Author Topic: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?  (Read 5187 times)

mandy_2002

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CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« on: September 14, 2014, 12:44:33 AM »
Stats:  Single female, 30

Background:  I am an engineer working in the East Bay area of San Francisco, California.  I've spent a lot of time in 3rd world countries for mission trips over the last 7 years, and I've been considering applying for the Peace Corps.  I love the idea of living on so much less, moving to a foreign country, working directly with people, and learning a language with high proficiency.  I'm partially proficient in Spanish, which would qualify me for several countries, but would love to learn any language; I've got some minor Russian experience as well).  I've discussed this with several people who have served as PC Volunteers, and they have said that the people who dislike it the most are those trying to change the world without thinking about the fact they'll basically be living in poverty. (I think knowing who fails is more important that knowing who succeeds sometimes.)

Concerns:   I can't take a 27 month leave (in two years I can take 12 months when I hit 10 years service).  So PC means quitting my job.  My job includes a vested pension and partial retiree medical in two years, ramping up in coverage from there (both no longer available to new hires or "retirees" returning). 

Counter Arguments:  My pension will continue to grow, and if I want to get another job, my field doesn't have a shortage of opportunities, especially for a person who can live just about anywhere.  As for retiree medical, the process for volunteering takes a year, so I would stay in my job until at least year 9, so I could delay to qualify with little loss.  It is about $200/month inflation protected at this point.  I've made no mention of family in this, but that is because there are no lines of communication with my family.  As an example, I had a life threatening medical emergency 7 years ago; parents and brother were both contacted with messages left, neither called back or visited, or followed up to determine if I had even survived.  I guess they figured they'd get a letter with my will designation if I had died.  All that to say, contact with family is not a concern of mine in moving around the globe. 

The numbers:
Positives:
Current pay adders (relocation, cost of living):  $2,800 per month  (I moved from a rural area in the eastern US last year, this will decrease to $1,600 in 3 years)
Some small dividend income from investments, but only amounting to about $600/year, increasing with increased investments
The negatives:
No debt
Rent:  $1750 (this is the basically covered by the pay adders)
Current minimum spending:  $700/month (so $2450 with rent, or in an emergency, get the heck out of the east bay and rent a cheap studio/apartment with roommates and add that to $700)
Current frivolous spending:   $900/month on top of the minimum (I began reading MMM from the beginning about 2 weeks ago,  and this has already decreased, but I'm going with my most recent budget tracking spreadsheet here)
I am saving just over 50% of my base salary before tax.

Current savings: 
401k:  $198,000 (4% match by employer; about 10% in Roth 401k) (maxed)
Roth IRA:  $25,000 (maxed when eligible)
Brokerage account:  $101,000 (ramping up dividend funds for theoretical cash flow now)
Savings:  $2,000 (excess funds go to the brokerage)

Pension:  If I quit now and waited to draw until 62, I would get $2100/month.  There's never a guarantee with any pension, so I'll call this gravy if I get it. 

If I went with PC, my savings would sit growing for 2 years, and afterwards I would be about $6,000 richer (the approximate readjustment allowance after serving a full stint).  I'm unsure what I would do after this, but it wouldn't be sitting at home in a rocking chair, so I wouldn't be pulling $1500 a month to live from the savings. 

What do you think?  Can I do it?  More importantly, should I do it?  My personal feeling is go, but I wanted to get some additional educated opinions before committing. 

If you need any additional information, let me know and I'll add it to the post.
Thank you for your comments!

Added info from comments:
I am a chemical engineer.
My job just changed for the better, but I'd rather be helping people than a multinational company with my 55 hours/week. Because of this recent change, I can see myself staying another 2 years (applying next year at this time).
What I understand of EWB, most jobs are heavily concentrated on civil engineering with others mixed in. This is something I could do, but it doesn't interest me. Also, you use your vacation for short term trips and it is completely voluntary, with fund raising being a big part of involvement. I'd prefer long term to this set up, since I'm the worst fund raiser in the world.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2014, 12:40:04 AM by mandy_2002 »

BigBigote

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2014, 01:13:45 AM »
It's worth considering that the application process itself for the Peace Corps can take 12+ months, so it may be worth looking into how the application process may affect your timing.  Also, not sure what your medical issues were in the past, but there are some medical issues that the Peace Corps has as a hard line that you can't get in with... so you might want to look into that before anything else.

