Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Extension Decision: pros and cons (pt. III)

This is part III in this series.  The intro can be found here, and Part II can be found here.

Over the past couple months, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of extending my Peace Corps service.  In fact, this post comes a bit late – my proposal is already submitted, and if post (Moldova) and headquarters (D.C.) accept me, it’s almost definite I’ll be sticking around in Moldova for a bit longer.

One thing that has been surprising while mulling my possibilities is the dearth of materials out there for current volunteers who are trying to decide whether or not to extend their service.  While a quick search turns up thousands of pages worth of advice on the initial decision regarding Peace Corps service, there is little other than the scarce blog post to be found on sticking around once in country.  In any case, here are the various factors I have considered:

·         Career
·         Family
·         Friends
·         Ongoing projects
·         Opportunity costs
·         Potential for impact in Moldova
·         Potential for impact on Health Education program
·         Potential for impact on Peace Corps/Moldova
·         Realistic need to eventually begin earning a more serious income if I ever want to support a family

Fleshing those factors out a bit yielded a healthy set of pros and cons, with some serious heavyweights on both sides.

(in favor of extension)
(against extension)
·         Guaranteed positive use of next year of time
·         Due to lack of time to conduct a job search at present, there would probably be a gap in employment post-Peace Corps if I leave this summer; thus, I probably wouldn’t be sacrificing a full year of employment to extend.
·         Life in the States/Western Europe is expensive (see opportunity cost above re: probability of joblessness)
·         All living expenses, plus medical expenses are taken care of here. Combined with the two pros above, this seriously mitigates the financial disincentive of extending.
·         Since Jess can’t do the Iron Curtain bike trip, extending doesn’t mean sacrificing that opportunity (the two were mutually exclusive for a variety of scheduling issues)
·         For 1 year extension: 1 month paid home leave
·         Ongoing projects, particularly the national simulation project, which I’d like to see through to evaluation stage
·         Great job flexibility, plus, I love my job
·         Health program undergoing a strategic re-orientation at the same time the Moldovan education system going through a significant set of reforms, meaning this could be a particularly exciting moment to be involved at a higher level in the health program
·         Potential to positively impact Peace Corps Moldova
·         The pay’s not so hot here
·         The gap in employment probably wouldn’t last a year, so at some point during the extension I am sacrificing a fuller salary.  Ultimately, if finances are a key consideration, there’s little doubt I would do better outside of Peace Corps.
·         For less than 1 year extension: no home leave (long time without seeing family/friends)
·         Relatively little support for ongoing professional development, i.e. it will be primarily experiential and self-driven

Then there are a number of factors which are a wash:
·         Family/friends: I’ve chosen a life abroad, so even if I’m not here, it’s unlikely that I’d be based near them.  In a new job I wouldn’t get vacation right away, but there would probably be an employment gap during which to visit family.  On the other hand, even with extension there is the month of home leave if extending for a year.
·         Career #1: I’ve been unable to find any advice from RPCVs (former volunteers) who have extended, so I’m not really sure about the career impact of staying for another year.  On the positive side, 3 years shows a strong commitment while 2 years is a shorter time, and my increased responsibilities during the third year would be similar to a promotion, thus showing growth in the position.  On the unknown side, some employers may look at all PC service as the same, regardless of function.
·         Career #2: without having a tangible job offer, it’s very hard to know if an unknown potential job would be a better or worse experience.

In the end, the most important factors ended up being that last one: in the face of the unknown, it is very difficult to walk away from something that is so obviously going well.  So, too, was my final judgment regarding my potential to impact Peace Corps Moldova and the Health Program (last 2 bullets in the pro/con list).  It was up in the air for about a month as to which column those two factors would fall into; going onto the con side of the ledger would have tipped the balance.

The bigger strategic questions aside, there is also the fact that it is the volunteer’s responsibility to craft the proposal.  Even as a PCVL, there would be significant leeway in which leadership tasks I choose to assist with, as there are far too many to take them all on.   And it’s not necessarily 1 year or nothing, I could also do just 6 or 9 months.  So on top of the decision of whether to extend are a number of smaller decisions regarding how long to extend, whether or not to move, which tasks I want to do as a PCVL, and who my Moldovan partners will be for the portion of my job outside of Peace Corps.  The effect of all this is to make the extension decision less one of black and white and more a shades of gray issue.

On these points, our Country Director, Jeffrey, made it pretty clear that he would like me to stick around for a full year extension.  I initially remained hesitant, but it is much easier to leave early during an extension than it is to re-extend an extension, a subtle but effective push toward submitting a proposal toward the longer end.  The home leave also made a big difference.  I have requested the leave over the winter holidays, which while slightly later than Peace Corps would prefer, makes sense given my responsibilities next year and our training calendar.  Also, this naturally builds in a mid-point chance for reflection to evaluate whether the extension is working for all parties.  Meanwhile, with my Program Manager, Elvira, we seem to have found a workable relationship that gives me enough of a stake in the Health Program’s direction during its revision, but does not diminish her position as the program’s top staff person.

Combined, these reassurances convinced me that while the decision can involve many varying degrees of commitment, the right decision was to go all in.  Ultimately, the chance to help re-shape the health program at a strategic juncture won the day.  Having submitted the proposal, once again it’s up to the fates!  Though this time, instead of a shiny FedEx package I’ll just have my fingers crossed for an upbeat email. 


Jessica said...

I like that I made it into your pros/cons list. At least Italy is a go! Can't wait to touch your face.

Robert J said...


I am a member of the Peace Corps group leaving for Moldova on June 5th. I understand that at this time your efforts and energies are predominantly focused on the arduous decision making process you are currently navagating. However, if possible, could you contact me to discuss a few topics?

In kindness,
Robert Hohn

Zachariah Falconer-Stout said...

Of course you made the list, Jess.

Robert, coming right up!

Anonymous said...

It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.