Friday, November 30, 2007

why peace corps? why pcmi? why pcmi at isu?

I realize that I never really explained what made me sign up for a PCMI program or the Peace Corps. I get that question a lot, so it might be helpful to write out here. It all started when I was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. I felt that after college, I wanted to do a year of service of some sort be it TFA, Jesuit volunteer corps, americorps, etc. i had not really thought much about the peace corps at that point because i didn't really have a global perspective on the world. i mean i knew the rest of the world was out there, but i barely thought about it.

my narrow views changed my sophomore year of college when i took an economic geography course from dr. christian allen. i was exposed to a whole new range of material involving international trade, development, and globalization. based on that course, i realized that international development was something i interested in, and i actually switched my major to economics from public relations so i could learn more about it (from an economic perspective).

however, it wasn't just that course that changed things, although it was the start. that summer i left the country for the first time to travel to salango, ecuador. i participated in a study abroad program through florida altantic university. i had a wonderful time, and it wasn't just due to living in a coastal village in south america. it was the people and the culture that i learned about while i was down there that i loved so much. it may have taken me twenty years, but i had caught the travel bug.

the combination of my study abroad and newfound interest in international development sparked an interest in the peace corps. now it was on my radar, but i was by no means convinced that this was the program for me. 27 months is a really long time, and there were a lot of things in the states that i could do to help people to. i continued to explore my interests through my classes, and the next summer i was fortunate enough to travel to puno, peru and work at a state-run boy's home for eight weeks. i almost saw it as a trial run for the peace corps. if i could do eight weeks, then how bad would 120 weeks be?

in short, i loved peru just as much as i loved ecuador (or rather puno as much as salango, if you want to know why this distinction matters, i might talk about it some other time, but i feel that i have no idea what "ecuadorian culture" is like, but i have a pretty good sense of salangan culture). anyway, i loved it, the travel bug was not a temporary condition that had passed. so i cam back to uga my senior year heavily considering peace corps.

but i'm not in the peace corps right now. its six months after i graduated, and i am currently at Illinois state university in normal, il. It sure is different than georgia, but its not a foreign country. somewhere during my senior year i decided to do pcmi instead of straight peace corps.

it was a program i had considered before. a masters and the peace corps. that sounds like a sweet deal if i'd ever heard one. but did i really want more schooling. i was feeling pretty burnt out and just wanted to get it over with. one thing i had loved about my time in peru was that i wasn't in school. i didn't have homework. i didn't have tests. and i didn't have papers. did i really want to do that all over again? that was my main question i was asking myself.

one day i was talking with my friend matt, and he suggested the pcmi stuff, specifically a program in economics at wisconsin-madison that he had seen. i was interested in economics at the time, and i knew wisconsisn was a good school, so i decided to check out this pcmi thing again. this was probably in septemeber some time. i found out wisconsin ended their pcmi program although still had a fellows program. but then i started looking at what else was out there.

i somehow settled on four schools. how, i 'm not really sure. i was attracted by the economics degree offered at illinois state university, as i wanted to pursue economics at a higher level. i also decided that non-profit management would also be of interest. programs at university of washington, rutgers, and george mason made my final list. i considered university of denver, but their web site made it sound like there was not a lot of money out there, so i scratched that off my list.

at this point, i was not decided whether to do pcmi or peace corps, but the choice would be made for me if i didn't start the application process. so i took my gre's, gathered my rec letters, and did all that stuff. but i wasn't necessarily committed to doing it, i just wanted to leave my options open.

at some point, i also decided that i didn't want to pay for my masters. if this was going to cost me money, i would just do peace corps and then do a masters later, figuring my pc experience may make me competitive for scholarships and fellowships. so, money was going to be a big concern.

of the programs i applied to, i noticed something unique about the one at isu. all of the other programs were part of a bigger program. they just seemed to be a track within a department. but at isu, the program was run out of the stevenson center. there were specific administrators, offices, and support just for pcmi, fellows, and similar students. that intrigued me from the beginning.

i eventually heard back from all of the schools i applied to, although i can't remember in what specific order. isu was the only one to conduct a phone interview, and that was great. i was able to ask them questions and i felt like i was already understanding their program. i am sure the other schools would have gladly talked to me or answered my questions, but isu's attempt at outreach was a major plus.

but ultimately the decider was money. at university of washington, the assistantships were applied for on an individual basis through out the summer. so i had no way of knowing if or how much money i would get until possibly weeks before classes began. george mason offered a half tuition waiver and a small stipend for a research assistantships. rutgers didn't offer anything. isu offered a full tuition waiver and a guaranteed assistantship. the choice for me was pretty much obvious.

or at least that choice was. i still wasn't sure if pcmi was what i wanted. i wavered the entire year between pc and pcmi. eventually, i decided that a free masters by delaying the peace corps for a year was a pretty good deal. my reasons pretty much were:
1) it was free (turns out not quite free with fees, but pretty close)
2) it would be a year in the midwest, which would be a new experience for me
3) i would create a good network of peers who were also interested in development work
4) it was only a year long (i made sure i wouldn't have to come back after my pc experience, which is required at some schools.)
5) i'd most likely get a "better" assignment (ie i didn't just want to be seen as an unskilled English teacher, but there's no real guarantee i won't be assigned this)

so that's how i ended up where i am today. sitting at 301 dewey in normal where its 24 degrees outside. was it the right decision? i think so. i like my programs, i like my friends, i like where i am. but then again, i'm pretty laidback, so i would have probably liked whatever decision i chose.