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Fun fact about me: I almost applied to the Peace Corps! During my senior year of college, I somehow got really interested in the Peace Corps (I honestly have no idea what started this) and almost applied for it after graduation.
I had the application open and everything but decided not to. I think I’m glad I didn’t because I don’t think I would have handled it all that well at that point.
I do still think it would be an amazing experience and haven’t written it off forever but for now, I’ll just keep reading Peace Corps memoirs and other Peace Corps books.
I’ve even followed the Peace Corps subreddit since then and still read the posts. I have no idea why but I just like it. Anyway, here is a mountain of Peace Corps memoirs to either inspire you to serve or let you live vicariously through them.
I have a few on this list but haven’t read them yet and I’m sure as I write the rest of this I’ll add a ton more to my TBR and wishlist.
- If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free. Get that Audible deal here.
- If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd! You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
- Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
- If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
- Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
- Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
- Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.
Between Inca Walls: A Peace Corps Memoir
Evelyn is twenty-one and naive about life and love. She grew up in a small town in Montana then moved to California with her devout Catholic family where she is drawn to Latino culture.
Over the summer of her junior year in college, she helps set up a school and library in a small town in Mexico. After graduation, she joins the Peace Corps to work on community development in the Peruvian Andes.
She and her roommate Marie work on projects to improve the community while adjusting to life with few amenities. She even falls in love with a university student forcing her to choose between following the religious rules of her youth and giving in to her sexual desires.
Dancing with Gogos: a Peace Corps Memoir
This is the story of learning a new language, immersing himself in a new culture, leaving love behind, discovering the unexpected, and trying to make a difference in small Zulu villages across rural South Africa.
It’s the story of apartheid in South Africa and the effects of those still struggling today. He and 35 other volunteers are sworn in to work with Peace Corps South Africa’s Community HIV-AIDS Outreach Program to try and reduce the spread on the front-lines.
Shade of the Paraiso: Two Years in Paraguay, South America
Here’s another Peach Corps memoir for you, if that’s your thing. Mark spent two years in Paraguay serving in the Peace Corps in a remote community.
He shares about his failures, his wedding in a leper colony, his first day beginning with a coup, and life where you read by candlelight, draw water from a well, use a rickety outhouse, and hike for hours to reach a telephone and bus stop.
Awkward Stumbles and Fuzzy Memories: a Peace Corps Memoir
Kathy is stuck in her hometown without much to look forward to when she makes the unexpected decision to join the Peace Corps.
This is her real-life adventure learning to let go of home while embracing the unknown.
The Couscous Chronicles: a Peace Corps Memoir
Fresh out of college with a film production degree, Richard wanted to travel so he joined the Peace Corps and headed off to Morocco to learn French, Arabic, and nuances of Islamic culture.
His post was part of the media team for the Ministry of Agriculture, making training films and materials for farmers. This is the ambitious and adventurous memoir of his time in Morocco.
Love and Latrines in the Land of Spiderweb Lace: a Peace Corps Memoir
Mary Lou was a health education Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s in Paraguay. She adapted to life under a dictatorship, worked on a sanitation project, and even appeared on national television. These are the stories of her time in service and the friends she still has today.
The Ponds of Kalambayi: a Peace Corps Memoir
This is, and I quote from Goodreads, “A hilarious and wrenching memoir from a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire.”
I have no idea what this one would be like, other than about service in Zaire, but I think I want to read it.
At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: a Peace Corps Memoir
When everything felt right in Janet’s life, she leaves it all behind with her husband to join the Peace Corps.
They’re assigned to Kazakhstan, a country trying to find its own way after Soviet rule where she has to find a way to be in a world different from what she knew and expected, too.
The Vodka Diaries: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Adventures in Russia
For two years starting in 1994, Richard served in the Peace Corps in the far east of Russia managing a small business center just a few miles from the Chinese and North Korean borders.
These are his experiences living with a Russian family, managing a business center for Russian entrepreneurs, and running with the Mafia that allowed him insight to the Russian soul and the chance to examine his own.
