Manahoana! (Hello!) Part of the goal of every Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is to share our experiences with anyone and everyone. Living and working in a 3rd world country for two years is not something that most people will end up doing, so naturally us PCVs love to talk about the challenges and rewards we encountered. It's therapeutic for us and sometimes people are interested enough to ask questions and listen!

My primary assignment was teaching English as a Foreign Language (2012-2014) in Farafangana, the regional capital of Madagascar's South East region and a lively beach town that several colorful ethnic tribes call home, chiefly the Antefasy ("people of the sands," fasika means sand). My friend Rory, who will also be joining us in this IAMA (internet connection depending), was in my pre-service training group and was the closest teacher to me in our region. He extended for a third year and is still teaching, now in Manakara, the biggest city in the South East region (he originally taught in a near-ish, off-the-beaten-path village called "Ampasimanjeva").

The differences between his experiences and my own; the rhythm(s) of life in his original village and my larger town and his current even larger town; the intricacies of the Malagasy language; the difficulties; the rewards; the Malagasy school system; teaching EFL; the food; the lemurs; and most of all the PEOPLE that we met and lived with and who saw that we were safe and well-fed and happy in their country, which was originally foreign to us, for almost three years in Rory's case--all of this should provide for an insightful discussion :)

And speaking of challenges, right now Rory is going through the application process to become a Challenge Detroit Fellow, which pairs hard-working, creative individuals (like Rory!) with non-profits aimed at revitalizing Detroit. You can follow the link below to see a video he made for the occasion that shows a snap-shot of his life in Madagascar as well as, you guessed it, of course, a L E M U R! Clicking "VOTE" at the top of the page will HELP HIM (!) on his way to becoming a fellow as the top 30 most voted fellows will then head to Detroit for the final interview stage. Help him out!

I would not be asking this of you before we get started on this IAMA if I did not think that Rory would make as great of a fellow as he has a PCV. If you're not quite convinced, I stumbled upon something another PCV wrote about his project to build a school library in his original town (it includes a link to his blog which has many photos and stories): "Rory is a volunteer down in the Sud Est and is raising money to build a library at his high school. You can check out his blog here: Rory is, in my opinion, one of the best volunteers here in Mada, and definitely one of my favorite people on the island. It would mean so much to me if you could donate to his project in lieu of sending birthday gifts my way this year. The ultimate birthday present will be seeing this library dream come to fruition and open countless doors for the students in his town."

Ain't that sweet? Let the IAMA begin!

(Note: I hope this all counts as enough "proof" that I am not making this stuff up. I'll happily post photos of my experiences to imagur if there's interest! My name is Jeremy Cahill and here is a photo of me and another PCV playing a malaria awareness game with some local kids in her town on the website:

Misaotra betsaka anareo! (Thank you very much you all!)

Comments: 81 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

paper_champion11 karma

What was the biggest culture shock you experienced on assignment, and how did you cope?

onzroad14 karma

One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced was RICE. Malagasy people eat more rice than any other people on the planet. It's eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all over the island. When I lived with a Malagasy host family for one month during pre-service training, I thought the rice thing was a joke but day after day it kept coming and coming and honestly it takes some getting used to to go from eating a grain (sandwich/pasta (I'm no chef)) based diet to a rice based diet. Rice IS the meal in Madagascar. Of course, other food is eaten with the rice. This food is called the loaka, which means side dish. It might be some beef, some pork, some chicken, some turkey, or some fish, along with a veggie based dish like, a popular one, cucumber and tomato slices bathed in vinegar and salt and pepper. There's an accurate quote by ancient Malagasy king saying RICE IS LIFE or something like that. All of the rice took some getting used to, but after two years, I became quite fond of eating a gigantic bowl of rice topped with my favorite loaka, beans with fatty chunks of beef mixed in. You can tell the new PCVs on the island by how pathetic they are at eating rice. After two years you can easily polish off a huge heaping bowl. Oh rice was a big shocker, but of course my experience was WAY more diverse than this, more than I can do justice to here. In the capital on more than one occasion I dined in some fancy French fusion restaurants on food that would have cost a fortune in Paris but cost little in Madagascar, a former French colony. I also didn't cook rice for myself often when I was living alone at site in my town. I had access to more fresh produce and fruits and meats and fish than I have ever seen in my life, much better selection than anything available to me in the U.S. Fantastic fruits that I had never heard of like litchis. Huge avocados that didn't cost a penny. Sometimes lobster or crabs that didn't cost anything. It was diverse.

