Found six different currencies in my pocket this morning!
Once sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer, there are only two different ways that one’s service can end. I’m often asked if it’s similar to the military and if we can even leave at all, what happens if you get really sick or civil war breaks out? Now you know.
Completion of Service (COS)
This is the big one and the most common. When a PCV serves his or her assigned number of months (typically 27 but minimum of 23), he or she is consider to have completed his or her service. Yay! This is what gives an RPCV the R. RPCV stands for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and only a person with COS status can called themselves a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
It sounds simple but there are a host of things that can come up during a service (see list below) that would end your service early and keep you from getting labeled with a COS status. There are three exceptions below that are tecnically Early Terminations of Service but can still qualify for COS (and that coveted “R”) status.
Early Termination of Service
This includes everything else, including but not limited to:
- Medical Separation
- Administrative Separation
- Interrupted Service
Resignations are called ETs (Early Terminations) but almost all Peace Corps posts despite the fact there are 5 classifications of an “Early Termination of Service.” Confused yet? This is when a PCV resigns and leaves their country of service. A resignation can be either the PCVs decision or a choice given in lieu of Administrative Separation.
Resignation is the most common way PCVs leave service. A PCV cannot receive COS status if they resign.
This happens when a medical issue cannot be resolved within 45 days. I saw this happen exactly two times during my service in Ethiopia and both were at the PCVs 24th month of service (hence the decision to just medically separate instead of resolving in 45 days). I don’t know how common it is, but it does happen to some of the best volunteers. Medical separations are often called “med sep.”
COS status is at the discretion of the Country Director in the case of medical separation.
Here is the official wording for an administrative separation (usually referred to as “admin sep”):
“A Volunteer may be administratively separated for unsatisfactory conduct or performance; violation of any Peace Corps policy, including those in the Peace Corps Manual, whether agency-wide or post-specific; or other grounds that diminish the effectiveness of the Volunteer or the Peace Corps program, as determined in the sole discretion of the Peace Corps.”
Basically, if you are being a terrible volunteer, violating rules or otherwise not being effective. I’ve never heard of an admin sep for being ineffective or a bad volunteer, it’s generally gross disregard for the rules and regulations Peace Corps has laid down and being caught while doing so. I know of two cases here in Ethiopia, so it’s not all that common. As mentioned above, you are allowed to resign instead of being admin sepped. Administrative Separation is usually equated to being dishonorably discharged by the military, so most people avoid it if possible.
A PCV cannot receive COS status if they are administratively separated.
We’ve had quite a few Interrupted Services (or IS) happen here in Ethiopia recently. Due to some protests, a lot of PCVs have to be moved out of their sites. PCVs were split into 3 categories: Early COS (under 3 months left), IS (4-6 months left) and site change (over 6 months of service left). An IS is given when a PCV can no longer do their job, for whatever reason. Here in Ethiopia, that was people in unsafe sites who did not feel that a site change would be worthwhile and they could not do meaningful work in the remaining time. I’ve heard of other IS situations where a PCV’s host organization decided they no longer wanted to work with the PCV, for whatever reason, so the PCVs were given IS instead of being moved (usually in the last 6 months of service).
A volunteer with IS can receive COS status at the discretion of the Country Director.
If your host country is evacuated by Peace Corps for whatever reason (such as instability in Ukraine and Kenya and Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), PCVs are evacuated to safety. This is not a choice an individual PCV gets to make. If you are evacuated, you are immediately given COS status or offered a transfer to another post.
So there you have it! The different ways one’s Peace Corps service can end.
More detail can be found in the Peace Corps Volunteer Manual section MS 284 called “Early Termination of Service.”
A couple weeks ago, my Ethiopian coworkers organized an evening picnic for the international staff. They drove us up to a hill overlooking the city and lake, gave us doro wat and coffee and then set up a bonfire as the sun went down to keep us warm as we watched the lights flicker on in the city.
It’s moments like this that remind me how amazing and worth it this whole experience is. That I really do have people here I can call friends.