Monday, February 04, 2008

Finding Your Post Graduate Service Placement: Domestic or Abroad

This blog is meant to be a service, an insight into the life of a volunteer “in the trenches” one might say. It is not a glossy advertisement or endorsement, but rather a true telling that would hopefully leave readers to decide for themselves if a step into the volunteer world after college is for them.

That said, I want to provide some resources to find volunteer programs, as well as make note of programs I am familiar with- either through personal experience or from word of mouth of others in the programs. Click the blue links to get to what I am talking about.

First, the website links…

Notre Dame University’s Center for Social Concern has a great website that lists categories: domestic, international, teaching, and secular. It is an awesome resource for anyone, not just ND students.

Response is a publication by the Catholic Volunteer Network that is comprehensive for faith based programs. It provides a search engine that will allow you to fill parameters such as where and for how long you would like to volunteer among other issues. If you are looking for a faith based volunteer program, this is a great place to use a search engine to discover options that meet certain criteria you may have.

Connections 2008, a search engine hosted by Saint Vincent Pallotti Center is another great search engine. The website of Pallotti is also a great resource for those pondering volunteer work, as well as current and former volunteers. I personally find this website to be incredibly useful and resourceful.

Aside from that, my opinions on other programs that I am familiar with... Keep in mind, these are only my opinions based upon my personal experience or second hand knoweldge from people who have done them.

First, The Working Boys Center. The Center itself is an incredible mechanism. Providing education, technical training, medical care, three meals a day, as well as microcredit, childcare and a host of other needed responses to poverty, it´s hard to find a place more wholistic in its battle against poverty. I love the participants and the employees of the center and am very satisfied with my decision. A downside might be community insofar as we are not really a community so much as we are a group of people living together and working together. No binding decisions need to be made as a group and many elements of community living as I experienced with the Holy Cross Associates are missing. And depending how you feel about your service, a call towards simple living is largely absent. All that said, I would not hesitate to recommend the program. I am in love with the place! The work here is a one year commitment with an option for two. The Spanish skills of volunteers vary.

Next would be JVI and JVC. I hear strong things about JVI and I visited a JVI community in Bolivia and was impressed. They seem to have a healthy mix of life giving work that benefits both the community and the volunteer while at the same time doing a great job with simple living, community, spirituality. Most of all, I have heard great things about the support staff and retreats and the like. As for JVC, the reviews remain a little more mixed (not as much support and stability) but as far as I have heard from people in Domestic programs, they fare better than most.

Rostro de Cristo, based in Southern Ecuador is a program I visited for a week my junior year and for a few days this past year while living in Quito. If you can look past the heat and humidity, I would say I love this program. It’s a one year program that requires good Spanish skills. It’s a program on the rise as volunteer programs go: it is divided amongst two houses in neighborhoods about a 15 minute walk apart and has a large volunteer corps who works on a variety of issues usually splitting time between a job in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s also got an awesome English speaking library- a huge plus when living abroad. Downsides might be that the work is somewhat more fluid than say a JVI or Working Boys Center, but some might enjoy the flexability and variety of working at two diferent places each day.

The Inner City Teaching Corps is a program based out of Chicago. A smaller program as far as teaching programs go, I have heard nothing but good thing from participants who have served two years. A master degree is included in the mix. Emphasizes simple living, unlike some other volunteer teaching programs.

Place Corps- based out of LA is also another program I am familiar with. Simple living is not a tenant but teachers work as teachers in Catholic Schools in inner city Los Angeles and receive a Master’s Degree as well as a pretty generous stipend and if my friends are telling the truth- brand new Mac Laptops to each teacher. Needless to say, simple living is not a tenant.

Holy Cross Associates
, my former program in Chile, is, as far as I know, closed down for 2007-2008. But should it re-open as planned, it was a pretty good program. The biggest thing it lacked on internationally was solid work placement but most people in the Domestic version of the program seemed to enjoy. I wouldn´t put it above a JVC, but if you are looking for other options and moving away from the Jesuits but still being with a big Catholic order of priests- this might be the place.

Peace Corps, most people are familiar with. 27 month program that emphasizes “flexibility is the greatest asset” of their volunteers. Run through the government, the awards and incentives for life after Peace Corps are pretty big. Also helps in that placements are world wide. If there are complaints, it is usually based on disorganization or volunteers being placed in job placements that require a certain expertise or experience they lack. But most Peace Corps volunteers I know and have encountered on my own journey are happy and have a range of diverse experiences despite the occasional and long lasting bursts of frustration with support and placement.

So there you have it. I also have on my sidebar links to blogs of people I know doing service. As well, should you search on google for something like ¨blog volunteer¨ or ¨post graduate service blog¨ you will be amazed at the number of blogs that show up from anyone from a Peace Corps guy in the Dominican Republic to a volunteer in Tanzania.

Lastly, research and investigate programs. Think of things you want, things you don’t want, and when interviewing, remember, you’re not JUST trying to market yourself to them- they too are trying to market themselves to you. So don’t be afraid to be honest and ask the right questions, rather than try and solely impress them and telling them what you think they want to hear. You rather get rejected from a program they know you wouldn´t fit into then manipulate your way in and find yourself unhappy and unsatisifed for one year, maybe two! Nothing is worse than a mismatched program and volunteer.

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