So to wrap up, the Malagasy people aren't exactly the most culinary people on the planet compared to what you hear about peoples in South America and it is true that mouth watering food wasn't really truly part of the experience of living in my town although there were exceptions. However, it was a quirky part of the culture that I came to love and appreciate and brought me closer to my Malagasy friends as they gradually saw me eat more and more rice. I liked to think that this made them respect me more, which I say in jest as they were some of most good humored people I have ever met and we often made rice jokes and joke jokes and had many great times together. I can't really do justice to the experiences I had. On more than one occasion I traveled to villages so remote that a car hadn't passed by them in years and years and encountered people living in real poverty who gladly and without hesitation offered what little they had to eat, more than rice, to me and my volunteer or NGO worker friends. Mada is one of the poorest countries on the planet so it was difficult to learn that so much of the country subsisted off white rice, which is devoid of essential vitamins and nutrients. It keeps you alive but it doesn't seem like ENOUGH, although I saw plenty of locals show more energy than myself on long treks even though I was powered by more than just white rice. Once, one of my students invited me over for lunch to his house. He was particularly persistent in his drive to learn English and he was also a student I had to try hard to like, I hate to admit, because his English was so scattered and he was so stubborn in his attempt to try to speak as much as possible with me. So I accepted his invitation and came to the little shack he lived in with his sister while they attended school, their parents living 80k away in their hometown south of Farafangana where our school was. It was only rice that we had that day, topped with ramen noodles (imported from China), mainly on my behalf. This was all he had to eat most days (while I was eating pretty), and yet he would show up to my class and hang around after class and show such dedication to learning English from me. It broke my heart. His name is Kim Ruddy. He doesn't have an email or Facebook or anything so I don't know what has happened to him in the past year but I will remember him forever and I hope he will remember me. We became friends and I'd invite him over for lunch at my house sometimes, which he was overly honored by. Such a good guy. A good island. A good people. Good memories. The students there just want the same things students here want, to go to a good college, get a good job, get married, have kids, and have a good life. That's it. Sometimes it's as surprising to note how similar we all are.

If you enjoyed this, please up vote this IAMA so more people can see it and join us. Thank you :)

onzroad1 karma

I didn't mean to say that rice isn't a grain! What I should have slowed down to say was that the diet of the average American in the U.S. is heavy in processed crap, especially bread. Then you switch over to eating rice three times a day and your stomach wonders what you are trying to pull. You miss the food you are used to. You miss eating sandwiches for lunch. You dream of Taco Bell, even though you barely ate there. Your stomach rebels. It takes a bit to adjust.

OliverTheWanderer2 karma

So this sounds like diabetes is super high there. Is that correct?

onzroad2 karma

TAMATAVE, 20 July 2012 (IRIN) - An estimated one million people in Madagascar are diabetic, but only about half of them know it. Finding the other half presents a major challenge for this large, island nation in which 80 percent of the population live in rural areas where few people have ever heard of this chronic and potentially deadly disease.

With the country’s underfunded public health sector barely functioning, this task has mainly fallen to the Madagascan Diabetes Association (A.MA.DIA.) which dispatches its doctors and nurses to the provinces to conduct blood sugar tests and raise awareness at fairs, schools and health centres.


alicat128 karma

Hey! Thanks for doing this AMA! I've been talking about joining the Peace Corps for years! I'm currently a junior in college and I'm a nursing major. Do you have any advice on how to make my application standout? I know you can select a preference for a country, but it depends if work is a available, so should I be open to all possibilities? (I'm interested in Central America since I'm taking Spanish classes). I've had some experience with international travel, but did you ever get home sick? Did you always feel safe and well cared for? Any advice in general would be great!

onzroad2 karma

Hey there! Congrats to your interest in the health field and a volunteer organization like the Peace Corps! This IAMA is really about the experiences of my friend and I in Madagascar (did you VOTE for him!? ), and your questions are more for a recruiter, either your campus recruiter or regional recruiter, but I will still try to give you some quick advice.

