Packing for 27 Months of Peace Corps Service

Special Greetings to SA29! We are all so excited to meet you!!!

First thing’s first: I am part of a cohort of 36 people and I’m sure each one of us would give you very different packing advice. Following is what I wish I had known/listened to before I came to South Africa.

When PC told us to pack things in a nonessential for PST (pre service training) vs. Essential for PST fashion, I was frustrated. How on earth was I supposed to know which items were essential for our training period and which weren’t in a completely new and confusing situation?

We were also told to dress business casual in colors that wouldn’t show dirt, but that hasn’t played out either. Hardly anything I thought was essential actually was and a lot of what is stored in my nonessential bag I really wish I had with me. I would like to note that this advice is definitely geared towards women. Sorry gentleman!

Here are some things I wish I knew or paid attention to before I packed:

Pack cute clothes that you already wear.
There is absolutely no need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe and you are better off saving your American money and buying clothes here where you will get more bang for your buck anyway. If you usually wear lots of skirts- pack lots of your skirts. (Cultural note on that- your knees shouldn’t show, so also pack leggings or tights if your skirts are on the short side). If you usually wear slacks- pack slacks. Trust me when I say we aren’t on a safari here. If you think your pink skinny jeans are too bright for South Africa- think again. Color blocking is a big thing here and there is no such thing as too bright. I sincerely wish I had brought my bright pink Old Navy skinny jeans, in case you couldn’t tell. You will be expected to dress business casual Mondays-Thursdays, so make sure you pack appropriately for that. The next group will be arriving in January- which is going to be summer here and it will be miserably hot. Try to stick with light flowing clothing that still covers all of your body parts. During the winter it gets very cold at night and can be chilly during the day. It’s spring now and its mostly really hot during the day but cools down some at night. On the weekends, you are allowed to wear jeans. I made the mistake of only packing one pair in my essentials. Eix!

In terms of shoes:
I only had two pairs of tevas- one brown and one black, a pair of cheap Old Navy flip flops, and a pair of tennis shoes packed in my essentials bag. Pack cute flats or dress shoes. I had to buy a pair when I got here and I could still use several more pairs of flats. If you are feeling ambitious, bring maybe one pair of heels. Personally, I would break an ankle if I wore heels here because I spend so much time walking on rocky paths. Brown shoes are a plus here because they don’t show the dirt as badly and the South Africans I have met really have a thing about clean shoes.

Pack things that comfort you in your essentials bag.
I have many books and movies in South Africa, but most of them are in storage in my nonessential bag. I’m itching to get my Harry Potter DVDs back. I recommend you pack some of your favorite American candy and your favorite DVDs in your essentials bag. You can certainly survive without them, but they make the hard days so much easier- and there will be hard days. One of my better choices was packing a Bath and Body Works sweet cinnamon pumpkin candle. I also packed my twin sized down comforter in one of those vacuum sealed bags and my own pillow from home. Most airlines don’t count a pillow as an extra item, which I was very glad to learn and take advantage of.

You can buy almost anything you need in South Africa, but there are a few things you may want that I haven’t been able to find here yet: a garlic press, kool aid packets, dry ranch dressing packets, and instant macaroni and cheese. Maybe none of those things are important to you, but there are some days when I want something that is familiar.

One thing I really really suggest doing is having your friends and family members each write you a letter for a hard day- and don’t kid yourself, there will be many hard days. Peace Corps can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. My first night in my homestay was sssooooo hard, but I adore my host family now and wouldn’t trade them for anything. Your cohort will become like your family. I love my cohort, but sometimes it is nice to be able to open a note from a friend or family member and remember that there are people out there who love and TRULY get me.

Please please PLEASE do not go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for your Peace Corps service. Bring cute clothes you already have! Save the money you would have spent on clothes in America and use that money to buy clothes here.

I do not recommend that you buy a new cell phone in America for your service. I was given a really nice blackberry in the States and it won’t work for data because it is CDMA capable. Some people here have had success getting their iphones to work. I spent 200USD on a blackberry here and I pay R59 a month for UNLIMITED data. That’s a little less than $6 per month. I was able to get mine fairly early in PST, but they also gave us a cheap Nokia to use in case of emergencies that we will be returning to them this weekend.

You really do need to be able to carry all of your own stuff, so don’t pack a bunch of extra stuff you won’t use. Pack enough clothing in your essentials bag for a different outfit every day for two weeks. If you wear something twice without washing it, the LCFs (language teachers) may tease you.

Sooooooo here are my personal suggestions based on my experience:

Essentials Bag:
7 tops and 7 bottoms that can more or less be mixed and matched.( I would actually recommend bringing at least 10 of each, but I’m very aware of the space and weight limits)
7 pairs of underwear
2 sports bras
3+ regular bras
1 nice bra (for those days you just need to feel pretty)
Rain jacket
Feminine Hygiene supplies (I love my Diva Cup)
3 month supply of medications
Fake wedding ring (I got mine on ebay for $8 and it has been soooo helpful)
Nice sweater (no hoodies allowed on training days)
2 pairs of closed toed dressier shoes (1 brown and 1 black)
1 pair of flipflops
1 pair of sneakers
External harddrive! (trust me- you will want this. Load half of it up with movies you love/ new movies prior to leaving America and remember- sharing is caring!!!
Pictures from home (maybe in an album)
Your favorite scented candle
Your favorite book.

Non-essentials bag:
Off season clothing
A nice heavy jacket
A hat
An extra pair of glasses
Swimsuit for vacation
Nice little gifts for yourself for when you finally get your bag back.
Personally, I love to knit, so I wish I had put nice American yarn
Several seed packets to plant when you get to permanent site.

I’m sure there is so much else I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now, but I get my nonessential bag back this weekend, so I will have more info then!

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

3 thoughts on “Packing for 27 Months of Peace Corps Service”

  1. I love you for this!!!! Thank you so much for helping us who will be arriving in Jan. I have been wondering how to pack and be able to carry all I have to bring. I also was wondering about the items you have mentioned on your own, kudos!!! I am excited to get to meet you soon and hope to do so or we should all exchange addresses so we can write each other. I don’t have family support so I will be on my own there and do hope to get settled quickly. I will be working with the HIV/AIDS unit.

  2. I like your list! Especially the idea of having family write letters for the hard days. Good coffee and my french press get me through those, but letters would be better!

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