Not all decisions in life should be made as a financial decision. While leaving a company with a pension would be brutal since that's pretty much impossible to find, if you want to do something different, life is short and you need to do what you feel is right. Keep in mind though that the Peace Corps can be done later in life as well, if that's something you'd want!

Sarita

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2014, 09:31:16 AM »
I am an RPCV--- I spent two years in central west Africa in the early 90s.  It was indeed transformative, and core to who I am today.  The depth of the bonds one forms with other volunteers and with your host community cannot be overstated.  I am still in touch with some of my former students 20 years later.  Another commenter said you could look at other options that pay more.  It's true, but I don't think there are many organizations that have you living that simply right in the middle of the community, and living at the same level they are (more or less).  It's a completely different experience than going with a int'l development firm and living the expat life.  Being able to immerse yourself in a culture in that way is a life experience that is unlike any other.  It's beautiful and intense (both highs and lows-- be sure to read about culture shock before you leave), and I highly recommend it.

I have read recently that PC is trying to make the application process easier for people, and that the approval process is being sped up.  So it may take less than 1 year.  http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/press/2418/

I agree with those that said that volunteers who go to 'save the world' often are the most disappointed.  It is good to be altruistic, but important to have your own selfish reasons for going (improved language proficiency, learning about another culture, etc) because it can at times be incredibly discouraging.  One trap PCVs fall into is expecting the host community's gratitude for their work.  That will perhaps materialize (and likely will), but in some cases many just won't care or notice.  It's important to remember that they weren't the ones inviting you in the first place-- their government was, and perhaps a village leader. 

If I were in your place, I would strongly consider delaying until you vest for pension and retiree health care.  PC can wait a bit, and you could also continue going on short-term missions or doing research on which country you would want to go to (now that you can choose!  We were just placed) in the meantime.  If you just can't take your job anymore, though, and your intuition is telling you to go NOW, then go.

Best wishes in your decision-making process..... and safe travels :)


mozar

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2014, 02:21:09 PM »
I haven't heard that many good things about the Peace Corp, is there other volunteer organizations you could try? Americorp is a US one. My friend who speaks fluent spanish was sent to french speaking guinea, she went to France for a few months to learn french, and realized when she got to guinea that she couldn't understand the dialect. She had a health background and they had her helping to count mangoes. Then she was helping with female circumcision prevention. She actually loved that.
I personally can't relate because I would just wait it out a couple years and vest, or stay longer to accumulate more, then volunteer for the rest of my life, but that's me.

foobar

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2014, 06:57:05 PM »
The non risky course is to keep doing what your doing. The problem is that it easy to say one more year (either to vest, get a bigger pensions, you met a cute guy/gal,....) and before long your 40 with a kid and you never do it. That is letting money run your live. You have plenty of cash to do whatever you want. The downsides would be things like retiring at 40 instead of 50.

I have no clue if the PC (or any other volunteer/serivce agency) will make you happier but it is one of those things that if you dream of doing it, you should do it. Be smart (i.e. stay 6 months if needed, see if you can use vacation time to extend service, Heck even ask if you can be put on leave with a company option of reinstatement (it costs a company a lot of money to hire a new employee),...) but don't let fear or greed run your life.

Dee18

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2014, 09:22:42 PM »
Sounds like you can probably meet your goals with a one year volunteer position with an organization other than the Peace Corps, perhaps the Engineers without Borders that Ihamo recommended.   Maybe you could begin researching those, with the idea of doing it once you can get a 12 month leave.  I have recently had several students (in grad school) who had been in the peace corps and they were pretty frustrated with the program overall.

