Something kinda like the Peace Corps, but not?
August 15, 2008 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Alternatives to the Peace Corps for a non-US Citizen (Permanent Resident) living in the US?

I am a recent college grad who wants to go abroad and hopefully work/volunteer for a good cause. I was looking into the Peace Corps, but two issues came up:

1. 27 months is a long time :x I am ideally looking to commit 12-18 months.
2. I live in the US, but I am not an American Citizen. I am a US Permanent Resident with a Brazilian passport.

I like the fact that the Peace Corps does good for the world and the fact that they provide you with living expenses, student loan deferment, and other benefits.

I was wondering if there are any programs that I can look into that fit what I am looking for.

I've been looking into the Americorps and I am interested in their program, I was just wondering if the hive mind could perhaps suggest programs I've never heard of.

So is there a program that's right for me, or am I SOL?
posted by carpyful to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Jesuit Volunteer Corps

Brethren Volunteer Service
posted by parmanparman at 12:15 PM on August 15, 2008

Technology related projects

There is the class "tech english abroad" programs as well, but you may be interested in something more "helpful"
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:21 PM on August 15, 2008
posted by blue_beetle at 12:50 PM on August 15, 2008

As parmanparman points out, most religious groups have some version of this--I'm familiar with Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteers. Also, depending on your major, there's Engineers Without Borders
posted by hydropsyche at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2008

What kind of work are you looking to do, and what do you love doing? That might help people give more specific answers.
posted by mdonley at 1:23 PM on August 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers so far.

To answer some questions..
I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism. Ideally I'd like to get into law or government in the future. Staying in that field would be good, but I'm generally interested in helping any way I can.

As for religious groups, I grew up Christian, but I would consider myself atheist right now. I've been reading through some of these websites and I'm trying to get a feel for how much religion would be involved.

Please keep the suggestions coming!
posted by carpyful at 2:10 PM on August 15, 2008

I don't think that there are many non-governmental organizations that can afford to treat their volunteers as generously as Peace Corps can — the healthcare and loan repayment help come directly from the taxpayer; funding those kinds of things via donations would be hard. So you may have to compromise on what you are looking for in that respect.

The exception to this (and also where, paradoxically, your non-US citizenship will be an asset) is if you looked for a job with a branch of the UN, the OAS, the IDB, or a similar bi- or multi-lateral organization. Many such organizations reserve places by nationality, and require applicants to be multilingual (meaning that few US citizens qualify). The pay and work conditions are very, very good, although you will need to be able to tolerate stunning amounts of bureaucracy and sometimes quite open nepotism.

If you are dead-set on volunteering, I think you will need to figure out what you can offer. The Peace Corps accepts lots of generalists because "helping people" is only a small part of the mission — the important parts are a) presenting a good face of the US and b) bringing a more international perspective back home. For the same reason, religious groups also accept generalists, because the important part is the religious mission, and the "helping people" part is normally secondary. ("Generalists" is a nice way to say "unqualified for technical work, but great for education or community outreach" — people with your sorts of degrees, and lacking specific sorts of work experience.)

Lastly, every organization, from MSF to CARE to every other one I can think of, employs (sometimes as volunteers, but mostly as staff) people to be project logisticians and managers. It takes an enormous amount of unseen work (making sure the trucks have fuel, the nurses have been paid, the local officials are happy, and all the internal paperwork is complete) to keep a small number of staff in the field. Those jobs take people skills, not technical expertise, and are where you find a lot of people with your background. Citizenship matters in terms of visas and work permits, but there are lots of international people in those positions (eg they aren't all from the US and Europe).
posted by Forktine at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

My understanding is that the main barrier to Peace Corps and similar service abroad for Permanent Residents is that you will lose your Permanent Resident status if you're out of the country for too long.

You're right about AmeriCorps. The branch of AmeriCorps that was founded at the same time as the Peace Corps and with a similar (domestic) mission is AmeriCorps VISTA. I have served with members who had Permanent Resident status when they first applied for VISTA. If you do ever seek citizenship and seek to join Peace Corps, VISTA work will look amazing on a Peace Corps application.

