Joining the Peace Corps as a Music Ed Major

By Sara Goodman –

I was sitting in my elementary/middle school methods class during junior year one morning in early February, 2010. Our professor was explaining to us the current job market. He told us flat out that there were no music education jobs in our state and to have a backup plan. For the past three months, I had already been thinking about joining the Peace Corps. One of my swim teammates from my high school was serving in Madagascar, and I was following her blog. My professor’s statement was the impetus for me to go ahead and start the Peace Corps application that day.

It was a no-fee application, so I had nothing to lose. Since I went to a big state school, we had a Peace Corps recruiter on campus. I met with her and found out that if I wanted to serve right after graduation, I needed to submit my application in April. I turned in my application on April 22nd, and had my interview with a recruiter within 2 weeks.

In June, I received my nomination for a Primary Education Teacher Training assignment based on the following qualifications: the completion of a Bachelor’s of Music Education degree, a state teaching certificate, and two summers as a camp counselor. After my third summer (2010) working at Interlochen Arts Camp, I filled out the medical and dental packet and started my semester of student teaching. When I told my cooperating teacher that I was a Peace Corps nominee, he recommended that I serve if accepted. He advised that if I chose to join the Peace Corps at a later time in my life, it would be a more difficult adjustment.

I finished up my last semester at the University of Illinois in the spring of 2011, and got a call from a Peace Corps placement officer in Washington, DC. After a 30-minute interview, he told me that I was invited to serve in the Corps. My official invitation arrived a week later. I found out that I would be serving as a “non-formal education volunteer” leaving for Burkina Faso, West Africa, in June. Three weeks after graduation, I was Burkina-bound.

I received fourteen weeks of pre-service training, including four weeks of model school/model tutoring. After that, we were sworn in as volunteers and moved to our sites.

Advantages to Being a Music Ed Major

In the Peace Corps, there are many advantages to having been a music education major in college. We’re accustomed to writing lesson plans. We have experience teaching one-on-one as well as to large groups. (During student teaching I conducted 100+ person band rehearsals). We music educators also have lots of experience working with parents in addition to teaching their students. Any long-term  experience working with children or adolescents is extraordinarily helpful. I personally draw a lot of my experience from being a camp counselor and from my semester of student teaching.

The Peace Corps’ philosophy of development views the volunteer as a facilitator and animator in their community. This means mobilizing and organizing people and resources, and getting the community excited about projects that can continue after the volunteer leaves. Music teachers do that every day in their classes and rehearsals!

Teambuilding is also an important part of a music educator’s repertoire. For example, coaching chamber groups or supporting several students in an ensemble to work together to prepare a concert. Each student has their own role in the ensemble and has something to contribute. This thinking carries over to the Peace Corps: working with different community members together to build latrines, or working with the local women’s association to make neem cream (from the neem tree, often used to make insect repellent), or creating a peer-tutoring program at a local school.

Music is truly a universal language, and many volunteers write songs in local languages to teach children and adults about hygiene, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. Finally, music education majors are used to being flexible, which is an extraordinarily useful asset as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Helpful Hints

Some helpful hints if you want to apply to the Peace Corps:

  • Start early! The application is long and there is a lot of paperwork.
  • Be flexible. Applicants do not know where they will be serving until their invitation packet arrives. I lucked out: I already spoke French and was sent to a French-speaking country.
  • Talk to returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) and recruiters, and listen to their experiences. Currently, I live in a rural village with no electricity, running water, or internet. I bike everywhere, sometimes more than 20km a day. If this is your cup of tea, then Peace Corps is for you!
  • Yes, you can take your instruments. I brought a viola of lesser quality, a ukulele, and a recorder.

For more information visit:
www.peacecorps.gov

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog post are solely the views of the author and do not reflect the views of the US Government, the Peace Corps,  or the government of Burkina Faso.


BIO
Sara Goodman graduated from the University of Illinois School of Music in 2011 as a music education major. Her primary instrument is viola. She joined the Peace Corps in June, 2011, and is living and working in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, “the country of honorable people” (formerly Upper Volta).

To learn more about Sara’s adventures in the Peace Corps, visit her blog: The Adventures of a Peace Corps Violist

Comments

  1. Hi Lauren,

    I think the best thing for you to do is to call your regional Peace Corps office and talk to a recruiter. They will tell you what you need to do to become more competitive. I would say that the more experience in any one of these would make you a more competitive candidate:health related activities, teaching, TEFL, agriculture, microfinance, finance; working with youth, and camps. In general i think that music education is a more effective major if you want to apply to PC. I also highly recommend that when you start your application that you keep up with all the Peace Corps’ requests for forms and information that you need to turn in. This will show that you are committed. Any additional questions? feel free to email me directly. Please be aware that i have limited internet access andonly get internet about once a week.
    –Sara

    • LaShonda Walker

      Dear Lauren,

      Thank you for your interest in the Peace Corps. We have a recruiter for the Arkansas area that would be happy to answer any questions you have about the Peace Corps. Please feel free to contact us at Dallas@peacecorps.gov, in the Subject Line please put “RE: Arkansas Recruiter”. We look forward to speaking with you more about your interest in the Peace Corps.

