Interviews are not my favorite thing. Now coming from someone who has blogged for 10+ years this next statement may seem a bit out of context. I don’t really like talking about myself. I don’t like tooting my own horn, and I really don’t like talking about ‘failures’.
Any interview can be daunting, but getting ready for my Peace Corps interview [something I really, really want] can be down right scary. Here’s my secret confession: this was my second Peace Corps interview. The first one, for Lesotho, did not go very well. Part of it was because I was dead tired –coming off a 24-hour call shift where I’d worked 16 of those hours, and leaving for a trip only a couple hours later. I was barely coherent, and I’m sure that came across as disinterest [which to some degree was true]. Part of it was deep down, I knew that I did not want to go to Lesotho to serve as a healthy youth volunteer. So of course I was disappointed when I didn’t receive an invitation to Lesotho, but I was also relieved. I knew that I would try again so when I received that email that said I had not been selected I set about applying again… the very same day.
In my second application I was a lot more selective. I chose a specific sector–health– and three specific countries–Madagascar, Guyana, and Tanzania [I think]. On my previous application I’d selected go anywhere and do anything. I learned that I really wouldn’t go anywhere and do anything.
So when I found out I’d been selected for an interview for Madagascar, I gave myself 36 hours to prepare. Too long, and I’d stress out. It had only been six months since my original application and two months since the resubmitted one. So in Peace Corps’ world, not long at all. The key to any interview is preparation, and while I’m far from an interview expert, I know that following certain steps will make your interview go smoother. I think it also helped that I had just finished my leadership and management class where a large chunk of our grade was interviewing for a fictional leadership job via webcam. That experience, while harrowing at the time, was invaluable practice for me feeling somewhat more comfortable interview and talking via webcam. I didn’t have that experience on the first go round, and while I don’t think the outcome would have been different, and know absolutely that I was 100% more comfortable the second go round.
So here’s is what I’ve determined…
Practise is important
Not just knowing your answers to potential questions, but really practicing interviewing on a webcam. Grab a friend, google ‘peace corps interview questions’, have friend ask you said questions, and record yourself answering them on a webcam. Then watch it. It may be painful, but the feedback is invaluable. I would not have known this had not for that assignment for class where I had to record an actual interview.
From the moment you create a Peace Corps account to the moment you receive an invitation, be nothing but professional Every time I contacted someone within the Peace Corps, I was polite and ready. For my interview, I chose a nice jacket in a bright color–something I’d call business casual ; it’s an outfit that I’d worn to an actual work meeting. I had on pants [you know, in case the laptop fell, or someone came to the door, or the cat started acting up and I needed to open the patio door]. I dressed like I was attending a professional meeting. My theory, treating the interview like a face to face meeting signals the brain to actlike its a face-to-face meeting. Being over-prepared is much better than being under prepared.
When I got the request for invitation, I opened my laptop and replied to avoid the unprofessional reply-from-a-cell-phone-email.
Research the country
The application process gives applicants the opportunity to choose a country BEFORE the invitation [queue groans from old school RPCV] so use that time to gather info. You can choose three countries so research them all. Unless you are the ‘I’ll go anywhere’ person, you should research the countries you’ve selected. Google the country. Look up the current events. Find recent blogs from current and past volunteers and read the entire blogs from start to finish. Try to discover what there is to like about the country, what challenges you may face, and why you want to go there. Even if you want to risk it and not do those things, at least read the assignment description so that you’ll be doing. Know something about the county, its climate, infrastructure, and culture. During my interview, I mentioned that I was excited to go to Madagascar because of its incredible biodiversity. I mentioned the plant and animal life. I wanted the interviewer to know that I am not all about malaria and health care… The more you can show that you like the country, the more likely they will feel that you would be a good fit and be able to complete your service.
Know Your Assignment
My assignment was community health volunteer. I had to throw it out there that I would know my role and not try to practice nursing. I know that my role would be educating people about health topics instead of actually being a nurse. Read the assignment description and get it in your brain what skills that you have that will make you a great volunteer. For me that was assuring the interviewer that I could be hands-off medically yet hands-on in other ways. That I’d be willing to not only teach people about respiratory disease and how to prevent it, but also how to build stoves that vent to the outside or burn cleaner than burning trash. Want to teach English to kids? Tell them about how you volunteered reading to kids. Want to work in a health center? [even if you are not a nurse] Tell them about how you helped volunteered at the medical tent for a 5k. Something. Anything. Wanna work in community economic development? Spin that time you sold candy or cookies into something amazing.
