I heard from a friend in D.C. about a close neighbor, a young woman studying at New York University, who applied to the Peace Corps, via the Peace Corps Recruiter, a grad student, working on the NYU campus.

The woman writes: “My neighbor’s daughter applied to the Peace Corps. She waited for months to get a response from her NYU PC recruiter. Then she found out that the campus recruiter had left campus months earlier and no one had given her a ‘heads up.’”

The young woman was seeking a slot in the Ukraine program last year and it was so mishandled by the New York Peace Corps Recruitment Office, and the NYU campus based Recruiter that she didn’t get appointed.

She asked to be considered for the next Ukraine program, as she speaks Russian fluently, and the Peace Corps Placement person at PC/HQ in D.C. told her to ‘take another assignment’ or   fuhgeddaboudit.

Sound familiar?

After 50 years of this agency, when is the Peace Corps going to get its Selection and Placement right?

Now, with full disclosure, I was manager of the New York Recruitment Office for five years in the mid-’90s and saw a lot of ‘problem’ applications, and unrealistic demands from Applicants, as well as strange requests from PC/HQ. I know it is tough, this recruitment process.

But, we have all been told by the Acting Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, that things will get better soon. She talked about it at her recent speech at the National Press Club. In part, she said:

“And we’re streamlining the selection and assignment process from start to finish …we’re working towards a shorter application, with plans to take it down from more than 60 printed pages that took more than eight hours to complete to a short online application that will take less than one hour to complete…. our new online platform now allows applicants to connect with projects and Volunteers on the ground ….applicants will be able to map their Peace Corps futures by applying to a specific job in a specific country, with a specific start date.”

Changes take time, she said. We won’t get there overnight. (That’s the Peace Corps we know and love…it always take time. As we use to say in Ethiopia, ishi nega.)

Who’s to blame for what happened to this woman who wanted to go to the Ukraine?

Trying to look at it objectively, I asked my RPCV friend in D.C. It is not the young woman student’s fault….Did she not realize that she had to ‘be on the ball’ with the Peace Corps on-campus recruiter?

My RPCV friend replied, “The NYU Recruiter was just incompetent, uncaring and did not follow through.”

Well, after missing out on campus, the young woman Applicant ran into troubles with the Peace Corps Washington/Placement Office.  They, too, in VRS, mishandled this application.

Having graduated with honors from NYU, with fluency in Russian, Spanish and Chinese, this young woman applicant, who wanted to go to Ukraine, is offered Azerbaijan. She writes back to Placement that she knows she could contribute so much more if she served in Ukraine because of her Russian language ability and her love of the country. She is willing to wait for the next training group.

A woman named Heather, an RPCV herself, writes back with this haughty email: “I will not be considering you for a second invitation. …We do not consider someone for a second invitation because they were invited to a country/region that did not align with their preference.” (Bold not added by me.)

That’s an odd reply. That was never done when I was in the agency. As my RPCV friend in D.C. writes me: “In other words, we don’t want you because you have expressed an interest in a specific country so that must mean that you don’t really want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Don’t we want PCVs to be in countries they want to be in? And who has the language skills?

“Wouldn’t a Recruiter want to select individuals who want the assignment and are qualified for it? That does not mean they won’t learn anything in the country. It just means they will start contributing sooner and arrive on the ground - ready and able to go to work.”

Heather continues to lambast our poor, innocent applicant, writing further: “Many RPCVs, myself included, would tell you they had a successful and happy service, in a country they would not have grouped among their preferences when they originally applied to Peace Corps. Given the many factors that must be considered when determining final placement decisions, you were placed in the program that is the best fit for you as determined by Peace Corps.”

In other words: “Take that! We decide, honey, not you.”

Heather has more to say: “I would like to encourage you to reconsider your invitation to Azerbaijan, while also considering all your motivations for pursuing a position with Peace Corps and in doing so, determine if you feel the rewards that come with being a Peace Corps Volunteer and serving and living in an underserved community, outweigh your preferences and preconceived notions of what their service would be like. (Bold not added by me.)

Then Heather adds that if she doesn’t hear back with ‘a few days’ she’s pull from the file the woman’s application.

In other words, young woman, fluent in three languages, honor student out of NYU, you’re history. That’s why in Washington they call the agency, ‘the warm, friendly and fuzzy Peace Corps.’)

So, what happened?

My RPCV friend in Washington, the neighbor who, out of the kindness of her heart and love for the Peace Corps, has been trying to help this young woman serve, tells me: “The young student, her neighbor, went to the Ukraine on her own, getting a private school job teaching ESL. Recently she returned because of the ‘political unrest’ leaving Kiev after the Peace Corps Volunteers were evaluated early for ‘their safely.’ She stayed as long as she could but there weren’t enough ESL students for her to teach at the school. She didn’t have a job.”

Soon all of that ‘processes’ will change, according to Carrie, once the new system ‘kicks in’; we can count on that, or as Sarah Palin might add, ‘you betcha.’

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