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Off-the-beaten-path careers

Peace Corps volunteer

When David Leavitt graduated from the University of Denver in the mid-1980s with an accounting degree, he likely could have found a well-paying corporate job.

Instead, he dreamed of overseas adventure and became a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching business skills to locals in the Dominican Republic.

Leavitt was interested in doing international development work and saw the Peace Corps as the perfect vehicle to get relevant experience. Today, he is a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps' Southeast regional office in Atlanta.

The Peace Corps does not pay a salary, and volunteers are required to commit 27 months of their lives. Leavitt says the value of the experience transcends salary and really provides career benefits long past the two-year commitment.

"The real value there is that (volunteers) have developed language skills, they have developed cultural sensitivity and they have more of a world view which is an important asset both in the public and private sectors," he says.

Volunteers who stay in the Peace Corps for two years qualify for one year of non-competitive eligibility, says Leavitt. That means a federal agency can hire you without even advertising the position. Many times, federal agencies call Leavitt to see if he can refer a recent volunteer to fill a position.

"That's a huge advantage to get into the federal service because it is hyper-competitive," he says.

What they do: Volunteers work in foreign countries assisting local communities with education, youth outreach, business development, agriculture, health and information technology related issues, etc.

Pros: Special eligibility for federal jobs when you return home. Camaraderie of being with a group of like-minded Americans. No upper age limit. Minimum age is 18. Full medical coverage during service. Student loan deferment. Compensation of $6,000 upon completion of service. Forty-eight vacation days over two years. Perkins loans are eligible for a partial cancellation benefit.

Cons: Twenty-seven-month commitment. Isolation from family and friends. Potential for political instability, depending on country assigned. Could contract illnesses while on duty.

Education required: Formal education not necessary, although certain educational degrees such as agriculture, business and information technology are favored. Practical business experience is also acceptable in lieu of education.

A job that's good for: People in certain in-demand backgrounds such as agriculture and education. Also, people who have a curiosity about foreign cultures and a desire to help them.

Salary: Volunteer positions do not pay, although staff positions can be competitive depending on job title. Administrative officers serving overseas, for example, can earn between $42,314 and $76,688 to start. A regional recruiter serving in Los Angeles can earn between $42,782 and $51,083 to start. An occupational health nurse serving in Washington earns between $64,284 and $94,403.


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