While you are looking for blogs to read, try to find some in which the volunteers are doing the same job as what you will be doing. It’s a lot easier to see yourself there doing that job, and key point: do not be afraid to display confidence. I am an introvert and do not like talking about myself, but for that interview, I was as confident as a Texas hold ’em champ. My goal was to make them feel like not nominating me would be their mistake. Be confident. Don’t say ‘I think’ or ‘I’d try.’ Say ‘I know’ or ‘I can,’ but, please, don’t be overconfident. Then you’ll come across as a condescending asshole. No one wants an asshole on their team.
Print out your resume and aspiration statement
Yes, you wrote it. Yes, you were honest and did everything on it, but nothing is worse than forgetting what you did in the past and being stuck with having to trot out the ubiquitous group project to answer “How are you a good leader?” or “Tell me about a time something did not go as planned.” On your printed copies highlight the events that you want to showcase. Make an outline so you can see it everything at once. Be sure you can relate to either how these skills are transferable to Peace Corps service or how they will well prepare you for service. Make sure you know why you want to be a volunteer, and if you want to add something speak now or forever hold your piece. Seriously. Right now go and sit down and think about why you want to dedicate 2+ years to something very few people will do.
Pray. Meditate. Do yoga. Run. Pray. Sleep. Do whatever you need to do to be physically, spiritually and emotionally centered. I woke up a whole hour before my interview, ate breakfast, got dressed, set-up the computer, and got on my knees and prayed for mental clarity and calmness. I knew this was it; it’s a huge opportunity and for me, a second chance. I definitely did not want to be “out of it” this time, or let my nerves to get the best of me.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
Of course you do. Write them down so that when your are asked, you will remember them. Scenario: The interview went well. You feel great. You’re on a high. You’ve knock all the questions out of the park, but when then they ask that question [and they will], you don’t want to draw a blank and end up asking “How did you like your service?”
Interviewer are almost always RCPVs and they get asked that question All.The.Time. You don’t want to be generic; you want to be memorable! Be prepared with questions before-hand and make them honest questions. I asked two questions: 1. I know that Madagascar has two official languages, Malagasy and French. How often is French used in the day-to-day conversations? I asked this because I don’t speak French. I have a background in Spanish, and have picked up a traveler’s vocabulary in Italian, Romanian, and German, but French pronunciation is still a mystery to me. I learned that I really need to know my numbers because prices and such are generally quoted in French. [Who knew?] and my second question was “What challenges did you face during your service?” Generic yes, but it did give me a little insight to the struggles volunteers face. Other good questions: If you could do anything differently, what would it be? What was you best [or favorite, funniest, happiest, saddest, or hardest experience?]
At the end of the interview be sure to ask about your application and if there is anything you can do to make yourself a stronger candidate. I asked her if there were any concerns that she had with me as an applicant and was told that I was a strong applicant. The interview is your last chance to make a good impression. At the end of the interview, make sure you thank them for the opportunity.
Once the interview is over, be done. Decompress. Do what ever it is you do to decompress. I took a nap. [Hey, I love my sleep]. Watch your favorite show. Go to a movie. Breathe easy. You put yourself out there. You made your best effort. If you don’t get it then, oh well. No regrets, but if you DO get the invite, by all means CELEBRATE!!! You are going to the Peace Corps! … then sit down and get ready for the mountain of paperwork and clearances that you have to complete.
Welcome to the Peace Corps!
Congratulations! You have been selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, pending medical and legal clearance. This letter is your formal invitation to serve as a/an Community Health Advisor in Madagascar departingFebruary 25, 2018. By accepting this invitation, you are taking the next step toward joining hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to service and made sustainable change in communities around the world.
Congratulations again on receiving an invitation to serve. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
I don’t know why I’m fascinated with sheep; I mean they’re everywhere, but sure enough, if I’m out and about and see sheep, I’m going to get a photo of them. Sheep in Wales aren’t too different than sheep anywhere else. They are often found in the higher, more mountainous regions instead of hanging out by the seashore.
