkling wine possible and went home and drank them both. Afterwards, I called my family and friends who responded in the way I imagined they might if I’d told them I was joining the circus.
I remember most of all, walking to work the next day with the biggest smile on my face, and a two-foot spring in my step to give my three months notice at the record store.
After work I hit the local bookstores to find out where the heck Estonia was.
By Mike Dunphy
Mike Dunphy was born and bred in Northern Vermont. He joined the Peace Corps and began his teaching career in Estonia. Mike taught for two years at Kilingi-Nomme high school in Estonia, later moving to Prague to deal with businessmen. He has also lived in Italy, and Slovenia where he stayed until this past July. Mike currently resides in Boston, where he is the Director of Studies in a language school. He plans on moving to Istanbul in August.