In the invitation stage, your recruiter has to nominate you to various positions leaving at different times. After Washington, D.C. reviews your medical papers and your preference for region/language, you are invited to service in one specific country, leaving on a specific date. You can accept or reject this invitation. Rejecting an invitation may mean you have to wait another year for a different invitation, or it may mean your recruiter loses faith in your ability to adapt to any circumstance, hence he/she does not nominate you again and you never become a volunteer. I was very lucky because my recruiter showed me the list they use to match you with a position in a specific region. There is a confidential list that recruiters use which shows: the language required, a position title, a departure date, and the quantity of that position open in that country. There is no country name listed, which is very weird. For example, my recruiter saw two listings where we could guess the country given the information we had. They looked something like this:
Spanish/Portuguese required, West Africa, Microenterprise & Computer Advisor, 5 available , July 17, 2001
Arabic, Eastern Europe, Women & Children Specialist, 10 available, July 10, 2001
The first one was for Cape Verde, given that itís the only Portuguese-speaking country in West Africa that has a business program. The second one was Jordan, given that itís the only Eastern European country that speaks Arabic and had a program working with orphanages. Lucky for me, I didnít choose Jordan because they were closed as a country last year due to the conflict in the Middle East! I also had the opportunity to go to Morocco, which closed last month due to the war in Iraq. Many of the positions available in French-speaking West Africa were very vague. You really would not have any idea which country you were going to because they said: Two-years of college level French, West Africa, Microenterprise Advisor, 30 available, July 2001. This could be Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, or a slew of other West African countries that have departure dates in that month for that program.
As of 2001, there is a list somewhere online that a PCV put together where you can look up country departure dates. If you cross-compare these dates with possible placements, you can sometimes ascertain which country they are referring to on the nomination list that your recruiter has. In many cases, your recruiter will never show you this list I am referring to. They prefer to merely match you where they believe you belong, and will only offer you an invitation when everything is finalized. I was lucky enough to be given a choice. Itís probably best if you find the online list and tell your recruiter in a non-threatening manner that you would Ďlike to be placed in the July 11, 2003 departure group for Cape Verde as a TEFL teacher.í This may actually make their job easier, but also be prepared to accept an invitation to a country that you demand, and maybe later have decided you do not want. For example, you ask for Cape Verde and are invited to serve there, but have just written numerous volunteers there and decided the TEFL program is not as you had imagined. Your recruiter will be very upset if you requested that place, were given it, and then reject it. I have seen this happen a few times, and it can mean that your recruiter will lose faith in your ability to be a good volunteer and not nominate you again for a different country.
When you are officially invited to serve in a country, you will receive a VAD, a Volunteer Assignment Description (?). Once you have reviewed the VAD, you will decide if you like the position and placement offered to you. Again, recruiters do not take rejection lightly and will expect you to accept the first invitation you are given. Remember that 99% of the time the VAD will not accurately portray the actual position or job you will end up doing in that country. Mine was this detailed description of how I would help train people on computers and business development in a local, town hall setting in Cape Verde. I doubted how happy I would be teaching computer to government officials. It ended up that I was offered a chance to be a rural volunteer during the 3-month training period. I specified that I wanted to live Ďruralí and Ďaloneí, so I was placed with three, rural farming associations in a verdant river valley far from government buildings. It ended up being the exact position I wanted, and I molded it during my service to do exactly what I had envisioned.
Itís best to take the VAD with a grain of salt and see what the real reality is when you reach your specified country. There is some flexibility at times, and, under certain circumstances, you can change your position once you finish the 3-month training period and realize you are not fit for a specific job. This happened to two PCVs in my group who were trained in either TEFL or community development and they later switched to be a teacher or government worker after being trained in the other area. Peace Corps was not too keen on them switching at the time, but they were able to do it on their own and then notify Peace Corps later on that they were successful in their new role. Having a different counterpart rave about their success in a new role only helped Peace Corps accept their switch to a new position. So, to reiterate, donít take the VAD seriously. You will only be disappointed if you believe your two-years will be exactly as the VAD says. Be open-minded and willing to fill a gap where and when you are needed in your host country. Be flexible and have no expectations.
When you research the country you will be going to, do not establish in your head where you want or need to live, such on their famed beach or in the majestic mountains. You will most likely be placed at a site in a place where you never expected to see yourself. One trainee in the group last year to Cape Verde was very disappointed when she demanded during training that she had to live on one of the three islands where wind-surfing is possible all year. She didn't care about anything else but this one wish. However, her qualifications excluded her from positions on those islands, and she was actually placed in the capital city, where she was very unhappy. Peace Corps eventually allowed her to move to another site on another island of their choice (not hers) because she was suffering some racial harassment. They would have never allowed her to change her site though just because she didnít like the looks of the city and wanted to be near a better beach.