Today is a rainy day; it’s also a Monday, the first Monday I’ve had off work since October. The calendar reads April, and the temperatures are in the 70s… even with the rain. Today is the kind of day that calls for curling up with a cat while reading books, cooking homemade soup, or taking a short hike. The rain is not torrential… just the perfect kind for splashing in puddles or sliding in mud puddles. I used to do that a lot as a kid. And as a teenager… not so much as an adult. Perhaps what they say about rain is true: “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet…”I love walking in the rain. Rain is such a blessing. The water falling from the sky. Creating growth, creating beauty and yes, even at times creating destruction… Have you ever slowed down enough to see the beauty that the rain creates all around? From the drops on the window, to the drips off a plant. Or the sound of rain in the silence of the evening? Maybe the beauty is from the drips hitting a puddle, in the way it ripples across the puddle, [or lake, or ocean…]
Urban hiking is what I call strolling around the city. Looking at the sights. Or not. Watching the people scurry about their day. I had packed my rain jacket with me, but even if I had not, it would not have mattered. It was a slow, steady rain on a warm day. It felt… refreshing. I watched as people ran to and from their cars, shaking off like wet cats as they darted into Starbucks. The same Starbucks that is currently serving as my temporary office. How many people will see the colors that come out when it rains. The colors that the rain creates… that the sky creates. The lighting, soft and at times… mysterious.
Usually there is a lot of rain in the spring and spring is a time for renewal, for rejuvenation: physically, spiritually and mentally. There are so many new things on the horizon, so many books to read, so many adventures to have, so many plans waiting to unfold. In more ways than one, spring has sprung. Bring on the rainy days.
It was just another Saturday afternoon where I was procrastinating writing a paper on some topic in health policy by watching my beloved Volunteers stomp the Gators and surfing the net when I clicked on over to the Peace Corps website. I thought why the hell not?
It’s now or never, right?
I can already hear what you are saying…
“The Peace Corps? Really, but aren’t you’re already a nurse.”
Yes. Yes I am. I am already a nurse, but let’s rewind just a bit– Spring 2013.
I was all set to go to medical school. I studied hard, kicked the MCAT’s ass, and been accepted to the medical school only 35 minutes from where I was living. I was as ready as one can be to start such a grueling undertaking as medical school, and then, well, life, as it has a tendency to do, got in the way.
Without going into too much detail, I withdrew my spot in the class of 2018, and looked for other options to pursue my goal of providing medical care to those who need it most. I enrolled in the local nursing school and graduated in the fall of 2015. I passed NCLEX, started to work on my BSN, and promptly got a job at a local hospital.
Which I hated.
To say I was stuck in a rut is an understatement. I started feeling lost and wasn’t sure what my next move would be; did I want to move? [Not really] Start a new job? [Probably, but I was more than burnt out after working in hospitals for the last 10 years, and could not fathom what I’d want to do] Run off and travel for a year? [No, I’d already done that when I spent 16 months traveling in South America] I knew there was something else for me but I had no idea what it was.
I’m not sure exactly how the Peace Corps came up, but once it did, it turned into a nagging thought in the back of my head. Of course, I’d heard of the Peace Corps. I’ve even done international volunteer work before. I even casually mentioned it to a few friends in the way of “So if I joined the Peace Corps, would you come visit me?”
More time passed until that September Saturday where I was looking for motivation to write a paper for school, and upon finding none I started looking into the revamped application process, open programs, and countries they were currently sending volunteers to. Health was an obvious choice, but I also opened up my application to agriculture and environment, and community development. What I know about community development can fit into a thimble, but I’d feel as if I were cheating if all I do is end up teaching English.
So I applied. When it came time to pick countries, I wish there had been an option to exclude certain places. I’m fairly open to most countries and would really like an adventure, but I know without a doubt, that the South Pacific Islands are not for me. Equally, I’d prefer to not go to Western Africa. So I choose Kyrgyz Republic [I’d really love to learn Russian and travel the area of the Silk Road], Mozambique [south-east Africa on the Indian Ocean has a certain appeal also near a few countries I’d like to visit], or Guyana [a South America country on the Caribbean that I’ve only passed through]
I’ve lived in a thatched hut in the middle of the Amazon with a compost toilet before. I’ve had my own apartment in Peru and Mexico where electricity was sporadic. I camp and hike a bit so indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity while certainly nice are all things I know I could do without. A least for a predetermined time.
