Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Process of applying to PC and some advice for new PCVs going to the DR

Hello all. I have been meaning to write this pretty much since I got in-country. I decided to just write how the whole process of first applying to PC all the way to staging went for me and included some advice along the way too. I hope it helps someone. It’s long. If you have any questions let me know. Enjoy.

The Application:

I had heard that this was going to be long and tedious. I personally didn’t think that it was so bad though. There is an online application, which is the one I did. On top of the application I had to supply student load information (and any other debt I may have), three essays and three letters of recommendation. I hadn’t written essays for an application since high school when I was applying for scholarships and I have only had to get letters of recommendation once before this, but it wasn’t bad, just hyped up.

I began my application in October of 2007 and submitted it in February 2008. I didn’t realize I could submit the application without my letters of recommendation or else I would have submitted it sometime in December. I had some problems getting one letter in particular; it was from a boss who actually wanted me to fill the thing out!! No way was I doing that! It was weird to me since, after that person backed out, the person who finally did it for me only needed about 20 or 30 minutes to complete it. Advice: don’t warn people it could be had to do, they may try to get you to fill it out:)

The Recruiter:

In March I went to my sister’s in NY for Spring Break (why couldn’t she have moved somewhere warm with beaches?!) I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of PC still but it seemed everywhere I went I saw adds like: “Never start a sentence with ‘I should have’” so I decided to contact a recruiter from the Chicago office and get things going- that’s right- the marketing ads got me. We set up an appointment for the next week which happened to be the day after a career fair I was planning on attending at my university.

I went to the career fair and was not impressed. I thought if I had to work at one of those jobs after college I may as well stay in school and defer my future as long as possible. I was glad I had my PC interview the next day. I wasn’t nervous when I arrived; my recruiter was late and there was a very laid back atmosphere.

The interview went really well, I thought. He asked me questions like why I want to join (I want to help people, learn another language and travel) and what I was majoring in (Public Health which he said was a great fit in any country) and if I had any language experience (3 semesters of Spanish plus some in high school). He asked if I had any volunteer experience. Nope. Have I ever traveled abroad? Nope. What’s the longest I’ve been away from my family and friends? Never. He sat back and looked at me, a little unsure what to say. Finally he asked me how I thought I was going to deal with being away for so long. I don’t know, I was just going to kind of jump in. I told him I wasn’t much of a planner anyways. I decided it wasn’t the time to reminisce with the recruiter over my first night at college after my family left me to settle in, I freaked out and drove home to spend the night: my new roommate (or life) made me nervous. My Mom was surprised to see me the next morning.

Despite my inexperience the recruiter told me he thought I would be a great fit. I think it was the “not planning” thing. PC definitely requires flexibility. Great, I had aced the interview. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for him to nominate me. I walked out of that interview knowing what I would be doing after I graduated in two months, what a relief! There weren’t any questions in my mind after that except where and when I would be going.

Before I got my nomination, my recruiter called me and asked me if I had a preference of where I would like to go, he needed to nominate me for a region. I told him I wanted to go to Central America. He didn’t have anything available in August which was when I said I was available to go. The soonest he had Central America was in February! Ick, my loans would be out of their grace period by then… no thank you. I asked what he had in August; my main thing was that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country. I didn’t really care where it was (also, as far as I knew, all the Spanish speaking countries are warm which I was happy about). He said I would have to have another Spanish class if I wanted to be nominated for a Spanish speaking program; that I would have to have 4 semesters. I told him I had taken only 3 classes but it was the equivalent of 4 semesters so he told me I would just need to fax him my transcripts and it should satisfy the requirements. He said he had somewhere in the Caribbean which was open in August. I couldn’t think of a place that spoke Spanish in the Caribbean at the time and so I was actually disappointed but the next spots he had were for Africa in October and November. I told him I wasn’t sure since I really wanted somewhere that speaks Spanish. He told me to think about it and he would call me back the next day. He also made sure to tell me that he didn’t get to pick where he went when he was in PC.

A week later, after calling him two or three times and leaving him an email or two, I finally got a hold of him and told him I had decided that everything happens for a reason so go ahead and put me there, wherever “there” was in the Caribbean. He told me he would and then at the very end told me to brush up on my Spanish. Why? Because it’s a Spanish speaking program he nominated me for. Well, that would have been nice to know a week ago. So, I looked up the places PC sends people in the Caribbean and the Spanish clue narrowed it down to the DR. I didn’t have it in stone but I was pretty sure I was going to the DR.

