This is what Troy Tillis got out of working as a Peace Corps volunteer: a great job and a graduate degree.
Tillis is a planning and performance analyst with the federal General Services Administration. He helps manage and analyze the long-term direction of a major federal agency. And he credits both the work experience and the contacts he developed in the Peace Corps for landing the job.
Tillis got a bachelor's degree in organizational management and through a series of internships made a big discovery: "I didn't want to be in sales!" he said. "While my degree was in business, I saw that I wasn't particularly happy with where I was heading and I had time to adjust things."
Tillis makes a great point: Internships not only give you job skills, they can show you what you don't want to do with your life.
"I hated my potential career track and started to really analyze what I wanted to do with my life, which started me on the road to grad school and the Peace Corps," Tillis said. As it turned out, the Peace Corps provided both the graduate degree and life experience he was looking for.
"Since I paid for school myself, I luckily found the Peace Corps' Master's International Program, a partnership program between Peace Corps and several universities throughout the country," he said. He completed graduate coursework and then did a two-year assignment as a Corps volunteer. Through the program he received tuition waivers and work as a graduate-assistant.
Tillis spent his volunteer time as a community development specialist in the Republic of Macedonia, a small landlocked country in the Balkans. He made a lot of the job, doing training and development work for many organizations and NGOs in the country. He also worked on language training projects and in his "spare time" worked in several youth development camps.
His work in Macedonia, his contacts in the country, and his Masters thesis on agriculture and rural development led directly to his first job, working as a project development officer for a university in Macedonia. He worked on a regional rural development proposal that just got funded by the European Commission.
His work overseas and his Peace Corps experience made a big difference when he came back to the U.S., too.
"When I got back I had numerous interviews because of people I had met and because of the work I completed there," Tillis said. "Even in this tough economy I was averaging one to two interviews a week, and actually had to turn down an offer in international development because another offer was too good."
Tillis says you should do a lot of homework before joining the Peace Corps. Talk to returned volunteers and think long and hard about what you want to accomplish and get out of the experience.
"Should you choose to join the Peace Corps, you will undoubtedly take a path that will change your life forever," he says. "Enjoy the ride."