Peace Corps After 50

[An edited version of this post also appears on the PBS website NextAvenue.]

Before Champa and I joined the Peace Corps at the age of 63, people asked us how we’d feel to be surrounded by volunteers younger than our two sons.

Well, many of our fellow volunteers are indeed in their 20s, and most of them are smart, enthusiastic and fun to be around. Yet Champa and I are hardly outliers. Fourteen of the 58 people in our training group — nearly one in four — are 50 or older.

IMG_8252Worldwide, Americans over age 50 comprise about 7 percent of the nearly 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers now serving in 63 countries around the world. With its better medical facilities and programs in fields such as business development that attract people with lots of real-world experience, Moldova attracts higher numbers.

Whatever their reasons for choosing Moldova, the older volunteers here are impressive. They’ve worked as professors, attorneys, IT managers, nonprofit leaders, teachers, city administrators and management consultants. They come from across the country, including two other older volunteers from North Carolina. They are single, widowed, divorced or, as with us and one other older couple, married and serving together. Like the volunteers here generally, they are also diverse, reflecting the country we represent.

IMG_8174We differ from our younger counterparts in some ways. Learning a new language may be tougher for us, although many of us are doing fine in our Romanian classes. We may run slower in a group soccer game, if we participate at all. When several younger friends went to get tattoos recently, they knew better than to invite me along. They also may party harder and make surprising cultural references. When I was in the Peace Corps office the other day, a Carole King song started playing and the young woman next to me said, “Hey, it’s that song from the Gilmore Girls!”

On the other hand, they’re usually polite when we make our own references to people and events from before they were born, so it tends to even out.

In Moldova and other Peace Corps countries, there are advantages to being an older volunteer. Many of these countries show great respect towards older people. Similarly, having children and grandchildren has provided Champa and me with an instant bond with older members of our new communities. Our experience enhances our credibility in our workplaces as well; my future colleagues have already checked me out online. Older volunteers can share their hobbies, too, as Champa hopes to do with art and gardening.

Peace Corps has a special website for older Americans interested in becoming volunteers. The site reviews the application process, which is competitive and includes an extensive medical clearance process.

One of my reasons for writing this blog, and this post in particular, is to encourage older readers to consider the Peace Corps or some other new challenge for themselves. It’s not as strange or exotic as they might think and shouldn’t just be dismissed with “Oh, I could never do that at my age.”

Obviously, many people have family obligations, medical problems and other constraints that make Peace Corps unrealistic. Nonetheless, it’s a proven program through which more than 220,000 Americans of all ages have served their country and the world — and had a great adventure in the process.

Personally, I’m already wondering what it will be like in two years to be back in America and surrounded by friends who are mostly older than the ones I’ve made here.

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11 thoughts on “Peace Corps After 50”

  1. Excellent post. It reflects very similar feelings and experiences of my husband and me during our service in Niger and Armenia. I am 72 and he is 75 . We find it hard to believe that we’ve been back home since July, 2013. We are still seeing our niche within our community and enjoy being back with our family. But service in the Peace Corps would not be traded for hardly anything. Enjoy and learn from every moment you have. Good luck!

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  2. Love the blog. Let’s spread the word. Peace corps is great opportunity to grow, stretch and become at any age. I did PC albania at age 60. Then, peace corps response georgia three years later. Will consider it again in future. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Joy. Obviously, the process differs from person to person. It’s thorough and time-consuming. Peace Corps is understandably careful about whether an applicant is likely to stay healthy during two years of service in conditions that may be challenging. If you’re basically healthy, though, as my wife and I are, you’ll probably make it through. If you have any questions, I encourage you to speak with a Peace Corps recruiter.

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  3. I loved reading this blog entry! I just COS’d 4 days ago from China, and even though I have a job secured for next year, I would really like to serve in PC again. Moldova sounds like a good place for us ‘olders.’ Maybe one day I can serve again one day in the future. It’s a good reason to go the extra mile to stay healthy!!

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  4. Hi David and Chamba. I am really enjoying reading about your adventures. I am currently being considered for PC Moldova… My Skype interview is this week. I love your title “Not Exactly Retired,” because it describes how I think of myself as well. After completing 25 years teaching kindergarten, I’m currently living in Ecuador and teaching ESL to adults and teens. And loving it. I’m afraid to get my hopes up yet, but I’m really excited about the possibilities the Peace Corps offers, and I love hearing your perspective as a not-quite-20-something. Thanks!

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