To make your application stand-out, just do well in school. Get some volunteer experience, ideally in the sector you want to volunteer in, which in your case is health. Some sectors might require a minimum number of volunteer hours. I don't think the Peace Corps is very competitive unless you want to be in a specific region like Central America, in which case they might value certain skills, like Spanish language skills, and not having these skills might make you much less competitive. That's a recruiter question.

As for being open to all possibilities, I would say that in life, yes, always be open! But of course, you are you and you know yourself best, so if you are the kind of person interested in traveling to any country because you love different people and cultures, and you would be happy even if you wound up in smog filled China, then that is that, but it is okay too if you have a specific love for/interest in Latin cultures for example. Know what you want and take the time to figure out what you want. Is Peace Corps service going to help you toward what you want? I myself for example would have not have done Peace Corps if my only option was teaching in China. I know about teaching in China and I know I can find a job, make much more money, and not have an organization telling me what to do and where I have to be if I simply went over there on my own. I also know that smog is a huge problem all over the country and not something I want to deal with, so I would never choose to go to China regardless. But you might have a different opinion. You might be interested in an area of health where working in China makes perfect sense. Maybe you could then use the Peace Corps as a hopping off point to a real career if you served in China. It all depends.

As for feeling homesick, yes I did at times. Every PCV does to some degree but it depends on the person. I did always feel safe though, with the exception of a close call I had while riding in a bus. As for being well cared for, yes I did too although it's not like a lived with a family for two years. I cared for myself, well, and Peace Corps was always there if I had a problem as were people in my community.

General advice: find out what you want in life and DO IT. Good luck! Jeremy

By the way, these are my views and do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the US government.

bullshit-careers4 karma

Worst insects you saw on a regular basis?

gasyfotsy5 karma

There are just about the same kinds of insects here in Madagascar as in the States, just on a much larger scale. For example, cockroaches swarm at night and it doesn't really matter how clean your house is. Ants are everywhere and find their way into everything. The one thing that you won't see in the States is massive spiders with bodies as big your thumb and eight legs, each as long as your middle finger. Other than that, I really haven't run into too many unfamiliar or shocking insects.

onzroad1 karma

Haha Rory really painted quite a picture for you. I will say that I didn't see in "bad" insects on a daily basis because there were no insects that really interfered with my quality of life, other than mosquitoes which carry malaria and are something you should be scared of (although we took Doxy). I didn't get bit up too much and slept under a mosquito net and wore repellent when needed so mosquitos weren't a problem either. The cockroaches around my area only came out at night in my house and I would only see them scatter when getting up in the middle of the night. Ants never bothered my house because I kept it clean. Lizards/geckoes were a common sight but they kept to themselves. I killed a big spider or two but I kill wolf spiders here in the US from time to time too. The thing about Mada is that it contains no animals/insects/plants that use poison, so you don't have to worry about getting stung or bit by anything deadly. There are exceptions of course but in general the fauna on the island never evolved poison as a defense from what I understand and saw.

bunnyhouseinyoursoul3 karma

What modern-day effects of the colonial past did you notice in the personality and character of the locals?

onzroad1 karma

Can you be more specific? I'm not sure what you want to know.

Hkat1233 karma

Was there ever a time that you feared for your safety?

onzroad1 karma

I think Madagascar feels safer than the US in many ways. The other day a bomb threat was called in to my student union. That's crazy and it would never happen in Madagascar. The Malagasy people are also rather non-violent in my opinion, unlike the yet to be caught men who randomly shot two people near my campus the other day. Malagasy men don't try to act macho or aggressive toward you. They aren't trying to prove anything to themselves or anyone or have chips on their shoulders. If you get robbed, it's because you left your expensive i-phone sitting out and it's probably your dumb fault. You don't get robbed violently or beat up. As much as volunteers complain about getting overcharged occasionally, it rarely happens in Madagascar compared to Africa Africa and it's never much money. I think Malagasy people are kind to foreigners to a fault. I've had so many people go out of there way for me. In my town of Farafangana I felt safe 100% of the time, at night, during the day, you name it. You should always be cautious at night and in large crowds and follow basic common sense rules in cities and foreign countries, but in general Madagascar in particular feels like a safe country if you are taking something to prevent malaria and living in a town. But as Rory said, traveling between cities for long distances is a different story as taxi brousses often feel unsafe and you're not in control, a driver is.

