Peace Corps Videos

Friday, April 20, 2007

Oh Where, Oh Where??

I spoke with my Peace Corps placement officer on Monday. The program for which I was nominated has officially been cancelled. That means they now need to find some place else to put me. He said he was having a difficult time finding something for me in my target areas of the South Pacific, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Because I don’t speak Spanish, that limits me to many area. He did say that he was sure that we could work something out, but wanted to know about other areas where I may be interested in going. I told him I would research the other areas where the Peace Corps operates and send him an e-mail. Below is what I am planning to send him.

Dear David:

Thanks for spending so much time with me on the phone Monday discussing various placement opportunities. As I mentioned, my time frame is much more flexible now. I have spent a good deal of time researching the Business Development programs by reviewing the Peace Corps 2008 Congressional Budget Justification. That gave me a good perspective on all the different countries and areas served by the Peace Corps.

I was particularly intrigued by this description for a program in Vanuatu. It sounds EXACTLY like something I would like to do:

One Volunteer helped to make coffee a significant income generator for Tanna Island farmers by introducing business management skills into small enterprise farming and developing the country’s first rural-based processing factory.

Projects like the brief description of this one are exactly why I would like to receive an invitation to the Peace Corps. During my business career, I have gotten much satisfaction out of finding solutions to problems and implementing strong business skills on different projects. (I even started a separate business for my current company several years ago and kept the books for the first year. )

While I still remain most interested in the South Pacific region, I do realize the need to be flexible. Certainly the Business Development programs in the non-Spanish speaking countries of the Eastern Caribbean and Jamaica would also be high on my list of choices.

Outside of the areas we have already discussed, I would be interested in the business development program in the Philippines. And while there doesn’t appear to be a business development program in China, I would have a lot of interest in going to China. (I realize that is outside of my request to stay in a warm climate.) I was particularly intrigued by the idea of the “English Corner” concept described in the Volunteer Focus area which would certainly put my years of public speaking skills to use. I also like the idea of teaching business skills.

Thailand could also be a possibility for me.

I really appreciate you working with me to find a “good fit”. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Shrimp and Lobster Allergy Tests

At the suggestion of the Peace Corps Medical Office I was tested for Shrimp and Lobster allergies today. This is a copy of the e-mail I sent to the Peace Corps Placement Officer this evening after learning the results.


Hi David:

I wanted to update you on a few things since we talked on the phone a week ago. This evening, I sent a letter to the Medical office showing the results of an allergy test I had done today. (I have no issue discussing this medical issue with you or anyone else.) The good news is that all the tests were negative and I have asked him to please update my file with the new information.
When I spoke with you, I indicated that I needed to make a decision about my current job by last Friday. I have committed to stay in that job through at least May 25th. If I am offered an invitation, I would not be able to leave the area until after that date.

Once May is behind me, I don't have another critical period at work until the beginning of October. That gives me a tremendous amount of flexibility in departure dates. Ideally, it would be great to receive an invitation soon, even if I have to wait several months before departure.

You mentioned in our phone call that there might be an opportunity in the Mediterranean for Business Development. I have not heard anything about that and while I wish to remain flexible, that area would not be one of my first choices. I remain interested primarily in the areas I discussed in my interview, which are the South Pacific, the Caribbean, Central and South America. I would be happy to accept an invitation to any of those areas. (South Pacific would still be my top choice.)

I realize you have a tough job trying to match all the applicants with the various programs available. And while I know you have a copy of my resume, I thought I would close by telling you about something that is not on my resume and which I think would be beneficial in a small business development program. About 10 years ago, I was one of the founding members of The Chattanooga Press Club. This was a membership organization where dues were collected. I was elected Treasurer of the group. We dealt in small dollar amounts but I I kept very meticulous books, presenting financial statements at every meeting. My years in management paid off on a very small scale because of my ability to think in both micro and macro terms. During my tenure, one of our members was killed in an accident. We then turned to fund-raising so that we could endow a journalism scholarship in his name. By using smart business practices we were able to grow the money we received and eventually donate the money to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

It's a small story, but after having read about the work that small business volunteers are doing in the South Pacific, it seemed like one worth sharing.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Mediterranean

