So, You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go

    by Dillon Banerjee (Cameroon 1994–1996)
    Ten Speed Press, $12.95
    169 pages
    2000

    Reviewed by Paige Risser (Paraguay 1996–98)

    LET ME JUST STATE HERE for the record that I was a clueless Peace Corps applicant. Absolutely clueless. All I thought I needed to know was: 1) getting into the Peace Corps was super competitive for liberal arts graduates (of which I was one) and 2) that I should thank my lucky stars if they accepted me at all. Naturally, I didn’t ask too many questions or raise any flags. I kept my head down, and tried to turn in all my paperwork completed and on time.
         I’ve only come to appreciate just how clueless I was since joining a Peace Corps recruiting office almost two years ago. Every day I’m amazed at the sheer volume and variety of questions recruiters receive from applicants. From details on the application process to details on Armenia’s people, they get it all. Which makes perfect sense. As someone getting ready to pack up and move to an unknown country for two years, anyone in his or her right mind (present company excluded) would want as much information as possible. For those who want to know everything they can about what they’re getting themselves into by applying to the Peace Corps, Dillon Banerjee’s new book So, You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go is a must read.
         Organized in an accessible Q&A fashion, the book guides the prospective Volunteer from the pre-application jitters all the way through to post-Peace Corps, answering just about every question imaginable. Can you get magazine subscriptions sent to you in your country of service? Check out answer #44 under the chapter on "Staying in Touch with Home." Is the Peace Corps effective as a development agency? See #55 in the chapter called "The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love?" One of the more intimate is the last question: Would you go back and do the Peace Corps all over again? The author quotes returned Peace Corps Volunteers whose answers run the gamut from "Absolutely!" to "Perhaps not." Even I learned something new, and I’ve logged four years with the agency.
         In addition to the more than seventy questions Banerjee includes, there are also extensive appendices. Maps of Peace Corps countries, general facts, detailed program requirements, medical and student loan information and great Peace Corps related web sites round out a book that is already jam-packed with Peace Corps information. And what document about the Peace Corps is complete without an indispensable acronym guide? After taking this all in, readers will be rapping in PC lingo like pros with their recruiters, APCDs and PCMOs.
         Although written in a light and frank voice, the subject matter is cut and dry. Most readers will probably find this volume useful as a reference piece, picked up when the mood strikes and a question looms. A word of caution: among RPCVs there’s always the tendency to define their Peace Corps experience as the Peace Corps experience. So although Banerjee does an admirable job of obtaining other perspectives on the Peace Corps besides just his own, editorializing creeps in. For example, I found the section describing drug and alcohol usage by Volunteers to be overly negative. During my service I witnessed little abuse. But this supports a point the author makes several times, that there is no typical Peace Corps experience. As long as readers keep that in mind, prospective Volunteers can begin to visualize the way they want their experience overseas, and understand how to attain it.
         Banjerlee says he was motivated to put this book together because of his frustrations at not finding usable information on the real Peace Corps experience while he was going through the application process. His finished product should save countless applicants from similar frustration as they prepare for their own Peace Corps adventure.

    Paige Risser is the Public Affairs Specialist with the Peace Corps’ Washington D.C. Regional Recruiting Office. She knows now to ask more questions before getting herself into things like, say, a two-year stint in Paraguay, for example.