So it is now or never. I’ve only told one person that I’ve submitted the application. I have an interview Friday. We shall see how it goes. Stay tuned on how this new adventure shakes out.
On January 4, I had an interview for Peace Corps| Lesotho. I was less than enthusiastic about this interview for several reasons: 1. I do not want to go to Lesotho for several reasons. 2. The program was youth development. That was not one of my choices I put down as an interest and when I asked about that I was told the health and youth programs were combined. I was less than thrilled. 3. One of my reference writers didn’t get the reference in until 3 days before the deadline 4. I had just worked 16 hours the night before; my interview was at 8:30am, and I was most likely barely coherent. It was a bad interview that ended after 50 minutes (I think most of them last 90 minutes) and it was to no one’s (meaning me) surprise, when on March 1, I got the email that said I had not be selected for Lesotho.
And I was relieved.
But not deterred. I submitted my application yet again mentioning health as my only choice and choosing Madagascar, Guyana, and Ethiopia as choices and lo and behold, two days after submission, I was ‘under consideration’ for PC | Madagascar. And I’m excited. Of course, it will be an eternity until I find out anything; the program stops accepting applications in July. I’m already doing things differently; I’m learning French. I’m learning more about Madagascar. And I’m excited. Let’s only hope that I am offered the chance to interview for this program.
That’s one of my favorite songs from the Counting Crows.
I am ever hopeful that 2017 will be better than 2016. 2016 was rough. In some ways, it seemed as if the black cloud that appeared in May 2015 carried over until May 2016. So while the first half of the year kinda sucked, the second half seemed to be improving. My health is finally on the right track [even if not as fast as I would like]. I’m working to finish school in order to change my career [even if it’s not the one I originally thought I’d be in]. Other areas of life are getting on track too [turns out dealing with issues is a lot better than sweeping them under the rug]. I’m finding out who my real friends are and who doesn’t deserve to be counted in that group.
I’m employed. I’m in school. I’m currently sitting in a hammock overlooking the South Carolina marsh. It may be 35 degrees at night [which in all fairness, is not too bad for January], but I’m away, exploring new parts of my home state… [little tiny coastal communities plus a couple of the state parks I missed out on back in October due to Hurricane Matthew.] I’m dating a person I love and who loves me back [and who is spending the weekend with me in this beautiful house].
My cats are only minimally psychotic; life is good.
As per usual, I’m late….especially when it come to reflections about the past. I’ve spent the first few days of 2017 reflecting on 2016 and projecting about 2017 and beyond. I am always surprised when it gets to the end of the calendar year. I am yet am not ready to leave 2016 behind. As much as I look forward to the future, I’ve always been one of those people who struggles to let things go… in all aspects of my life good, bad, and ugly.
2016 was the year I was wanted to do this and that. Some of which I accomplished, some of which I totally forgot about, some of which was denied to me due to things beyond my control, and some I just put off until later. Sigh, some things never change, and my ability to procrastinate is one of them.
As much as I try to have goals and make them happen, I don’t like to feel structured or worse, feel like I’ve failed at something. I like to keep things positive. I also don’t like to measure out my year in countries, photos, numbers, or ticking things off a bucket list. Travel means more to me than that. It’s my sanity…my escape, and how I stay sane. I believe in the power of travel to transform a person or at least their outlook on life. Travel can shape you; it can make you a better person.
On that note, instead of recapping where I went, what I did, ect, I thought I’d delve a little deeper and share some of the more personal things that occurred during 2015 and what I’ve learned over the last year or so.
1. Some things are beyond your control.
In 2013, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Some days I slept 18 hours. Traveling anywhere except the physician’s office and hospital was more than I could do. I had trips planned to Cali, Colombia, and Yakima, Washington. Neither happened. After a rough 18 months of tracking my blood counts like a statistician, I was cleared for airplane travel on December 02, 2014. I was in London, England on December 6th. I had managed to have a few weekends away from home during the year, but nothing like December.
In April 2015, I tripped while trail running on a local hiking trail. I broke my left wrist and right ankle. I was down for the count for a good five months. I could hardly walk. My balance was totally off. I couldn’t type, and life in general was 100X harder than it is with two functioning limbs.