FireFromTheWire3 karma

What kind of demand is there for tribal people to learn English? Does this help them locally, or is it more of a stepping stone to get out into the world?

onzroad2 karma

Malagasy people aren't "tribal." I don't know what you mean by that or how you picture Madagascar. There are "tribes" in Madagascar but this is really a loose term for ethnic group. Most Malagasy people live in rural areas, but my experience in Madagascar was much different. I lived in a bigger, more well connected town and interacted with Malagasy people with university educations, some of whom worked at NGOs and had studied abroad. Tribal? Anyway, at my school there was an overhead projector installed in my second year of service. A university had just opened in my town right as I was leaving. Things were always changing. Some of the students I was teaching were college bound. They had a good chance of passing the test that must be passed to get into a university. English is on this test if you choose to take the language arts version of it. So they did need English and they wanted it too. The world is "pulling" English more than we are pushing English on the world, according to a TED talk I watched. This might be true. My students were interested in movies and music that occurred in English. They saw from time to time white people from wealthier countries who spoke English, like myself, and they wanted to communicate with them. It's not like the US where people are content to only speak one language. Everyone saw speaking other languages, including Spanish and Italian, as potentially beneficial, inspire of the poverty of opportunity that exists in Madagascar, the most severe poverty on the island in my quasi-informed opinion. As Rory said, it's complicated. I once heard something cynical from an AG sector PCV: you can't eat English. It's true. Teaching English in a poor country where nutrition can be a problem? At the end of the day you are, as Rory said, reminding students that studying hard will pay off. You are sharing things and aspects of American culture and breaking down stereotypes about Americans which they never would have had without you. You are doing something that can't be quantified. But English can help people there better their lives, though. I don't doubt this. It's not really a stepping stone out into the world outside of Madagascar because this is too costly for the majority of people (although one of my Malagasy friends is visiting the US and myself!!!! This is almost unheard of. He's a judge. He's really interested in speaking English and American culture). It's more of something that will help them gain a good job in the country. They will meet more foreigners. Do business with them. Might even marry them. It opens doors any way you look at it.

clayHarvest3 karma

What's one thing you never travel without?

onzroad1 karma

This seems like a good question for a gearhead. There are plenty of volunteers who can (and do) talk about the merits of certain flashlights as opposed to others, etc. I'm not like that. My answer, which would no doubt upset such people, is an i-Phone. When I came to the island I didn't bring one, but my parents visited me a year in and my dad gave me his old i-Phone4s. It was super useful. I used it as my in country phone for texting and calling (after cutting down a local SIM card), for face timing friends and family back home, for sending emails and doing internet research which was vital to me getting into grad school where I am now, blogging, news, etc. PCVs all over the island use i-phones. They are handy and necessary. The internet in your pocket? Can't beat that.

thearchersbowsbroke3 karma

How did you find the difficulties of learning a foreign language that many people would consider to be pretty obscure? I only ask this because a coworker at my old job left to join the Peace Corps, and now she's doing aquaculture in Zambia. She wrote a bit about her difficulties with the language, so I'm just curious what your thoughts were.

onzroad4 karma

Learning a lesser known language in a poor country is not without unique difficulties, chiefly among them being there are not a wealth of Malagasy language resources (books, cds, etc.) available to you or even in existence. Your chief resource becomes the people around you that you come to know. You are learning a language for oral communication, not to write it extensively or read extensively. So getting out and speaking to people as much as possible and jotting down unfamiliar words and then trying to find out the meaning, through a dictionary or more talking, and then studying these words--this becomes your main study system. I gradually found more materials as I was in country, and better materials, especially for grammar, so I think this is slowly changing for future volunteers. After two years, I tested out at "low advanced." I could understand a great deal and talk about a variety of subjects using varied structures, but I still lacked a firm grasp of the three voices that Malagasy uses, something that is very different from English, as well as made little mistakes, etc. At a certain point my language started to fossilize and it was hard for me to figure out what I needed to do to keep getting better and feel that I was progressing. I took my final language ability test in my region's dialect, which is another factor in language skills. There are different dialects of Malagasy spoken in different regions of Madagascar and there is a "standard" Malagasy that is spoken in the capital area (historically the center of political power and money) as well as schools/official functions to a great degree. This is something that it takes living on the island of Madagascar to appreciate and something I try to emphasize to anyone: Madagascar is VERY diverse, not only in terms of its flora and fauna but also in terms of its people. One count of the number of tribes that call Madagascar home is 21. I had four different tribes that lived in my town at least. They have been living next to each other for a long time and their dialects, to me, were very similar. To me. One of my friends would do impressions of the different local tribes and then I could see big differences. The people that I talked to in my town often definitely made things easier for me when we spoke by avoiding a heavy use of dialect. In the end, learning Malagasy and bits of dialect of Malagasy was a great privilege. It's one of the only SVO languages in the world! They say for example "eat RICE I" ("mihinana ny VARY izaho" or in the Antefasy dialect "mihinany nge VARY iaho.")

