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.
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.
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