Whether or not I stay healthy is largely outside my realm of control. How I deal with the situation in 100% under my control.
I spent a large chunk of 2013-14 looking like this and a large chunk of 2015 in casts. Thankfully 2016 had me looking somewhat normal.
2. I’m not getting any younger.
I am five years behind the goals I made for myself in 2006 when I was travel through Italy. That’s what travel will do for you. I don’t regret any of it because I am a much more interesting person for having traveled like I have and being exposed to all that I have seen and been able to do. BUT I’m not getting any younger and if I want to achieve all my medical-related goals, I need to get my ass in gear. That being said I *should* complete my BSN in July, and that will open up a whole different set of doors. Being in school full-time is not only a financial commitment, but it’s a huge time commitment. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to travel as much as I have this year.
3. My travel style is ever changing.
I used to be OK with with sleeping on buses for a few days at a time. Or in airports. Or bus stations. Or on strangers’ couches. Or anywhere that was free or really cheap. And then I wasn’t. Then I was OK with sharing rooms with strangers in hostels. But now, if I had my preference, I’d rather rent an apartment and stay somewhere a few weeks at a time, or at minimum stay in a room all by myself.
I used to not care where I stayed, but now I really need my own space when travelling because sometimes I end up do yoga in my room.
Travel is exhausting. I don’t want to be on the go 24/7. I prefer doing a region at a time, and s-l-o-w travel is much more preferable to seeing 24 countries in 9 days. I still enjoy getting off the tourist trail and challenging myself, but I’m starting to enjoy the area that surrounds me too. The southeastern USA is amazing…historically and photogenically.
Fall in the Great Smoky Mountains is amazing.
People often ask me where my favorite place of the places I’ve been or what’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I am usually silent because I’ve done a lot of cool shit and I’ve been to a lot of cool places, but my favorite depends on the mood I’m in or what they are looking for? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation in the last week. So, Michelle, what was your favorite part of your trip? [I don’t know…I’m still processing it] What city did you like the best? [Ummm. Berlin was really cool, but I think I enjoyed my serendipitous layover in St Petersburg more than anything] How does this compare to previous trips? [It doesn’t; the purpose was completely different]. I know I sound like a tool when I don’t want to talk about my travels, but who stays in a castle. Or hikes in the wilderness alone. Or goes swimming with sharks. I hate that I can’t just say this was the coolest things I’ve ever done off the top of my head. I feel like I’ve gotten to do so many cool things I can’t even remember them all! I mean who has a life like that?!
Wandering around German Christmas market was the cure for 2 year hiatus from international travel. It was cultural, fun, beautiful, and amazing on so many levels.
I want my future trips to be special…not just doing them because I can. I want them to have meaning. I’d like to do some sort of volunteer healthcare experience at some point in the next few years as part of my masters program, but where, when, or in which fashion is still unknown.
Montenegro is one of those cool, off-beat places.
4. I’m stronger than I thought I was
For me, 2016 was a year of facing my demons, pushing my boundaries, stepping out of my comfort zone, and overcoming specific fears.
So many times I found myself saying god, I don’t want to do this… but I sucked it up and did it anyway.
This year I spoke in public for the first time, traveled somewhere where I didn’t speak the language, went actual backpacking BY MYSELF for the first time, delivered a baby, worked in an alcohol/drug treatment center, and did pediatric clinicals in a non-English speaking area. I moved in to a living space of my very own sans roommates for the first time since 2005.
That joy that comes from accomplishing something you weren’t sure you were capable of doing is my new drug of choice. It’s awesome, and I want to keep striving for moments like that in the future.
5. I can’t do it all. I can’t do it all by myself. It’s OK that I can’t do it all.
I definitely stretched myself too thin in 2016; I felt like I was constantly pulled in a million different directions which made focusing on things I really wanted to accomplish really hard. I said yes to too many things and that is when I get into trouble.
In December 2013, I accepted my first full-time time job since 2007, and in 2014 I started an accelerated program to become a registered nurse. My full-time job was hospital based and between work and school I got burnt out. But I soldiered on and in 2015, I became a RN, and got a job in a different hospital. The change of scenery did not help, and I left the hospital for good in June 2016.
These were tough lessons to learn but I have decided I am going to really sit down and only do the things that I really want to do.
Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally decide to enter the grown up world.