Like this post? Up vote! Watch my friend's video and vote for him!


af_03 karma

What was the most unexpected thing you experienced/had to adapt to?

onzroad2 karma

You VOTED right!?

One of the most unexpected things that I saw occurred at a funeral of my friend's father. It lasted three days and nights straight and my friend often called me over to his house at odd hours, 4am or 4pm, during these three days as he was deep in grief. When the body arrived from the capital at 3am or so on the top of the local transportation, a taxi brousse, everyone stopped napping in the room where the body would be taken and ran out of the house to greet it and see. Once it was carried inside, while people crowded around, I was surprised to see that it would be an open casket funeral. I was more surprised to see that many of the younger men in the family had video cameras and camera cameras and were taking photos and videos of the body and funeral proceedings. I guess this was taboo in my mind, so when I saw this taboo being broken it shocked me. Why would you want to replay such a sad event? Didn't this cheapen it? Apparently this is done in different places on the island. So the funeral went on and at one point my friend took the blanket off his deceased father and wrapped it around himself, at which point everyone in the room did not say anything or seem to move but seemed to convey that this was not to be done as one of the younger men in the family who was heading things sternly told my friend that this was "fady" (forbidden) and told him to stop and tried to counsel him. This was all very odd for me, being the only foreigner there, seeing this go on and wondering if the culture permitted it or if my friend was violating the unspoken rules of his culture and to what degree he was if he was (and should I then be associating my reputation with this individual who is allowing the death of his father to affect him so deeply that he is doing rash things and, also, taking to drinking too much, something he had given up before but is not exactly frowned upon in the culture if you are a man, at least in this situation... where are the lines in the sand where you should show or not show compassion?). Honestly, and I have never shared this with many people, I was sitting next to my friend and the blanket got tossed over my head, the same blanket that had been touching a dead body. I pushed it off and recoiled, as of course you naturally feel inclined not to touch a dead body because it might carry disease. It's the greatest taboo. But I survived and my friend survived, although our relationship slowly deteriorated as he drank more and more. He was still one of my friends who helped me with my things as I was leaving my town for good. I don't have any way of contacting him so I don't know what he is doing right now. I think in the end I did right by trying to show him the compassion that I could and by being there at the funeral. Many people seemed to appreciate it. It was one of the more out of the ordinary experiences of my life, and I appreciate that my friend and his family shared it with me. The father was a good man. I used to see him everyday on my bike ride home from school. He died unexpectedly, seemingly healthy, not too old, and some in the family, especially my friend, blamed it on black magic. It was more likely a heart attack. Don't think that everyone in Madagascar believes in such things. But in some tribes in some parts of some of the island, there are some individuals who still talk about such things, especially as they relate to people being jealous of the success of others and looking to undo them.

katiebug881 karma

Is it very difficult and competitive becoming a PCV? I've been thinking about doing it for a while, but my bachelor's degree is from an art school and I don't think it will relate to any of their missions. I have done a lot of traveling and volunteering and think it seems like something I would absolutely love to do, but most of the programs I've seen are for specific college degrees that I don't have! I have been considering going back to school for nursing or public health, but not totally sure if I am going to do it or not.

