I taught history, geography and some English at a small harambee school in Western Province (Kenya), at the foot of the Nandi Escarpment, not too far from the Kakamega Forest in 1986/1987. Instead of going through the drawn out process of applying to the Peace Corps, and not getting to go to the country where I knew I wanted to be, I just got on a plane, and went and sorted work out myself. I was an African History major in College, and I had one contact name in Western, from one of my professors, which proved to be all I needed to get started.
It was an amazing experience. Even now, not too many days pass without me thinking about how lucky I was to have had a chance to step out of my life and world, and step into the lives of my students and the community that I lived in. It was also very, very challenging at times. Because I was there on my own I didn’t have the support network that you Peace Corps people have, I had no training, no insurance, no one to call in a pinch, no U.S. government back up, no lump payment at the end of my stay, and none of the networking perks that come with Peace Corps experience, if one is keen to pursue a subsequent career in International Development. On the other hand I think I leanred a lot from the experience of having to be self-reliant there, which continues to help me in life.
To be honest, I didn’t have a very high opinion of many of the P.C. volunteers I met in Western. They would spend every weekend partying and getting jiggy with each other, which always seemed to me like escapism to me. None of them struck me as the most culturally adaptable folk. And several of them gave the impression that they had know idea what they were getting themselves into, prior to coming to Kenya, or how to cope in country. But this is just my reactions to the admitedly small sampling of P.C. volunteers who I happened to bump into.
Have you read George Paker’s “The Village of Waiting”? His account of his P.C. experience in Togo. It’s a great read, though I was talking with some Peace Corps adminstration folks, not too long ago, and they had a dim view of the book. April, I think it would be a great read, if you can have someone send it to you (amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/ … 11-5296636)
April, in a not very succinct answer to your question - If you are looking at a possible stint in the Peace Corps as a way to add a little bit of panache to your resume, as a mainstream career stepping stone (and all you bring to the table as far as hard skills is English Teaching), then I think you’d be seriously wasting your time. If you feel a strong “call to service”, and really want to open yourself up to being thrown into some challenging, but potentially very personally rewarding situations, and you are interested in a career in International Development, or the Foreign Service, a P.C. stint is a great start. Though if all you have done for the P.C. is teach English, the value of the experience might not be that great in this arena either.
And, remember, the P.C. allows you to state country preferences, but they offer no guarantees. How valuable an experience would it be if they sent you to teach English at a Teacher’s College in Chengdu (because of your Chinese language skills), when yeah… you could be making a LOT more money teaching the same stuff at a Teacher’s College right where you are, in the ROC.
If English Teaching is all you bring to the table, skills wise, then it seems very likely that that’s what they are going to pigeon hole you to do in the P.C. In which case, how do you grow experientially? English Teaching in the Peace Corps, to me, is more suited to people with a teaching background in the States, who want to get some colorful overseas experience (but don’t have the initiative to arrange it themselves), or for people who are trying to transition into development work.
As far as that wad of cash they give you at the end of service, you should be able to save as much or more in Taiwan, doing what you’re doing now, over the same period of time, and in Taiwan you have the opportunity to transition into other fields of work, if opportunities present themselves.
I’d be very interested to know what’s behind your interest in the Peace Corps. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Something you’ve felt passionately about for a long time? Do you simply feel stuck in a rut in Taiwan, and can’t imagine going back to the States, so the P.C. looms as a “something to do” option? Do you have those strong long term development/Foreign Service goals in mind? Do you suddenly feel the world is a crazy place, thanks in part to the U.S. of A., and you want to join the peace corps in order to give something back to the world and your country? Are you going through an existential crisis?
I wish you luck with your application, and hope that you think things through before you sign the contract, if they offer you a position as an English Teacher.
If you want to bounce some ideas around, PM me, I’ll try and give you prompt and reasonably well thought out replies.