It was about a week later, the beginning of April, when I got the official notification in my PC Toolkit (my online profile assigned to me when I filled out my application) telling me I was nominated for the Caribbean. I was pretty excited. I thought I would get through the medical and dental part pretty quick and then find out where I was going!!

Medical and Dental Clearance:

I thought that the application was going to be the worst part but noooooo- this was by far the worst part. After I was nominated I received my medical and dental forms. I was told that they were very urgent and I had to be especially speedy about completing them since I was supposed to leave in August. I wanted to try and make appointments for shots and physicals right away but without the forms I wasn’t able to. The forms came pretty fast though- Fed Ex.

The medical was difficult because it was so thorough. It was a few pages of forms to fill out. I had to get copies of my last Pap report, copies of records of my childhood shots, copies of my Hep A, B and C shots, a TB test, a polio shot, a hearing and vision test by a certified person, lab work on my blood that only a lab in CA would do so it had to be sent out, other blood work, an AIDS screening, one type of test that I had to call four places before anyone even knew what it was (some test for a specific allergy), I had to get a UA done three times because there was always something minor wrong… the list goes on and on. FYI: When I tried to get the polio vaccine there was a 2-3 week waiting list. If you’re on a tight schedule I would suggest making an appointment for this as soon as possible, before you get the form in the mail. Hopefully the form will be there when you get stuck so the doctor can sign off then and there but if not you can always bring the form in when you get it. I had to go to several different places for all this stuff, it was a huge pain.

An even bigger pain was when I was told I would have to get my wisdom teeth out. I took my dental form to my dentist and left it with her for about a week to fill out. Poor woman, it was definitely not fun to do. I had to get all new x- rays since mine were all just over the two year limit- that’s right: just two years. My dentist wrote a little note that I still had my wisdom teeth but they weren’t erupted. Someone in the PC office thought it would be better if I had them out. So, with only a few weeks until I graduated and my insurance ended, I had to get my teeth out as soon as they had an opening: two days before my birthday.

After I had everything done and mailed to DC, I had problems with some results of test (like my UA) so I had to have more tests repeated and send the results in. I also had to get a statement from my oral surgeon, on his letterhead and signed (on top of the dental form he completed and signed) stating how my surgery went and how my mouth was a month afterwards. I’m a healthy person too! No allergies, no medications, never broken a bone in my life… I can’t imagine what someone who is older or has any health problems has to go through. In all it only took about a month, minus the straggler repeat tests but it took a LOT of time. Remember to make copies of everything; I had to fax some things more than once.


I finished everything, minus the letter from the surgeon and the few re-do tests, by the beginning of May. I didn’t hear anything from the PC until early July. It was Thursday, July 3rd and I was on the way to my brother’s apartment complex to go swimming and then to the Taste of Chicago. The PO called me and accidentally met to call someone else! When we realized she wasn’t talking to whom she thought she apologized and told me she would call me in 15 minutes. She called me over an hour later. We had a phone interview and she was telling me she noticed I had no experience away from home. I guess I didn’t impress her much; maybe it was the pool I was staring at waiting to go into for the last hour that was distracting me. No matter what it was she told me she questioned how I would adjust and questioned my dedication to be in PC. She wanted a personal statement, a Readiness Essay answering very specific questions and researching people’s blogs. And she wanted it by Sunday since Monday was the last day that the program for which I had been nominated was open to place people in. Great, I had to write a persuasive research essay over 4th of July weekend! Not to mention the fact that it was the 4th of July, I also had to work a ton that weekend. And now the pressure was on: I really had to write this essay well.

I figured I didn’t want to miss my chance so I had better have it to her by Saturday night. That Sunday (I guess she works on Sundays) she called me to tell me she loved my essay and she had placed me. But she still couldn’t tell me where! She said she was going to send it in the mail that week so I would be getting it soon. I had my mom’s address as the address on file so I called her everyday to see if anything came. I’ll never forget when it finally did.

