PCV, Peace Corps


Where are you going?

South Africa. My training will be in a village in Gauteng Province. (Thanks for the info, Kelsey!) My actual service will be in either the Limpopo Province or in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

It was actually in a village in Limpopo called Ga-Magongoa*


What will you be doing?

My primary job will be teaching English as a second language to fourth, fifth, and/or sixth graders. I will also be responsible for creating and implementing some community outreach projects.

How long will you be gone?

27 months. My staging date is 2 July 2013 in Washington, DC. I will arrive in South Africa on 4 July 2013. I will return to the USA on 4 September 2015.

27 months?!?! Don’t you get vacation time to come home and visit?!

I will accrue 45 days of vacation time during my service. While it is probable that I will travel home to visit once, I may decide to use my time and money to travel and see places I may never have the chance to see again.

How will you afford food or travel?

The Peace Corps will give me a stipend equivalent to what the other teachers in my school are making. My understanding is that this stipend is typically around $124 USD per month. I will be keeping my tax refund this year in hopes that I will be able to travel, but it certainly won’t be enough for a trip home.

I think the stipend actually worked out to a little over $200*

Can I come visit?

I cannot have visitors during my first six months or last three months of service. I will have to request vacation time if family or close friends are going to come visit, so I need to know pretty far in advance.

Can I send you letters/care packages?

I would LOVE for you to 🙂 I can receive mail at the address below from 4 July 2013 to 6 September 2013 or there-about. After that, I will get a new mailing address. If you are going to send me a package rather than a letter, please write things like “God is watching” “Jesus sees you” and/or “Bibles Inside” on the package so it doesn’t get stolen. My understanding is that this can be an effective deterrent.

Catherine Cottam
c/o: U. S. Peace Corps
PO Box 9536
South Africa

What types of things would you want mailed to you?

Flash drives with new music from the US or new movies ripped/burned onto them would be amazing. I would also love magazines or clippings from magazines/newspapers. I would also always love photos of us together.

What language will you speak?

The languages spoken in the Limpopo Province are Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Tsonga, and Venda. The languages spoken in KwaZulu-Natal are isiZulu (Zulu), Xhosa, and Afrikaans. I will have three months of language training after I first arrive in South Africa.

I learned Sepedi (Northern Sotho)*

How will you know what to do?

There will be 11 weeks of training when I first arrive in Pretoria. During that training, we will learn all about the history, culture, politics, and education curriculum of our area. We will also take an intense language course for the entirety of the eleven weeks.

Will you live by yourself?

No. During pre-service training, I will live with a host family in Pretoria. When I get my placement, I will live with a host family as well. I will either live in a small separate building inside a family compound or in a room of a house that has its own separate entrance.

Will you have a phone/internet/running water/electricity?

I will most likely have a phone, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I had no electricity or internet and I would be truly shocked if I lived somewhere with running water.

I had electricity, running water inside my kitchen, and Internet. The Internet was very spotty though*

No running water? How will you bathe?

I will haul water from a pump to take a bucket bath. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to heat some of that water up using a kettle.

My host family ended up having a little shower inside of their house. My training host family had a bathtub that I would put a few kettles of boiling water in then put a little cold water in. *

There are plenty of people in America who need help. Why are you going to help people somewhere else?

I cannot wait to learn about a rich new culture and meet people whose lives are so drastically different from mine. Are there people living in poverty in America? Yes. But the worst off of them are still probably living better than some of the relatively affluent people I met while in Kenya. I love the idea of going somewhere new and making even a tiny bit of difference in the life of a child.

Isn’t it really dangerous?

The crime rates are very similar to those in large U.S. cities, but I wouldn’t spend three months learning about my safety and security if I were moving to a big U.S. city. It is not more likely that anything will happen to me, but I will be WAY better prepared if anything does.

That’s all I have time for tonight, but please feel free to e-mail me with more questions (cdcottam1@gmail.com) or to add them in the comments section.


Peace Corps Application Timeline

September 6, 2012- submitted completed application online; received medical case number

September 11, 2012- received acknowledgment that my application had been received; was told I would be contacted by an assessment supervisor within five business days and notified of documents still needed

September 21, 2012- received e-mail from assessment specialist requesting my three recommendations (had already been submitted), confirmation of the deferability of my student loans, and confirmation that all financial obligations would be taken care of prior to my leave date.

September 24, 2012- Status in Peace Corps system changed to application and recommendations submitted; submitted all requested documents

October 5, 2012- Status in Peace Corps system changed to interview scheduled; notified that I was eligible for an interview and told that a recruiter would contact me within 10 business days to schedule a formal interview

October 18, 2012- interviewed with my recruiter and was immediately told that I could contact friends and family to let them know that I would be nominated for service. (My recruiter was AWESOME, by the way. I really admire her.)