Tecmo Super Bowl

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2014, 10:35:19 PM »
Hi Mandy,

I felt compelled to create an account just to reply to your post here.

RPCV here, lived in a post-soviet republic and returned a couple years ago. 

Sounds like you should do the Peace Corps, but also sounds like you have a good plan of sticking around until you vest, especially since you like the recent changes at work. 

Some things to consider that I didn't see in your post:
-The time it takes to reintegrate back into society and career.  For me, I didn't get another job until 10 months after my return for various reasons. 
-The money you'll spend while gone.  Not a huge factor, but you won't come out $6k ahead.  Rather, you'll travel here and there to other cool countries, maybe need to pay for some stuff, who knows...
-PC is commonly not fulfilling from a career sense.  You will feel underutilized.  If you are okay with that and your intentions are really what you say (living abroad, learning a language, etc.) then you'll be fine.  If you have a need to use your engineering prowess abroad, get ready to feel disappointed.

PC is definitely life changing.  It is also definitely a negative financial move.  But obviously we don't do it for money.  We do it in spite of the money.  I quit my career 2 years after undergrad to join.  I had a great salary and then basically 3 years of no income.  When I compare my life to MMM's, that is a hole of saving and years of compound interest that can never be regained.  It means I won't be FI before kids, or maybe not anytime in the near future.  But it is a decision I would make again. 



iris lily

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2014, 11:27:54 PM »
I just want to say that I think it's wonderful you are considering the Peace Corps.

DH and I went to one introductory meeting decades ago. We were newly married had no pets and were at a place where we could go off and do that adventure. He had a new degree in Horticulture/plant diseases with an older degree in Agriculture. They liked that educational background and he would have been able to get us in. I would go anywhere on the Asian continent, or northern Africa. Not interested in South America.

People who lean toward minimal consumerism tend to see the adventure that the Peace Corp provides.

Good luck!

unpolloloco

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2014, 09:22:42 AM »
Sounds like you can probably meet your goals with a one year volunteer position with an organization other than the Peace Corps, perhaps the Engineers without Borders that Ihamo recommended.   Maybe you could begin researching those, with the idea of doing it once you can get a 12 month leave.  I have recently had several students (in grad school) who had been in the peace corps and they were pretty frustrated with the program overall.

Engineers without Borders is typically short-term (<2 weeks) at a time.  Which isn't to say that it isn't valuable - it's just not anywhere near the same experience (not necessarily better or worse, but very different!).  The projects may be similar, but the community dynamic and the cultural experiences are completely different because in PC you're actually living in the community and working with them daily.

Also, FYI - with Spanish skills and a ChemE background, OP will likely get placed into a community water improvement project (supply or treatment) somewhere in Latin America.

MarciaB

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2014, 09:48:13 AM »
Another RPCV here (Burkina-Faso 1984-1986). Agree with all posts about it being a transformative experience. And I also agree with the posters who say that if your heart is calling you to do something you should listen. You're only 30! Seriously, you have acres of time to make up for any financial backward steps.

One of the posters mentioned that you will probably feel and be underutilized (true). And when that happens you will find that you have a lot of time on your hands. Life moves very slowly in many places around the world. And time means you have the luxury of think-time. Long stretches of time where you can really examine who you are, where you want to go, what contributions you want to make, how you will live your life when you return, etc. This is a huge gift.

mandy_2002

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2014, 12:18:55 AM »
One thing that is leading me to this decision is that I almost feel overutilized at work currently. There are people above my pay grade who do less technical things than me (basically the crap runs downhill), so being underutilized doing something like the previously mentioned water projects in Panama would be great.
Thanks for the encouragement everyone!

mozar

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Re: CASE STUDY: From engineer to Peace Corps - Does this 'stache work?
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2014, 05:50:24 PM »
If you join PC you will definitely be underutilized, with plenty of bureau-crazy. Maybe time for a new job? Maybe just travel around the world on your own? Maybe a Fulbright scholarship to teach engineering in another country?