I was at work when my Mom called and couldn’t take her call right away. When I called her back about 30 minutes later she had already ready all the stuff they sent and asked if I wanted her to read it again, exasperation in her voice. Are you kidding me? She read it (again) and there it was, finally on paper: I was going to the DR and was going to be a Community Health Extensionist (a phrase I have not heard once since I’ve been in the DR). The description of what I would be doing didn’t turn out to be very accurate but I didn’t know that then; at least it was some kind of information to mull over. It also had my leave date: August 19th- 21st were to be staging and then the 21st I would leave for the DR. Whew! I wasn’t sure how I felt. I thought I should be excited or nervous or something, but nope. It was like, Hmmm, ok then. Here I go… A feeling I’ve had pretty much since that day in July but with a lot more awkwardness since being in the DR.


These weren’t hard to get, the hardest part was filling out the vague forms. I filled out the Visa form and then at the very end realized it said I had to use blue ink. I had done the whole thing in black ink. I also made a mistake or two and when I went online to print out another copy, I couldn’t find one. I called the SATO travel number that was given with the forms for some guidance. The woman I spoke with was soooo rude!! She talked to me like I was retarded and all the answers were on the form if I had just read the form properly. What service and for the record: the answers were not on the sheet.

It was more stressful than it should have been since this like everything else was on a time crunch. I discovered that my birth certificate was MIA, which is needed for the passport. So I had to drive about 2 hours to the court house of the county I was born in and pick up another one. I had a few problems with that but it worked out.

Right before my trip to the court house I went to Walgreens to get my picture taken for the passport and visa (it was only half as much as the court house). After I had my certificate of birth I headed over to get my passport and visa taken care of. There were two ladies working: one was new and she didn’t know what a “no fee” passport was and the other was ignoring me, telling me that only military qualify for a “no fee” passport. Even though I had the letter from PC with me and I showed it to her, she was doubtful and it took a lot longer than it should have. Then they told me that my picture may be denied by the passport office because it was taken at Walgreens and the background wasn’t white but was off white. Great. I didn’t have any problems though. I sent it that day Fed Ex and it was ready for me by the time I got to staging which was a month or less later.


I was so excited when I got my staging stuff. It was a mixed emotion though, kind of like Oh gosh, what am I going to have to do now? But it was simple. When I got my description packet about the DR and my job, I had to read through the materials and call a number within 10 days. Well, it went to my mom’s house so by the time I got it I had like 2 days. I quickly read though it (luckily) and called the number to accept. The woman on the other line actually quizzed me about the information in my packet! After I passed the little test I was told I would be getting a staging packet within a few days. I would have to call a travel agent and set up a flight.

The travel agent I spoke with was very nice and helpful. She told me she booked someone for the same flight as me, which was comforting. My staging was in Miami whereas some past groups have had it in DC. I can’t really think of anything else worth noting about this except that staging is incredibly boring with lots of “teambuilding” exercises. They give you a lot of spending money; save as much as you can because you’ll get hardly any money the whole 3 months in training. I thought staging was a waste of time and tiring. I hardly slept. Be ready to have your picture taken right when you get there. I looked pretty unattractive since the power was out (so no AC and no elevators) and I had to walk up 20 flights of stairs to get to the meeting place- yes in Miami in August. Also, for some reason it was harder for me in staging and I cried every night there. Since I’ve been here though I have had very few problems with homesickness so if you find yourself in the same boat, try to not worry. It’s easier once you leave and the process really begins.


I probably shouldn’t have waited until the afternoon before I was going to leave for 2 years to pack but I had other things to do, you know? I took a look at the suggested packing list earlier and thought it was a little ridiculous: business casual? Could you define that? Is that like kakis and a polo or is it like nice black pants and a dress shirt? And besides, I’m going to a hot island- I don’t want o wear hot stuffy business clothes. Not to mention my job description said I may be building latrines… business causal just seems wrong. So, I packed clothes I thought could pass between nice dress pants and jeans- aka kakis.

