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Yupa
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02 Jan 2013, 9:11 pm

Is anyone here a present Peace Corps volunteer or RPCV (Returned Peace Corps volunteer)? Is anyone else thinking about it?

I am close to graduating from a four year college so I'm wondering about this as an option. I'm determined to do a stint of Peace Corps service at some point before I turn 30, but I'm not sure if I should do so before or after graduate school. If nothing else it would be valuable work experience, especially since I'm set on doing internationally related work in the future. Therefore I have quite a few questions about it.

What is the experience like? More importantly, to keep things on topic, what issues might arise in the Peace Corps for an individual with an ASD, and how can these issues be avoided or mitigated?



starkid
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06 Jan 2013, 12:10 am

Have you looked at their website? It is usually important to follow the local customs of the country and maintain harmonious relationships with the natives, and that could be difficult for someone who doesn't grasp social cues easily. It could also exacerbate the language barrier, if any. Volunteers are sometimes targeted for robbery because the natives think they are wealthy; that's another reason to be wary if one cannot read people well.



Yupa
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06 Jan 2013, 1:33 pm

starkid wrote:
Have you looked at their website? It is usually important to follow the local customs of the country and maintain harmonious relationships with the natives, and that could be difficult for someone who doesn't grasp social cues easily. It could also exacerbate the language barrier, if any. Volunteers are sometimes targeted for robbery because the natives think they are wealthy; that's another reason to be wary if one cannot read people well.


Yes, I have looked at the website quite a few times - as should anyone who is applying for anything. As for culture, I study foreign cultures, which, granted, only gives a person a theoretical perspective. I have also had classmates that worked/studied in other cultural settings and have heard their stories. As a result I do acknowledge that adapting to a different culture is going to be a challenge for anyone. Of course, there are some basics that can be grasped easily - not to express certain political views in certain countries and so on.



Tequila
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06 Jan 2013, 1:39 pm

starkid wrote:
Have you looked at their website? It is usually important to follow the local customs of the country and maintain harmonious relationships with the natives, and that could be difficult for someone who doesn't grasp social cues easily. It could also exacerbate the language barrier, if any. Volunteers are sometimes targeted for robbery because the natives think they are wealthy; that's another reason to be wary if one cannot read people well.


Yup. I'd be pretty careful as well, as a fair few countries are pretty hostile to Americans in general.



Yupa
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22 Jul 2013, 3:06 pm

The advice here is interesting, but I'd love to hear from someone who has actually worked as a Peace Corps volunteer.



BetwixtBetween
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26 Feb 2014, 11:29 am

I've lurked for a while- off and on for a couple months.

Your question was one of the things that made me come out of lurking.

I'm autistic (high functioning) and I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Ask me anything about it.



Yupa
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26 Feb 2014, 5:36 pm

BetwixtBetween wrote:
I've lurked for a while- off and on for a couple months.

Your question was one of the things that made me come out of lurking.

I'm autistic (high functioning) and I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Ask me anything about it.


Where did you volunteer? What was the biggest set of challenges for you? What advice would you give to someone considering working in the Peace Corps?



BetwixtBetween
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26 Feb 2014, 8:17 pm

I volunteered in a former Soviet Satellite. That's as specific as I want to get.

Biggest challenges:
Well, my biggest fear heading into it was not learning the language. I had never had a foreign language class in school or in college- it was deemed ill advised. I never told PC I was autistic. I don't know what they could have done for me if I had mentioned it. The language classes they gave weren't very helpful. The homework they gave us, which involved talking to our host families was. I just pretended I was putting together an ethnography the entire time I was over there, and it helped.

Honestly, compared to the NT volunteers, I think I had the easiest time of it. For one thing, I'm used to being an outsider, a stranger in a very strange land. I think my counterpart, host families, students, etc., all figured any differences were cultural. Because I flat out didn't fit in with the females (I simply had no clue how to be one in their culture) and because my host family was down two boys (both in the military), I ended up working with the guys when I chipped in.