He went from local celebrity to suspected American spy with the opportunity to socialize with Russian and American politicians, various Mafia organizations, and regular citizens.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
I’ve wanted to read this for YEARS and had no idea it was a Peace Corps memoir until now.
Fuling is in the heart of China’s Sichuan Province in the heart of the Yangtze River Valley. It’s a town on the path of change and growth that came into focus when Peter arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer. He was also the first American to live here in more than half a century.
He taught English and American literature at the local college while his students taught him the complex processes of understanding that take place when immersed in a radically different society.
My View from the House at Sea: A Life Transformed by Samoa and the Peace Corps
This is a vivid and emotional memoir of life as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small Samoan village where Donna finds herself adapting to foods, customs, and life as a retiree.
She reflects on the experiences she had and how they changed her life and continue to affect her today.
Monique and the Mangos: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali
This isn’t a Peace Corps memoir, but it was written by a Peace Corps volunteer about a friend she made during her service and their decade-long friendship.
Monique saved lives in a remote corner of West Africa where childbirth is a matter of life and death. The is the tale of her passion to better the women and children facing poverty, unhappy marriages, and endless backbreaking work as well as her tragic and ironic death.
Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village
When Sarah made it to Nambonkaha, she became the first Caucasian to venture there since the French colonialists. As far as she was from home in a remote village of Cote d’Ivoire, she didn’t feel like a stranger for long.
She draws us into the changing world of the village that became her home, a place where electricity is expected but never arrives, sorcerers conjure magic, and the sounds of grinding corn ring out like church bells in the morning.
The most coveted fashion is fabric with western cell phones on it but it’s also a place threatened by AIDS and poverty is constant.
Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle
When Moritz was 48, he sold his pig farm to join the Peace Corps and this is all about his time in service.
Taxi to Tashkent: Two Years with the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan
At forty, Tom went to Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer where he taught AIDS prevention and sex education in the most conservative region of Central Asia.
Instead of the nation portrayed in western media, he finds Korean discos, Shania Twain, and shop owners applauding at mentions of America. He travels across the country sharing a little-known corner of the world where nothing is as it seems.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life
Ever always thought she would join the Peace Corps and after graduating, she knew it was time. She heads to the Peace Corps office in her best safari chic to see how she can join. When she meets John, the young recruiter, she knows there’s no turning back. Shee has to join and win his heart.
After a year in the Ecuadorian jungle, she returns home vowing to stay near decaf cappuccinos for the rest of her life. Just as she’s getting used to life back home, John gets a job with CARE and they’re off to Uganda.
Only Bees Die: Peace Corps Eastern Europe
Robert Keller served in the Peace Corps in Albania from March 2008 to September 9. These are his stories, thoughts, experiences, and more from his time abroad.
A Land Without Time: A Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan
Most of what people know about Afghanistan comes from the media, but this is the story of Afghanistan before and during the communist coup in 1979, told by a Peace Corps volunteer.
It starts like any Peace Corps service but a military coup leads to the arrest of the author who is accused of being an American spy. He is extricated from prison as the communist regime solidifies leading to the events setting 9/11 into motion.
This is unlike any other story documenting Afghanistan’s change.
Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla
As a Peace Corps volunteer, Meredith is sent to help counter deforestation that’s destroying the ecosystems and livelihoods around the Panama Canal.
This is the chronicle of her struggle upon arrival, her funny encounters as she learns to live a new lifestyle, and her powerlessness when it comes to replanting trees being cut down. While facing deforestation, she also faces a battle against her own feelings of fear and isolation.
Betty Zee in PC: Sights and Sounds from a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru
In October 2009, Betty quit her promising PR job to join the Peace Corps. In March 2012, she received her invitation to serve in Peru.
This is a collection of blog posts turned-book on her time serving as a youth development volunteer in northern Rural Peru.
From Microsoft to Malawi: Learning on the Front Lines as a Peace Corps Volunteer
This Peace Corps memoir was inspired by Michael’s journals from his time in service as a teacher in a village in Malawi. He opens his tiny home to three boys and they embark on their journey of cross-cultural discovery and growth together.
