When I was in high school I read a murder mystery book called And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It tells the story of 10 strangers who are lured to an island and then are murdered off one-by-one. Almost every time the group gets together they notice another person is missing. (I remember thoroughly enjoying the book in case you are looking for a recommendation!)
Sometimes being in the Peace Corps feels a little like that Agatha Christie book. You meet up for one of training conferences and suddenly there are fewer of you. And often you have no idea when or why someone left.
The first group of Kosovo PCVs started with 25. One volunteer left in the fall. Another one departed in the spring. After one year of service someone else left. During their second winter (after 20 months of service) two more left. They now have 20.
Our group of Kosovo-2 volunteers started with 37 people. By the end of Pre-Service Training there were 36. At the end of winter there were 33. Now there are 32.
Which makes me wonder, how many will stay for the full 27 months?
ET-ing stands for Early Termination.
There are numerous reasons for a volunteer to ET. These are the big ones:
- Resignation: When a volunteer decides to end their Peace Corps service early. This is the primary reason for an ET.
- Medical Separation: If a PCV develops a medical condition that cannot be treated by the Peace Corps then they are “medically separated.”
- This can be due to physical or mental health concerns, such as the development of depression.
- In some cases a PCV may be flown to the US for medical treatment for a maximum of 45 days. If treatment extends beyond 45 days then the PCV is medically separated.
- Victims of sexual assault or violent crimes are often flown to the US for 6 weeks of counseling, provided by the Peace Corps.
- Interrupted Service: If the country director determines that circumstances beyond the PCV’s control make it necessary for them to leave their assignment, then they are granted “interrupted service.”
- Examples: Civil unrest, disease outbreaks, or other risks to the PCV’s safety.
- Administrative Separation: This is the bad one, equivalent to being fired. It happens when a PCV violates a major Peace Corps policy.
These are the most recent Peace Corps reports on the Early Termination (ET) rates, including two Excel spreadsheets with country-specific data:
Annual ET Rates by Post
This excel spreadsheet shows the annual ET rate, which is the total number of volunteers who ET in a given year, divided by the total number of volunteers and trainees in that country.
Cohort ET Rates by Post
This spreadsheet is more helpful and accurate. It shows the percentage of volunteers who ET from each cohort or volunteer group. For example, the first group of Kosovo volunteers (their cohort) had 25 people and 5 of them left. Therefore their cohort ET rate is 20%.
If you look at the second document (Cohort ET Rates by Post) it is shocking to see how many cohorts have over 40% of their group ET. If you are considering joining the Peace Corps I recommend looking at the ET rates for the countries you are interested in.
While doing some research into Early Termination, I discovered some helpful publications. I summarized the key points in this post, but if you want to read more you can check out this recent report: Peace Corps Early Termination Report 2015
It is easy to be judgmental about volunteers who choose to ET. During PST everyone is eyeing the other people in their cohort and wondering, “Who is not going to make it?” We pridefully tell ourselves, I would never consider ETing. I’m sticking it out for 27 months.
But something I’ve learned is that you can not predict who will ET. It is not always the “weak” volunteer who struggles through PST. Some of the strongest volunteers are the ones who left. The person in our group with the best language skills ended up leaving.
A lot can happen in 27 months. A death in the family, a romantic development, a serious illness, an amazing job offer, or a sexual assault.
And also, you will change. One of the volunteers in our group who left just realized that being a PCV was not for them. They felt that Peace Corps service was changing them in negative ways and knew they would be happier, healthier, and more effective in the United States.
Ultimately you need to remember this: You are a Peace Corps VOLUNTEER. Yes, you are asked to commit to 27 months, but it is not worth it if you are miserable for over two years of your life.
Our country director told us during PST, “If you are not having fun being a Peace Corps Volunteer then you should not be here.”
We will all have dark days and significant challenges, but if you are having more bad days than good days then it is time to consider ETing. Is it worth staying if you develop depression, grow to resent the host-country nationals you work with, or begin drinking excessively to cope? Your family and your mental/physical health are more important than the magic time frame of 27 months.
September 2016 Update: Our Kosovo-2 cohort is now down to 28 from the original 37.