Don't get me wrong- I still introduced various American dishes, but when it came to who would set up the banquet tables and who would handle the wood chopping or whatever, I was out in the fields with an axe in my hand. In my case as well, my second host family (you get one in your training village, and one in your assigned village) became like my real family a bit- I could be honest with them and I could ask them anything. They helped me navigate through situations that could have otherwise been very tricky/impossible. Cold calling NGO's for things was scary, but less stressful than cold calling someone in my native country/tongue in a way at the same time. I had to set up a script, and it was very clear to the people I was calling that I had very limited language capabilities. Ultimately, I ended up in contact with an NGO that really wanted to work with a PCV. They were able to lend me/supply me with all kinds of goodies like paintbrushes and paint, and I could steal curriculum ideas from them. In the long run, it was a great partnership. They'd wanted to set up a club/class in my area, they wanted to teach stuff my villagers wanted their kids to learn,* they had all kinds of experts who were native speakers, they had contests/events, and had someone take over from me when I left.


The biggest problems faced by NT females that I didn't really have to deal with include:
-being excluded from things/told they could not do things because they were female. The few times someone challenged me, I'd just say "it's OK, I'm Russian," as though that explained everything. They'd have no idea how to reply to that, then they'd watch as I demonstrated proficiency at a male task. Then they'd call me "Comrad."
-Being molested. I only had that problem once, on a bus, when I was coming from a meeting with my NGO.** A guy rubbed himself against me. when I was very sure of what was going on (when he first started the bus was very crowded), I stomped one of my business heels on his instep at a bumpy part. He got the message, and found himself a place to stand that wasn't next to me. I'm not being mean here, there were no open seats, but we were basically the only people standing. The NT ladies attracted male attention with what they wore (probably not much more than a host country lady, but I don't know for sure). Unfortunately, most of them didn't have the language skills or recognize the social cues when things started to go wrong. I dressed very modestly, and if I'm to be honest, on the gender neutral side. Being Autistic, it was not my habit or inclination to make a lot of eye contact or smile a lot on public transport (and having done my research on my host country before I went), I made a conscious choice not to do those things around males I barely knew/didn't know/wasn't sure of. The NT ladies were used to smiling at and making eye contact with everybody. That didn't work for them.

*I surveyed my villagers a couple different ways. I posted sheets of questions my host family helped me translate in the local shops and such. I also individually knocked on a few doors.
** Meetings were actually fun. I'd show up dressed in my best business suit, they'd proudly introduce me as their American, the other representatives would be impressed because they didn't have an American, and I'd pretend to take notes during the meeting. After the other representatives had left, we'd all have some coffee, and they'd hand me a bunch of stuff for my kids, tell me about any events they had coming, ask if we could do this again on a particular date, I'd agree, we'd all shake hands, and off I'd go.



My advice to anybody considering Peace Corps:

-Take a class in ethnography first. My anthropological training was what I kept reaching for over and over throughout the two years. It served me very well. I cannot emphasize this enough for anyone on the spectrum, but I'd also advise it for anyone NT.
-Don't be afraid to take technology with you for your own amusement. Don't wave it around, but don't hesitate to take your hard drive full of movies/tv/music, your kindle full of books, etc.
- Imagine any problem you have here in the states as problems overseas amongst strangers. Can you deal with that?
-Don't be afraid to bring or ship the Sam's Club size peanut butter/shampoo/etc. Whatever product(s) you are dependent on, if you can't make it yourself, bring it/send it to yourself.
-By all means, bring basic decent clothes. Just know your weight will likely change, as will the weight of your fellow volunteers. If you're smart, you'll do what we did, and set up an exchange box.
-Research wherever they send you before you go.

Any other questions?


EDITED to add:
I did find parties hard. I didn't end up going to a lot, but PC was OK with that because parties often lead to volunteers drinking. It was true that a lot of drinking went on, and I learned to toast in my host country's language, but I was never really comfortable with parties. A lot of volunteers didn't like them, so I wasn't alone.

I also never really liked meeting new people in a social setting. Greetings tended toward the European. Again, a lot of volunteers didn't really like that though, so I wasn't alone in that either.