As momentum on their project to build a boarding school for girls grows, he becomes discouraged and debates leaving when a powerful bureaucrat tries to shut it down. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands in the persistent, courageous spirit of Malawi.
Triumph and Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras
When Barbara announced she was joining the Peace Corps at 63, a male friend said she would be home “by Christmas at the latest.” Instead, she found adventure, challenges, and the motivation to extend her service beyond the usual two years.
South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir
This is a humorous memoir about joining the Peace Corps after losing a job and receiving a worn postcard, full of vivid descriptions of Mexico and Central America between 1975 and 1977.
Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion
In 2005, Michael was sent to the heart of China to serve in the Peace Corps. While in Guiyang, he overcomes cultural differences, revels in peculiarities of life in China’s interior, and discovers the complex relationship between tradition and rapid modernization.
Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin
Susana is looking forward to embracing a new life and forgetting her painful past when she is sent to northern Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.
To the villagers, she’s just a rich American tourist but she fights back with all her heart and humor. She begins to make a difference and ventures to the village to learn to carry water on her head.
Village life is magical as she teaches and disciplines without beatings the students are used to, as she makes ice cream in the scorching heat, and as she learns how to plant millet and kill chickens.
But poverty is also rampant and despite this, people share what little they have. As she and the village become part of each other, she knows they’ll never be the same again.
American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps
In 1975, a group of Peace Corps volunteers, including Deborah Gardner, arrived in Tonga, but she would never make it home. The following year she was stabbed twenty-two times and left for dead inside her hut.
Another volunteer turned himself in and many of the volunteers thought he was guilty, but with the help of the state department, he returned home a free man. Her death was kept quiet in the US but reached legendary proportions in Tonga.
Here, Phillip Weiss exposes tales of love, violence, and clashing ideals. This one sounds really interesting to me!
Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders
This is the account of life in contemporary South Africa from a Peace Corps volunteer and grandson of Jimmy Carter. It shows the struggles of a country recovering from deep racial divides where Black people struggle with poverty, unemployment, and powerlessness.
The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa
Deaf from a young age, Josh used lip-reading and hearing aids to help him blend in, but it didn’t work. After college, he decided to go somewhere his deafness wouldn’t matter: Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer.
He spent his days working in a clinic and he was now in a world where he finally commanded attention. Everyone listened to him carefully but didn’t always follow his instruction.
He believed he finally found a place where his deafness didn’t interfere, that he could call home, but a nightmarish incident blasted away his newfound convictions.
The Mountain School: Three Years Learning as a Peace Corps Teacher in Lesotho, Africa
Lesotho (now eSwatini) is an isolated mountainous enclave in southern Africa and home to few outsiders. The Basotho people are respected in the area as the only tribe never to be defeated by European colonizers.
Greg arrives as the first foreign resident in Tsoeneng since 1966, when the Canadian priest living there was robbed and murdered in his home.
Greg is a teacher at the secondary school and finds himself incompetent in unexpected ways but he learns the local language and is even invited to participate in local initiation rites. As accepted as he seems, he sees how much of an outsider his will always be and maybe wants to stay.
The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia
P.F. Kluge was sent to paradise as a Peace Corps volunteer, Micronesia. At least that’s how it seemed. He immersed himself in their lives, composed speeches for leaders, wrote a stirring manifesto that became the preamble to the Constitution of Micronesia, and even began a friendship with the future president of Palau. And then a generation later he went back.
An Indian among Los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir
I would also really love to read this one, another Peace Corps memoir but in Bolivia this time.
Ursula, a member of the Karuk Tribe, started her Peace Corps service at twenty-five in Bolivia with excitement and trepidation “knowing I followed in the footsteps of Western colonizers and missionaries who had also claimed they were there to help.”
Over the next two years, a series of dramatic episodes brought the tension to a boiling point, and began asking herself what it means to have experienced the effects of colonialism while risking becoming a colonizing force in turn?
Have you read any of these Peace Corps memoirs? Which ones? Any other Peace Corps books I should check out? Have you served in the Peace Corps? Where? What was it like? Would you do it again? Did you write a book about it? Share it below!