October 22, 2012- Status in Peace Corps system changed to interviewed; received my nomination e-mail telling me that I would receive my legal kit within the next three weeks.

October 26, 2012- Status in Peace Corps system officially changed to nominated 🙂 Received two evaluation forms and a treatment summary form to be completed by my health care providers and submitted by November 25, 2012. I would like to mention that I had to complete more evaluation forms than may typically be required as I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If you have medical issues that are well managed, don’t let that keep you from applying! This is also the day that I started keeping track of my application timeline.

November 8, 2012- All requested medical forms submitted and received. I still haven’t received my legal kit.

November 15, 2012- Finally received my legal kit in the mail!

November 16, 2012- Went to the jail to have my fingerprints done and submitted my legal kit back to PC Headquarters! I am a little concerned because I have an unpaid traffic ticket that I can’t afford to pay until December. I’m hoping that the Peace Corps will let me just submit a receipt for payment, but I’m not sure yet. I’ve had some trouble getting in touch with them. My understanding is that it usually takes about two months to hear back about medical and legal clearance. Maybe I will know something in late January 🙂

November 19, 2012- Spoke to someone in the legal office and found out that I don’t even need to send them a receipt for paying my traffic ticket. I got the impression that the man I spoke with thought I was worrying too much.

December 14, 2012- Received notification from the RN reviewing my medical file that they need a little more information about my mental health history and my ability or lack thereof to lift fifty pounds at a time.

December 15, 2012- Turned in personal statements about my mental health history and lifting abilities.

December 28, 2012- Received notification that the Peace Corps needed two years of prescription records, a personal statement about my usage of anti-anxiety medication, and a form filled out by the doctor that prescribes my mental-health medication.

January 4, 2013- Submitted the personal statement about my use of anti-anxiety medication.

January 11, 2013- Submitted medication records.

January 14, 2013- Submitted form from my doctor about my mental-health medications.

January 30, 2013- Received my medical pre-clearance!! WOOT WOOT!

February 26, 2013- Received the following e-mail:


E-mailed back to ask whether or not I should purchase a bridesmaid’s dress for my friend’s July 20th wedding and received this reply:


February 28, 2013- EEEEEK!!!! I GOT IN!!! I received an e-mail today inviting me for a placement in South Africa with a staging date of 2 July 2013. I will be teaching English to 4th, 5th, or 6th graders in South Africa in either Limpopo or Kwa-Zulu Natal.

March 1, 2013- Accepted my invitation…OBVIOUSLY!

March 4, 2013- Received access to my medical kit online. I was a little overwhelmed with all of the forms at first.

March 5, 2013- Started filling out Visa and Passport forms

March 6, 2013- Found a dentist in my area who will do my dental exam for free since I’m going into the Peace Corps and made an appointment. Made an appointment for the eye doctor, too.

March 7, 2013- Had my physical done for final medical clearance. I still haven’t gotten some of the blood work done as there is NO WAY the PC cost share allowance of $165 is going to cover the random gene testing they want done. Got access to the New Volunteer Portal. Spent a few hours going through it and taking safety quizzes.

March 8, 2013- finished filling out my passport papers. Still need to do the visa application an obtain four passport photos.

March 11- submitter my aspiration statement and my updated résumé. Received my documentation from my doctor. Got passport and visa photos taken.

I astill need to have some blood work done. I have to get a TB test, an HIV test, two hepatitis tests, and a test for a genetic disorder. My dental and eye appointments are booked!

May 9- Received my final medical and dental clearance!!!! I am officially going to South Africa!!!

I will continue to add to this as things happen since reading blogs like this has been incredibly helpful to me so far 🙂


The Life of a Peace Corps Trainee

Where are you going? What will you be doing? How long will you be gone? Where will you live? Is it safe? Why would you want to do that? There are people in America who are struggling, can’t you just help them? They still have the Peace Corps? Will you get to come home? What language will you speak? What will you eat?

These are just a few of the literally hundreds of questions I have been asked since I announced that I was applying for Peace Corps service. I have a HUGE comprehensive exam for school next Saturday, but after I finish it I plan to create a sort of FAQ post that I will update as I am asked more questions and obtain more information. Not to fret, friends, family, and potential PCVs! I know that almost everyone who asks these questions does so out of love or kind interest. I would love to take the time to answer each and every one of them, but that is unfortunately not a luxury I can afford right now. I will let you know more next week! For now, see On the Homefront for some helpful information!


Peace Corps South Africa- 2 July 2013

I promise that I will find the time soon to post about all the work that has gone into the past week and a half since I accepted my invitation.  However, I now present for your reading pleasure On the Homefront, a handbook created by the Peace Corps for the family members of volunteers.


Information for Family Members of PCVs