March seems like a long way from August, when the group with which I joined the Peace Corps ends its time in Burkina Faso. However we had our Close of Service (COS) conference the last week in March and I don’t think it was a bit too soon. After I attended the conference I understood the timing of this event. One reason is that there is a good deal of paper work you have to do before you can leave the country, and it will be helpful to get drafts of these reports, or even the actual reports, finished before you are in Ouagadougou and there is a plane to catch the next day.
One of the things you have to write is a Description of Service (DOS), in which you describe all the things you did during your two years here that you would want a future employer to know about. This takes the place of a letter of reference you might want to have to document the experiences you had while serving in the Peace Corps. It is limited to two to three pages, so you really can’t tell everything, but you can highlight the important things.
Another thing you write is a final report that goes to a volunteer who follows you at your site, so that person knows what you were working on and who the people are who were working with you. You also do three project write-ups, telling specifically about the three projects you think others might learn from.
We also got an idea about the COS medical exam. They want to check us out and make sure we are not going home with a tropical disease that the typical American doctor has never seen and might not recognize.
About two thirds of the three day meeting was devoted to helping volunteers think about what they would be doing after they finish their service here. I know a few who already have acceptances to graduate school or law school, but many do not have any clear idea of what they are going to do when they get home. Some are planning to take a trip to some other countries before returning to the US, but others just want to go home. Many of those who are traveling also do not know what they are going to do when they get home. That is the reason so much time was devoted to helping them with information about how to get a job.
Our facilitator for the meeting was a volunteer in Turkey many years ago and she has been doing COS conferences in various countries from time to time. She had several excellent presentations that helped volunteers think about how to present the work they have done here as part of a resume or CV. I actually learned some things about writing resumes and CVs for potential employers that I did not know. I am going to mention a couple of them here because those of you who talk to students who will be job hunting soon might find some ideas here. If you already know more about this than I do, you can skip to the following part.
Resume writing ideas
Over the years I have seen a section in resumes that I always thought was a bit silly, called “Objective.” Basically what everybody says is that they want to get a job like the one advertised, or a job that will use their talents. That seems redundant with the fact that they are applying for the job. I was pleased to hear that the latest thinking about the objectives section is that it is a waste of valuable space in the one page you have when you write your resume.
I also learned that there are two different ways in which to present your work history. In one, you list your jobs chronologically and say what you did there, which is the way I always thought you should do it . In the other you list you skills and experiences, which I found much easier to read and understand. You also list your employers, but by pulling out the skills you have and the kinds of work you have done, you can save a lot of space and make clear why an employer might want to hire you.
Another interesting idea was the “elevator speech,” that is, a 30 second speech you work up in which you say what you have done and the kind of job you are looking for. The facilitator had people practice this and many found it difficult to do. It seems like a handy thing to have on the tip of your tongue when you are job hunting, because you never know when you might have a chance to talk briefly with someone who might know about the perfect position for you, if only they knew what you can do and the kind of job you would like.
Because the COS conference is the last time the people in a given group will all be together, the tradition is to have a party. We were lucky enough to be able to use the conference room at the hotel where Peace Corps had us staying so there was no problem with people getting back to the hotel when they wanted to leave. I had an outfit made from material celebrating the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. I had thought I would have something made for the fair in the fall, but I did not get the material in time so I decided to use it for this event. Here is a picture.The material is blue with white print about the anniversary. I had my friend Martine make the pants and “boubou” top. Then she sent it to Koudougou to have it decorated with the embroidery. After I had it made I learned that this party is traditionally a costume party. Fortunately some people wore costumes and others dressed up. Here is a picture of some of the people in Girls Education and Empowerment section. Unfortunately some of the folks were not around when we took this, but you can see that many dressed up in costume, but not all. Notice the sign in the background says "Super Stage," That is because we were such a big group. although we like to think we did a super job.
This is my friend Wendy, another older volunteer, who came in costume. She dressed as the guy who stands in the street near the stop light and tries to sell you minutes for your cell phone while you wait for the light to change. They actually do a brisk business. And yes, the Obama shirt was a good choice for this costume. It is a favorite clothing item here.
More about clothing next time…..