You might consider why, specifically, you are interested in going abroad. For a similar experience there are many VISTA placements in Puerto Rico, and they are starting to build up a program in Guam (currently there's only one VISTA placement there). Unlike Peace Corps, you choose your own assignment and apply for it like any other job. If you're interested in experiencing some culture shock, there are tons of AmeriCorps programs on Indian reservations. Alaska also has a lot of unique placements, both tribal and otherwise.
posted by Skwirl at 7:18 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the main barrier to Peace Corps and similar service abroad for Permanent Residents is that you will lose your Permanent Resident status if you're out of the country for too long.

The main barrier to joining the Peace Corps is that it is limited to US citizens. Dual citizenship is fine; mere permanent residency is not.

The advice about not doing something that will jeopardize your current immigration status is really good, though — make sure you know the implications of what you are considering.
posted by Forktine at 8:54 PM on August 15, 2008

For the same reason, religious groups also accept generalists, because the important part is the religious mission, and the "helping people" part is normally secondary.

That's a pretty uninformed view of these groups. Nobody is recommending he join a proselytizing organization. My experience with the Presbyterian YAV program comes with working with some of them in New Orleans this summer. These folks are working 10+ hours a day in home rebuilding and living in very simple circumstances in a community. Their "religious mission" is "helping people".
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 AM on August 16, 2008

That's a pretty uninformed view of these groups.

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this.

The reason many religious groups can use large numbers of unskilled volunteers (like groups of high school students, or just regular members of the congregation) is that they are willing to accept a lot of inefficiency in their projects. Houses get built a lot faster (and better) when they are being built by skilled carpenters, than when they are being built by a bunch of very willing but learning-as-they-go Southern Baptists or what have you. That inefficiency isn't a bad thing — it provides an opportunity for a lot more willing people to volunteer; it highlights the role of the local church as well as the mission church; it can allow mission and local people to connect at a very basic and human level — but it is not what you do if you simply want to get a lot done in a short time, and works well for only a few kinds of projects (eg housebuilding).

You write "Their 'religious mission' is 'helping people'" and that's sort of true. I'd refine that to say that often (while acknowledging that each case is different) the religious mission comes from modeling a religious-driven vision of service. That is, the "helping people" is in service to the ministry, as well as being of value on its own terms.

Let me emphasize I'm not writing this as a criticism of these groups — I've worked with some, and watched many others work overseas. I was specifically suggesting that the questioner look into volunteering with them, because they do good work and have lots of opportunities for generalists if you can find a common space with the religious mission.

(And there's a huge range of religious groups, from awful ones that use their goodies to be coercive — no praying? then no water pump for you! — to wonderful ones that are doing amazing work for no reward, and everything in between. It's easy to paint with a wide brush, but the devil is in the details, as they say.)

For those interested, Luis Alberto Urrea's books about working with missionary aid workers in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana are excellent reading (link; link). Paul Farmer's work in Haiti, described in his own book and in a biography by Tracy Kidder, is also based in the social gospel.
posted by Forktine at 6:28 AM on August 16, 2008

I'm sorry for my knee-jerk reaction. I've dealt with a few too many people who, when I tell them about working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, assume that we're only rebuilding Presbyterians' houses or that we're doing some sort of convert to Presbyterianism-->get your house rebuilt kind of deal. And that response only been worse for my friends who have gone to do medical work in Central America. I sometimes forget that there are people on the internet who are familiar with the Social Gospel.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:27 PM on August 16, 2008

You have to pay (quite a bit of the money goes back to the host community) and you have to be prepared to go on stage (don't worry about talent), but try looking up Up with People. I travelled with them for a semester and it was a BLAST. All sorts of interesting people with various backgrounds, learnt a hell of a lot about other cultures and myself, got to represent my cultures. Best time of my life.

If you don't want to go as a student, keep an eye out for their Join Our Team page - they regularly recruit staff for their Road Crew, as well as office/travel positions.
posted by divabat at 3:47 AM on August 17, 2008

« Older "Like the cast of a Fellini movie."   |   Slow Net Acces on One Macbook in the House Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.