      Sincerely,
      Southwest Regional Peace Corps Office

  2. Lauren

    Hi Sara!

    I am currently a student at Arkansas Tech University. Next semester will be the start of my second year in college and I am trying to graduate with a BA in Music. After I complete my undergrad, I would like to join the Peace Corps then go through a Master’s equivalency program for Music therapy. What advice would you give me to make my application more competitive? Would majoring in Music Education instead of Music Performance be more desirable? And what kind of extracurricular activities are the recruiters looking for? I am not in a state with any recruiters so I have a lot of question on how to go about this.
    Thank you!
    Lauren

  3. Hi Bonnie,
    Great to hear from you.
    I brought my viola as a carry-on and I put my ukulele in my other carryon case. Bring as extra sets of strings for all the instruments you are bringing as they are very difficult to find here.

    Music in Burkina is a mix from other West African countries such as Mali, Senegal, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote D’Ivoire. They don’t know a whole lot about American music but they seem to really like Rap and Eminem and Akon. They also really really like Celine Dion and any type of Reggae. They also seem to like some French music, but in villages where the majority of the population only speaks local language it’s not as popular. Please check out my blog at http://www.ilovealtoclefinafrica.wordpress.com for more infromation on Music in BF. The Music in Jula country is much more famous with Balafons and reflects more the style of Malian music.

    The arts and crafts scene here is pretty awesome. Every two years (even years) there is the SIAO salon International de l’artisanat de Ouagadougou. BF is known for woodwork, leatherwork, bronzes, batiks, traditional weaving and pottery.

    Please feel free to email me directly at ilovealtoclef@gmail.com with additional questions. I live in a village without electricity or internet and I only get internet once a week. Please keep that in mind if you do not get a quick response.

    Good Luck!
    –Sara

  4. Bonnie Ion

    Sara–

    I have just gotten my placement to Burkina Faso as a math/science teacher and I will be in the
    June 3rd group. Hopefully I will get to meet you before you leave since you are there almost 2 years.
    I am a violinist and have recently been playing lots of ukulele so I was planning to bring only the
    ukulele…. how did you manage the two instruments? No purse since you can only have two
    carryons. And do you have trouble buying more strings for the ukulele?? Are they available
    or should I have lots of sets with me?

    And what types of music are popular in BF? Do they know American rock songs or do they
    prefer French rock or French folk? I have been practicing both but it would be good to know.

    I am from Ann Arbor and apparently I may meet your parents at one of the RPCV dinners
    before I leave.

    Any help you can give me about the music would be good. Also, do you have anything to
    say about the arts and crafts of the country? I will wait to hear from you before asking more
    questions. Thanks very much, Bonnie Ion

    • Bonnie, we’re trying to reach Sara for a response to your comment. Sometimes she doesn’t have internet access in Burkina Faso, so thanks for your patience and check back here often. I know she’ll want to respond!

  5. Sara Goodman

    Hi Jack,

    It was not particularly awkard to travel with two instuments. I have traveled overseas with both a violin and a viola before. I brought a lesser quality instrument, and so far, I haven’t had many problems with it. You have plenty of time to practice, but it’s more about extreme factors that make it difficult. It’s the hot season now in Burkina Faso – over 90 degrees in the morning and it can get as hot as 120.

    My community loves when I play, and music is a big part of Burkinabe culture, but every country is different. Please feel free to send more questions.

  6. Jack

    I am going to serve in the Peace Corps within the next 5-7 years, depending. I have to finish up high school and some other things at home, and then I’m off.
    I play bassoon, viola, and flute regularly, and do not intend to go 2.25 years (27 months, average Peace Corps term?) without practicing!
    It sounds awkward to have all that baggage, to have 3 instruments. Thankfully none are as large as an upright bass. Now my bassoon in its case is about the same size as my viola case. I was just wondering about the specifics of your experience with bringing instruments on your trip. Did you worry about theft at all, were you able to find some time to practice? How did the community react? (And I know there is no sure way to tell how every community will react, but the example is still nice to hear).

    Thank you for your help,
    Jack W.

  7. Cuthbert "Mr. Cool" James

    Keep at it!! The first Peace Corps Volunteer I met taught me to play the guitar. I later became a music teacher at primary and Secondary schools. I was also the leader of a musical band that played throughout my country.

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