Deciding What To Do After Peace Corps and Money

What’s tough about returning from the Peace Corps as an older volunteer (ie. someone who didn’t go directly from college), is that even though you gain a lot of experience in that two years in a different environment, you have stayed fairly still in your career path.  It’s different if you are just out of school, and you haven’t ever received a good salary or promotions, if you are just starting out.  The problem with my boyfriend’s situation is that he did have a great career before he left, and if he had stayed his salary would have gone up tremendously over the two years, along with better titles.  Now though, since he has been out of the corporate environment for the last couple of years, it’s a tougher sell for some of his potential employers to realize how talented he is, since he was away for two years.  On the other hand, it’s not a complete reboot, but in some ways with the career switch, I think it feels like a bit of a small setback in terms of salary, so it’s tough.

Since he hasn’t had a job for five months and the Peace Corps only gives a $7k readjustment allowance, my boyfriend’s bank account is running thin.  Luckily, I have a good apartment we have been able to share for the last couple of months but the lack of cash flow is getting to him.  This is tough to see, and there are definitely days I’m not sure how best to help; he also refuses to borrow any money from me, which is probably for the best.  I have no problem covering our food and groceries (and am fortunate to have a great job), but he wants to be moved into a place he can call home, not just a place where he feels like he is staying.  So I can tell he is feeling anxious to return to work.  Recently he decided to take a job in the field he wants to pursue at a reduced salary for a few months.  As happy as I think he might be to making a move in the direction of his interest, I think it is also tough for him to be taking a bit of a step back.  That said, we both agree that this is a great time and chance for him to check out this field, and see if it’s actually interesting to him.  I actually haven’t felt anxious about him getting work, as I’m fine financially, I’m just more concerned that he finds something he is passionate and excited about doing.  Hopefully, this new gig will either confirm his desire to enter this new field, or redirect him to other possible options.

I guess, if you are an older volunteer (and by that I mean someone a few years out of college=27 years old+), try to have some money saved before you join up, as the stipend is minimal and the readjustment allowance will run out quickly.  My boyfriend did have savings before he left but he supplemented his stipend quite a bit during his Peace Corps service.  He didn’t live extravagantly by any means, but he did tend to eat out a lot.  Even though most meals were $5, the approximate $30/week he received as his stipend didn’t cover all his food, toiletries, etc.  So he emptied his savings during Peace Corps, as he also visited a couple countries around Kenya.  Again, I want to reiterate that he by no means lived extravagantly–and he wasn’t into the party/drinking scene, so there wasn’t a lot of excess money he was spending.  Additionally, the travel he did with other volunteers was also modest (hostel type places, etc.), but ultimately money goes fast.

The main reason to have money saved is to offer yourself some flexibility upon your return.  The five months since he has been back has flown by and seems like a lot of time–but really with family and friend visits, readjusting to life and deciding what to do next, it’s not a lot of time.  So just plan carefully, and try to overplan for the unexpected.

The toughest thing for me, is that I wish there were other ways I could help him but I also think I can’t figure out his life, or what he wants, so he just has to do it himself.  The best thing I can do is just listen (which is so hard for me to do sometimes instead of giving advice), and try to keep him focused on the dreams and interests he had for himself when he was in Kenya.  We are so fortunate to be back in the same place, still in love, and helping each other through this next transition.  Even though I mentioned above that you should overplan, every day I am starting to realize more and more, how impossible that can really be–so I am trying to enjoy the end of this chapter, instead of skipping ahead to the next.