Also I grew up in Detroit and always love hearing about people who love the city and are trying to make it even better :)

onzroad1 karma

The best thing to do is just apply. It might have become more competitive now that you can choose where you want to go and the applications have increased, but just apply. Talk to a recruiter about how to make yourself more competitive. And just because you don't have a degree in nursing doesn't mean you wouldn't make a good health volunteer. Most health volunteers I met didn't have a health related degree and did things like malaria awareness events, get grants to build toilets, go to different communities and talk about washing your hands and basic health, weigh babies, etc. It's something that it takes a special person to do for two years, something that no BA in anything could prepare you for. Don't think that you don't have what it takes. Good luck! Jeremy

AlmightyB1 karma

I did some charity work in Madagascar and a lot of your responses are bringing back memories! Particularly about the rice...

Have you ever been to the south west?

onzroad2 karma

Like Tulear? Yes. My friend is a judge in Ankazoabo which is right outside that city and, if fate conspires in our direction, he will be visiting the US in the near future. I visited him out there. I really liked the people and the dialect. Very different than anywhere else on the island. The dahalo culture out there is interesting as much as things that lead to people getting killed can be interesting. My judge friend has two former dahalo living on his compound. He had them take me out to the countryside to meet their family in an ox drawn wagon. It was an interesting experience. It was as remote as I got in Madagascar. I think an NGO car had been out that way a few years ago and no one since. They wanted to kill an ox just for my arrival but I luckily convinced my friend after much effort that it wouldn't be necessary. Memories indeed.

tlmma1 karma

Is there any hope in becoming a PCV if you are not good at learning new languages?

onzroad1 karma

Another recruiter question! I will tell you though that I study applied linguistics and there is no such thing as not being good at learning a new language. There are factors that make you more or less successful, including your level of motivation, but with hard work you can learn any language you want. Trust me. I wouldn't worry about that, unless you are particularly lazy. But if you are particularly lazy, you can always recognize this and work on it and overcome it before you ever step foot in another country, you know what I mean? Learning a language is simply studying and knowing how to study. It can be learned, improved upon, etc. If you want to teach English and depending on where you teach, a language skill might not be as important as another skill you have. The thing about the Peace Corps is that you are sharing your SKILLS with a 3rd world country so it's best to develop skills to share before you go. I wish I would have studied more about teaching before I went to Madagascar, but of course this wasn't the case and I learned over time. Good Luck! Jeremy

tlmma1 karma

I appreciate the response, after struggling so much with Spanish for years in high school I just don't have very good language confidence. What kind of jobs other than teaching are there? I'm about to graduate with a criminal justice degree and I'm not sure how to put myself in a good place to potentially join in a few years

onzroad1 karma

Like I said, talk to a recruiter. There are many volunteer positions you could do with the Peace Corps. Don't worry about the language part. And rest assured that your BA couldn't prepare you for what you would be signing up for no matter what it is in. You are leaving behind your friends and family for TWO years. You are leaving behind comfort and normality. Your attitude and goals are going to see you through that, not your college degree, although one is necessary to join so good job--you are on the right track! And do your research too. The Peace Corps isn't the only volunteer organization in the world and it isn't for everyone. I've offended at least one person by reminding them of this but anyone who is considering joining who gets offended by being told the truth that they ONLY know of the Peace Corps when there are a gazillion other ways to go abroad---it's not going to help anyone if you don't explore all of your options. There are plenty of volunteers who leave early because they realize hey, this isn't for me. Sometimes they should have figured that out before coming to country. Sometimes they figure it out on the plane ride over and turn right back around as soon as it lands. Other times the fact that your experience will be so different depending on where you wind up--they couldn't have known. But you are making a commitment. It's serious. It's 27 months.

tlmma1 karma

I appreciate the detailed response, could you give me some names of other organizations to look into? I definitely want to do my research beforehand.

onzroad1 karma

Google "volunteer programs similar to the peace corps." It pulls up dozens of links and posts about things you should consider before making the Peace Corps commitment. Check out this one:

Someone posted below about how they are teaching English as a volunteer in Madagascar through some other volunteer program. There are too many volunteer abroad programs to count and unfortunately I can't tell you what the best ones are. I know people who have WWOOFed abroad, done a stint abroad, worked as an au pair to live abroad, and gone through random volunteer organizations. Just start googling and good luck!

somegaychick1 karma

How did you guys get into the Peace Corps?
What tips/advice do you have for someone who is considering the Peace Corps in the (somewhat near) future?