Here’s my advice on packing but keep in mind I am a health PCV which means what I think I should have packed maybe isn’t the same as what a youth or CED PCV should have packed: the group that trains PCTs in the DR is called Entrena. They want you to look nice in business casual. I think there is a balance to be had that is not portrayed in the packing list. To me it seemed that I should pack a lot of business casual. We get two suitcases to pack our life for the next two years in and it’s a waste of space packing mostly business casual clothing. Odds are you’re not going to need business casual with dress pants, heels and the whole bit. I personally am going to be giving speeches a lot so I want to look a little nicer than jeans and am glad I have a bunch of in-between clothing (ie: simple, casual skirts that you could wear to class, navy blue shorts that go to my knee and I could wear with a dressier shirt or a tang top). Sometimes I wish I brought some heels but then I remember that I wouldn’t be able to walk in them with the way the roads are here anyways. But, when you go to the capitol (has good, paved roads and sidewalks) and want to go out, heels would be nice. Plus, you want to make a good impression when you’re doing your interviews (during your first three months), but again I personally wouldn’t wear dress pants. It’s totally up to you though, Dominicans wouldn’t care if you were dressed up but for versatility and space in packing, I would advise leaving the dress clothes at home.

I suggest bringing tank tops/spaghetti strapped shirts if you want, even though Entrena says you can’t wear them. By the end of training everyone is dressed much more relaxed (yes even in jeans and T- shirts- gasp!) and it’s HOT in the capitol, especially if you’re in the August group like I was- comfort is key. I wish I had known that because I would have packed a lot more of the everyday clothes I wore at home and left some dress clothes in my closet.

Bring some clothes to work in too. As far as I know, health and water (maybe environment too, I’m not sure because there was no environment sector in my group) need some grubby clothes for CBT. The Health group built chicken coops and gardens and the water group built stuff all through CBT using concrete; it was very hands-on. I go out in jeans all the time here at my site; I just make sure to wear a necklace or something too if I’m doing interviews. I’m a very casual person at home and I’m still extremely casual here. I’ve heard that there are some places the education/youth people go where they are pretty picky about how long your sleeves are; they won’t let you in the building unless you have sleeves- so make sure to not pack all sleeveless shirts just in case.

People here really care about their appearance. If you have cheap jewelry, bring it. If you have some dress clothes, bring them. If you have clothes to go out in (just a couple:) bring them. But make sure you bring comfy T- Shirts and jeans too if that’s what you normally wear and are comfortable in. You can always go home and get stuff and you can always buy stuff here too but its better just to bring it with if you can. Make sure you bring something similar to a nice white shirt and a black skirt or pants (I prefer pants because they’re easier to ride a moto with) for funerals. I’ve been in my site less than a month and I have been invited to three memorials and one funeral.

Aside from clothing, I am sooooooo glad I brought my laptop. I write all the time as you can see. There are only about 5 people in my group of 50 who didn’t bring one. I watched a lot of movies on it during CBT and I charge my iPod to it. That’s right: iPod. I recommend taking that as well as a digital camera. There are a lot of things to take pictures of. I have insurance on everything (PC sends you info on it in your staging stuff) and I haven’t had any problems with theft. Also, BRING A HEADLAMP!!! I’m sure at some point during training, CBT or at your site you will be in a place with out constant power. A headlamp is so much better than a flashlight. Some other handy things: flash drive, surge protector, utility knife, pens (you can get them after you’ve learned how to use the public transportation system but the first two or three weeks can be long with only one pen), sturdy sandals (I’ve gone through a couple pairs of flip flops already) and tennis shoes. Don’t worry about taking up room with packing books: the PC office has a library and if you get placed up north there’s a place called the Hub (it’s a hotel for PCVs pretty much) and there’s a library there too. I also took my pillow (once again, you can buy one but it may be a while) and my best buddy Cameron the Duck (a stuffed animal if you want to be specific). I have bought rain boots and had a poncho sent to me since I couldn’t find one here. I cam during the rainy season and it was a pain not having an umbrella, poncho or any rain gear. You can buy a lot of things here but not everything and the things sold here from the states generally cost quite a bit more. Remember, you’re going to be making about 8500 pesos/month when you finally get to your site. It’s ridiculous how little money you receive for training. Nearly all the PCVs I’ve talked to said they don’t have enough to live off of and have to use money from home each month. If you don’t plan on leaving your site every (good luck with that) then you should be ok living off of your PC salary. If you can’t live without some brand of something, bring it. If not, be prepared to switch brands/types, or pay for it if it’s here and probably use money from home.

In Conclusion:

It took a long time to get into PC. It was frustrating and I don’t understand why they’re not more upfront with information but it is all worth it in the end. Don’t get overwhelmed by it; just look at it in steps because that’s what they are. Deal with each piece as you get it and before you know it you’ll be getting on the plane to the DR and you’ll already have tons of experience with PC and flexibility! Good luck!:)

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