Got a call today from the Peace Corps placement officer for the Pacific and Inter-Americas.  He covers all of Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean along with the South Pacific. 
He said the program to which I had been nominated had been "delayed" until October.  (I guessing this is the reason.)  He also said because of my allergy to Shrimp and Lobster, he was limited in the number of countries where he could put me in the South Pacific.  He then added there had been one other business development program but because of the delay in getting my clearance, that program was now filled.  This was clearly NOT the news I was expecting to hear.  (And by the way, the delay was not really on my end) I told him that my shrimp and lobster allergy was very mild and that I had had no symptoms in over ten years.  I told him I would be glad to take an allergy test if that would help.  He said that was an option to get the medical restriction listed and that I should discuss it with my Peace Corps medical officer. 
He said they wanted to make sure they put me in a program where my business skills could be best utilized.  He said they don't like to put people like me with a lot of business experience in a program that is very basic.  I told him I really was interested in business development.
He then said there was a "high-level" business development program in the Mediterranean working with the Peace Corps and USAID.  It was scheduled to leave late June/early July.  That was not his area but if I was interested in looking at that program, he could send my file over there.  I asked him a few questions about the program and he did say it had a moderate climate since he had noticed that my file said I didn't want to go any where cold.  I told him I would be happy to go anywhere in his area, but would want to know more about the Mediterranean program.
I was out of the office at the time I got the phone call.  When I got back to work, I called my sister Becky and asked her to call me back when she was near a computer.  I have made a point NOT to call-up any web sites or send any e-mail related to the Peace Corps from my office.  She and I spent a while on the phone and figured the most likely place was Albania based on the location and the program.  It could also be Morocco or Jordan.  However, Albania seemed to be closest to the way the program was described.  She called me back a bit later to say there was  a USAID program in Albania, which seem to make it an even better match.
The placement officer said he would call me later today, but I never got the call.  When I got home, I had this e-mail.
Subject: Business project in Eastern Europe
Hi Steve,
This email is to let you know that I have sent your skills over to my program managers in the field, for their review.  Once I hear back from them on whether they feel the skill fit is right, I will let you know.  You would then work with me towards an invitation, or go back to David for other program options.
Ok, so that was probably my "call-back" sent via e-mail instead of phone.  It was sent at 3:48pm.  So now I thinking about a whole different part of the world and an area where I haven't done a whole lot of research.  The subject line of this e-mail specifically says "Eastern Europe".  That pretty much eliminates Morocco.  I called up the Peace Corps Congressional Budget Justification which is a great document to find out about what is going on in each country and region.  There are no countries specifically identified as being in the Mediterranean region, but there are just three in the "Central and Eastern Europe" region: Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.  I don't really consider any of those Mediterranean.  Albania is part of the "Balkans and North Africa" Region along with Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia. 
Unlike the South Pacific, where I would pretty much go to any of the countries, I do have concerns about going to many of these countries.  First, having been to Eastern Europe on several occasions, including a visit to the Soviet Union before it fell, I have some idea of what to expect there.  I also have some concerns about going to a strong Muslim country. While I would enjoy learning Arabic and more about the Muslim religion, I am not sure how comfortable I would be in a country where some (not all) of the Muslims would be very anti-American.  That presents a bit of a problem, as Albania is 70% Muslim and Morocco is 98% Muslim,
I spoke with my Dad tonight and he made a great point..don't go just to get away from your current job.  Do what is best for you.  That was good advice and after doing a bit of reading on this, I don't think I would be as happy in this region as in the Pacific.  It would be much easier for me to get home from Eastern Europe than the South Pacific, but that probably should not be my overriding reason for going someplace.  If I have to get home, I'll get home. 
I'm going to send an e-mail to the Peace Corps  medical officer tonight and ask him about taking an allergy test for Shrimp and Lobster.  Since I've had no symptoms for so many years, it's possible it is not a big deal for me any more.  I used to have pollen allergies as well, but those went away 20 years ago.   I can get that removed from my health record, that would free me up to go to any of the countries in the South Pacific.  I may have to wait a while, but I can probably tough it out at work a bit longer.
I feel pretty certain the Peace Corps invitation is going to happen and it does appear there is a bit more negotiation possible than I may have thought.  Of course I also realize I have a bit more experience than the typical applicant.
At this point, I'm resigned to staying at work through May.  I've been very careful to make sure that I've done nothing different at work and to make all the decisions as if I was staying.  Now, I know that was probably a smart thing to do.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Who Knows

The list of people who know about my plans continues to grow. I'm still keeping it away from people associated with work but I'm telling a few more of my friends. This weekend, I met with our long-time family friend Jay McElroy to tell him that I planned to quit my job and that I was "talking" with the Peace Corps. Jay is 90 years old and lives alone. His family and my family have been friends for more than 75 years. Jay was not at all surprised that I was thinking of quitting my job. He knows it has been very frustrating for me for the past year and was very supportive of me doing that. He did ask me a lot of questions to make sure I had thought this out thoroughly and finally said I can tell you are not making an "Impulsive" move. (He and I have a running joke that he never does anything impulsive).

He was not overly familiar with the Peace Corps other than the basics that most people know. He was very happy to hear that I was planning to keep my home and I told him that while I didn't know exactly what I would do when I got back, South Florida would be the first area where I will look. He seemed happy to know that and said he would miss seeing me while I was away, but then joked that his doctor has told him he would live to be 100 so we would still have time to catch up when I return. He also asked me if he could tell some mutual friends, Dick and Peggy Pitken about my plans and I told him that would be okay.

I also confided my plans to my friend Bob Pruitt. Bob is an e-mail buddy that I've known for 7 or 8 years. He and his wife live on St. George Island. In his e-mail back to me he said:

Steve, pursue your dream - if it is the Peace Corps, great - if something else,
also great! Don't even think about what others may say or think - it's your life
- go for it. I am certainly doing that, and I would encourage you to do the
same.
That's probably the best encouragement I've gotten yet. It's a pretty strong "Go For It". I'm hoping to do exactly that!