onzroad1 karma

I applied! It's not a secret organization! This information is all over the internet so I won't repeat it here. Contact a recruiter. Talk to RPCVs. That said, I will give you two somewhat conflicting pieces of advice to chew on. First, do you ACTUALLY want to do the Peace Corps? The full TWO years? Do you know what you are signing up for and do you think it will help you achieve your long-term goals? Do you have long-term goals? Your answer could end up being no, I actually don't want to do the Peace Corps; I can be more fulfilled doing something else that would also allow me to be abroad for some time. It could be yes, this is exactly what I want. The thing is I have no respect for people who do the Peace Corps blindly without doing everything they can to find out what they are committing to for TWO years. There is no respect in this but it's more common than you'd think. Secondly, no RPCV that I have ever talked to has regretted the experience. Most RPCVs look back at their service as a time they did something out of the ordinary, maybe extraordinary, all with the idealistic notion that they could help someone, although they probably learned that in the end they received more than they gave. Countless RPCVs with very few exceptions see the experience as one of the most valuable in their lives. So there's that. I know that 40 years from now, when I'm 66, the Peace Corps will stand out prominently in my mind, as will all the people I met and things I learned. Good luck to you! -Jeremy

Please VOTE :)

Laza1231 karma

Hey, im interested in joining the peace corps. Hows the pay and where can i apply for more info? awesome read thank you guys.

onzroad1 karma

Look at the website. And there is no pay. You're a VOLUNTEER.

jessyunako1 karma

What made you both want to volunteer for the peace corps? And are your experiences radically different than what you imagined they would be like?

onzroad1 karma

If you read the post below, you will see that there are PCVs who live on an island off the coast of the island of Madagascar where French people honeymoon. What!? Yes, Peace Corps is completely diverse and unpredictable and varies greatly between countries of service and from site to site and person to person. Rory lived in a small village. I lived in a small urban center of 50,000 people. He now lives in a bigger town. I lived a stone's throw from the beach. It was a true slice of paradise. I made friends with NGO workers in my town and saw PCVs often as they traveled through my town for banking or work or a brief R&R away from site. Some PCVs rarely saw a non-Malagasy person for several months. But it's not like I never saw Rory. We had crazy adventures together. We biked down remote paths and hiked through jungles that few Westerners had ever set eyes on while talking and laughing and joking with local people in THEIR language. It doesn't get cooler than that. But his experience was different. My town had all the food you want. I used to make fun of him for eating a lot of rice with ketchup. There's really no telling what your experience will be like until you've been at site for a long time.

In terms of expectations, I never would have guessed how DIVERSE Madagascar is, not only in terms of its flora and fauna, but also in terms of its people and its climates and landscapes. Yes, Malagasy people mainly live in Madagascar, but what is a Malagasy person? There are so many tribes that all call the island home. Maybe they can't even understand each other due to differences in dialect, having been separated for so many years. Maybe they historically don't like each other. Maybe they do! All sorts of permutations are possible. And there are all sorts of ex-pats who call the island home. Some of them do bad things like steal rosewood trees and export it or mine gemstones and then take them off the island and sell them for huge profits while the Malagasy people see little to nothing. Or worst of all they engage in sex tourism with children. Some ex-pats are French ex-pats who maybe speak Malagasy and maybe don't and who never left when French stoppped calling Mada a colony in the 60s. Some expats are Arabic. There is a big mosque up in the north and smaller mosques in many towns, including my city down in the Sud-Est. DIVERSITY. You can't imagine. It's the one thing I want people to know about the world. When you think of any country in Africa (and most Americans think Africa is a country it seems), it will have a dizzying array of different people with different histories and possibly different dialects and different ways of seeing the world. The colonial countries who drew the lines on the map that created a lot of the countries we see today never appreciated this. There are only 260 something countries but there are over 7000 languages in the world. It goes a long way in explaining why you see so much ethnic conflict I feel.

