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Thread: RIP Peace Corps urban planning volunteer positions

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    RIP Peace Corps urban planning volunteer positions

    Heads up to all of you aspiring planners with thoughts of joining the peace corps to gain international experience--there have been some unfortunate organizational changes in the peace corps. The planning-specific volunteer positions, Municipal Development volunteers, have been eliminated/rolled over into the much larger (and much more vague) Community Development program. What was unique about municipal development volunteers was they they worked directly with local governments in small towns, usually at city hall itself as volunteer city planners. Sounds great right? To my knowledge that program is kaput and the peace corps has said nothing about bringing it back. I've been really interested in this idea of using a stint in the peace corps to gain entre into the world of international development planning--but it seems at this point that that opportunity just isn't there anymore. Correspondingly, the PC website took down the "urban planner" page on it's website where it showcases the different types of volunteer positions. I believe that happened about a year ago. Also, I found out last month that the UW-Madison Urban Planning Masters International Program has also been terminated. (I assume because their are no more municipal development volunteer positions) That said, I have met a number of RPCV's planners that didn't serve as municipal development volunteers specifically. To me that just isn't an option. Permaculture projects are important...but I feel that that experience would be a hard sell to future employers who were looking for a planner's planner. Though, all the RPCV's I've talked to always say the same thing about the peace corps, "join for the experience--not for professional development".

    Kind of a drag, I know, but I think it's good to put the world out. As for my international planning aspirations...I have no idea. I suppose I'll cast a resume into the AECOM black hole and hope to win the lottery. (Which is still more likely to happen than a UN or USAID position-ha!)

    Does anyone else have any more information on the topic? Maybe one of you knows what going on with another university's Urban Planning Masters International Program?

    Here are the links that explain how and why the municipal development program died:
    http://janetwright2guatemala.wordpre...t%E2%80%A6rip/
    http://frankguatemala.blogspot.com/2...municipal.html

  2. #2
    I somewhat doubt that having Community Development vs. Municipal Development on a resume would be a deal breaker for a potential employer... If the goal is to work in international development planning, becoming a Peace Corps volunteer is still a viable option to pursue that route IMHO. Additionally, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers receive preference in federal hiring and are highly valued at USAID and other federal agencies that value the foreign experience.

    I'm guessing a lack of interest at a school for the Master's International Program may lead to termination of the program by the PC or the school. My alma mater still offers the MI Program for urban planning, along with four other schools listed below. Good luck on your journey.

    http://www.peacecorps.gov/learn/whyv...m_type=masters
    The content contrarian

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I can shed some light on this topic. First, the thread title is not entirely accurate since there are a few urban planning positions still out there. I know this because Iím actually leaving for one in March. With that said, I believe thereís only one country still offering urban planning positions while the other countries phased them out in 2011. Thatís the reason you saw urban planning removed from the Peace Corps website ~18 months ago. I was told there are currently only 5 urban planning positions for the whole of 2013 and whether there will be more in 2014 is unknown. I know the reason they were phasing out the program is they were having a hard time bringing in enough qualified applicants. For myself, it took me a year to receive the nomination and I was honestly caught off guard by it. By that point, I was told I only qualified for ESL positions after the urban planning positions stopped coming up.

    Hereís where things get a bit interesting with urban planning and the Peace Corps. I wonít lie, ESL wasnít my first choice of things to do but when I got to placement I was told they wouldnít even consider me for that anyway. They would have put me in NGO development if the urban planning position fell through. Whatís somewhat bizarre about that is it was something the recruiter said I didnít qualify for (despite the similarities to planning) but placement said my skill set was close enough and would have put me in no problem.

    As for titles, each country has their own set of titles. Where Iím going all the business sector volunteers have the ĎCommunity and Organizational Development Facilitatorí title. So it doesnít matter if theyíre IT, business advising, NGO development, or planning, we all have the same title. Of course our individual site placements will vary based on our skill sets.

    The last thing Iíll add is that the Peace Corps will open doors for you whether you get an urban planning position or not. This is something I actually struggled with since I honestly didnít expect to get an invite for an urban planning position. Iím actually leaving a planning job for this opportunity but still figured an ESL position would open up more opportunities than staying where Iím at now. Most Peace Corps positions allow you take on any secondary projects you want. If you want to take on something related to urban planning, the Peace Corps would have no problem with that. Then if nothing else, the Peace Corps is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you may regret later if you pass it up.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I seemed to have waited a bit too long to edit my original post but I wanted to add a couple more things.

    The first is in regards to Masters International. From what I understood of those planning programs, their students were usually not placed in urban planning positions because they didn't qualify for them. Thanks to the host countries, urban planning had strict degree and experience requirements that an MI student were unlikely to have prior to graduation. For that reason they were placed in community development positions which are fairly unstructured so as to allow the student to do whatever they wanted. There were also many more CD positions which made placement much easier. So I think if you're applying to a MI program now, you're not really missing out anything with urban planning gone.

    The last thing I wanted to add was that I still think applying to the Peace Corps is worthwhile just to see comes up. Sure, the process is a huge pain but you might be surprised what assignment comes up. There are many assignments there that are not mentioned on their website so you might get something completely unexpected (maybe even urban planning). You can always decline if you get something you don't want.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks Blide! That was exactly the sort of insight I was looking for! Just curious, what's the remaining country offering urban planning positions?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    As far as I know, Albania is the only country with urban planners currently. There might be a few Peace Corps Response positions out there dealing with urban planning though.

  7. #7
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    Peace Corps is what you make it...

    As an RPCV, I know from experience that Peace Corps is what you make it. Once you get in country you have time to make your intentions clear with in country staff. They will place you somewhere you want to be placed because they want to keep you there for two years. It may not always be ideal, but if it's not, you have plenty of free time to work on forming your own contacts in the planning/government sector in country. It can start as a secondary project and morph into your full time work. If you are qualified... and you don't do what you want to do in Peace Corps.. it's your own fault for not making it happen. And... any Peace Corps experience is a career builder.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Albania

    I'll be joining Blide this March in Albania. My placement officer told me specifically that I would be doing urban and regional planning but officially I think I am a community and organizational (COD) volunteer.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Been out of town for the last week.

    Yeah, your official title will be Community and Organizational Development Facilitator. It's basically a combination of business, urban planning, and youth development. I'm not really sure why youth development was thrown in there but it just is.

    So I'll be seeing you in 6 months when you get here. If you (or anyone else) have any questions, just let me know. I've only been here 6 months but feel I have a pretty good idea what's going on now.

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