As for why I wanted to become a PCV, I guess it was diversity. I went to an all-white Catholic middle school and high school in KC, MO. It almost seems criminal looking back on it. I can't believe privilege can be allowed to concentrate like that and no one says or does anything about it. Reading that so many people in the world live on next to nothing everyday, I was always deeply moved. I knew that my experiences were so much at odds with the vast majority of the world's population. I wanted to see what was up with this. At the same time I was getting into ESL teaching, and had gone and returned from a brief experience teaching ESL in South Korea which really gave me the travel bug. I had also always wanted to do the Peace Corps ever since I first heard about it. I respect older people and the wisdom they have. I've never heard someone look back on their Peace Corps experience and say, I wish I had never done that. Most people look back on it and say, wow, I can't believe I was lucky enough to do that. Of course, you go off to do the Peace Corps because you want to save the world or something and think you are going to help a bunch of poor people lift themselves out of poverty. You wind up being the one being helped as you fumble the language and culture and need to be fed and clothed and looked after and entertained. You wind up with a sense of gratitude and try to repay it in different ways. Little ways. Like starting this reddit. Trying to let people know that Madagascar is not just some silly movie by a company that has never given a dime to the actual impoverished country. That people actually call this island home. That these people are not just the starving faces you imagine when you imagine Africa. That they are talented and want the exact same things you do. A good job. A good college degree. A good life. And they want the same for their kids.

Thanks for voting!

dangusdrungus1 karma

Thank you for all the work you are doing! I am a 3rd year college student about to travel to Madagascar to help teach English. What should I expect? I am going through a volunteer organization and will be spending my time on the islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Kamba. I will be staying there for 10 weeks. I also plan to apply to be a PCV in about 1 year. Any advice on volunteering in another country, especially Madagascar, would be great. I have never traveled abroad before and am getting kind of nervous. Thank you again for your service and taking the time to do this AMA!!

onzroad1 karma

Akory! Thanks for joining us. Your situation is interesting indeed! I've never heard of any other organizations other than the Peace Corps that send volunteer English teachers to Mada. What program/organization/etc. are you going through? As for what you should expect, you should expect to be living on an island paradise right off the coast of another island paradise. Thank your lucky stars or however that expression goes. Nosy Be is where French people honeymoon. Lots of ex-pats. More access to Western goods and services. One of the most touristy spots in Mada. Nosy Kamba has some of the best scuba-ing/snorkeling around. Unfortunately Nosy Be also has a huge sex tourism trade. That can be disgusting/heart breaking to see. There is probably at least one Peace Corps Volunteer English teacher on Nosy Be. You should seek this person out and get some advice about teaching and life there. It will inevitably show you how crazy diverse every Peace Corps experience is. Teaching on NOSY BE through the Peace Corps!? It's definitely not what people imagine when they think "Peace Corps." But there is real work to be done on Nosy Be. AIDS awareness raising. Work to stop sex trafficking. The beauty of English teaching is that you can incorporate all of this into lessons. General advice: learn how to teach BEFORE you go. Look into free online materials. Watch youtube videos. Know about lesson planning and some of the ins and outs of English teaching. Get experience doing this if possible before you go. That way when you do volunteer you will really be offering a skill to the locals from the start. Of course it takes some time to get used to the teaching situation no matter what, but the more confident you are in the classroom, the better. Bring your own teaching materials if you don't trust your organization to provide you with some good ones. If you have read some of the posts above, however, you should also know that you are probably going to encounter a very different teaching situation than you would in the US. The students will have unique needs. They might not even truly need English as much as other life skills, for example. So it's good to adjust your expectations, go in with an open mind, and seek to share something with them above all. Bring plenty of photos of your friends and family--which can be used in the perfect lesson about making a family tree and describing family vocab. The relationships that you develop there will end up being the most meaningful part of the experience for you. Focus on these relationships and don't get distracted by anything else like whether your "doing it right" when teaching (just have fun with it!) and you will look back on it all with joy and gratitude. Best of luck! -Jeremy

dangusdrungus1 karma

Thank you so much for this. You have no idea what this information does for me. I am going to be volunteering with VolunteerHQ, a company based in New Zealand. What would be the best way to contact the Peace Corps Volunteer who is on Nosy Be (if there is one)?

onzroad1 karma

Look on Facebook. There are tons of PCV groups for Madagascar. Start asking around on them. Try to join this group:

I'll accept you and then you can ask around (Who is the PCV in Nosy Be? I'd like to talk to her/him, etc.)

Best, J