After "How was it?" and "Are you happy to be home?" the most frequently asked question is, "Are you glad you joined the Peace Corps?" This is usually meant as passing conversation. They are usually not looking for a complex answer. "Yes" or "No" will do just fine. Since there is intrinsic satisfaction in completing something you decide to do, I can honestly answer in the affirmative without confusing and unwelcomed qualifications. If you are reading this and would rather not have any elaboration, please feel free to log off now.
If you are still with me, here is the long answer.
Would I do it again? I don't know. The Peace Corps did not seem very adept in using the expertise brought along by an older volunteer, but I was able to find and develop projects that did. In all fairness, the program does encourage that. I think if I had just stayed in my primary assignment, I would have wound up pretty frustrated. Two years was a long time and I don't think it was used as efficiently as it might have been. Many professional organizations, including some that I belong to, offer volunteer opportunities in developing countries. These are much shorter term than the Peace Corps. Most likely, however, it would be at a university in the capital. There wouldn't be the chance to live in a village or smaller city, to get to know a cross section of the people of the country, to learn the language and the culture, and to feel a part of the community.
I met a professional from another country who actually has less experience than I do. He worked in the captial with the appropriate national agencies. He lived in a four star hotel. He ate most of his meals in restaurants. He was picked up each morning and driven to his workplace. He didn't speak the language. He gave me his business card. I didn't have any business cards, so I wrote my name and cell number on one of his and gave it back. I never heard from him.
With the Peace Corps, I walked everywhere in town and took buses or furgons for longer distances. I ate most of my meals at home or with my local friends. My language skills weren't stellar, but I could get by well enough. I'm not sure my accommodations rated even one star, but they were ok, especially compared to the people I worked with. I don't need that much. Anyway, the countryside is much prettier, less crowded and more interesting than the capital. I didn't envy him at all.
Also, in addition to the opportunity to get to know locals, there was the interaction with the younger volunteers. It is not often that oldsters get to know young people as peers, rather than as friends of their offspring. I didn't have to pretend to be in my twenties and didn't participate in all the group activities, but there were many things we did together that I found both interesting and enjoyable. That opinion is independent of meeting Catherine.
One big down side, however, was the care of my place back home in Idaho. Younger volunteers haven't accumulated the big possessions in life. This presents another challenge for an older volunteer. I have a place in the city. It is comfortable and convenient, so I didn't want to sell. Initially, good friends stayed in it while they built a new home outside of town. I am sure they took great care of it, but they didn't need it for the full 27 months. Eventually, it was rented out by a property management company. Most of the shrubs in the small back yard ended up dead and they made interior modifications that I didn't authorize or appreciate. At least it didn't burn down and it was left clean. My main home is in the mountains. Living there is a bit complicated, so I didn't want to rent it out. Unfortunately, the friend who stayed there didn't understand or get help with the water system and the iron staining that resulted is daunting. Too bad, because it could have easily been prevented. Back up plans for other friends to look in on things apparently fell through. Also, moving out was delayed by complications, and I guess it seemed easier to impose on me than insist that the place they were moving to was available on time. I did arrive a bit earlier than I anticipated because of cancelled travel plans after Catherine's accident, but it is going on beyond that. It is awkward for all of us, but I am not happy being made to feel like a visitor in my own house.
I suppose I will have to accept that it is too late to do anything about all of this now. One should not expect that anything you do not sell or put into secure storage will end up to your personal standards for maintenance by the time you get back home. Friends will undoubtedly help a lot and make service much easier, but Americans lead busy lives and don't have time for things that are not their personal prioritites (and hardly have time for those). 27 months is a long time and one is almost sure to be disappointed. Maybe that is another lesson from Peace Corps service. I'll come around to accepting whatever has occurred. Things can be repaired or replaced. Normal routines will be slowly reestablished. At my age, I'd much rather lose possessions than friends. Even so, I would recommend that older Peace Corps volunteers consider disposing of all of their possessions before they leave home. It will make homecoming far less problematic.
The sum of Catherine's injury and subsequent rehabiliation in a far away city, readjustment to the pace and complexity of life in the US, negotiating bureaucratic hassles, and reorganizing and repairing a life and its accoutrements has made the post service period much more difficult than I had anticipated. It has been more difficult, in fact, than Peace Corps service itself. Nevertheless, it is hard to say whether it would have caused me to change my plans had I known it all in advance.
According to Garrison Keillor, "Sometimes good fortune lies in not getting what you wanted, but what you ended up with, which is what you would have wanted had you only known". Surely the short time since I have returned home is too soon to make any kind of reasoned judgment about the relative worth of my Peace Corps experience. Ask me again in five years.
Should you join the Peace Corps? There are probably as many answers to that question as there have been volunteers (about 200,000) and countries of service (about 130) in the 50 years since the Peace Corps was founded. Of the current 8000 or so volunteers in 70 countries around the world, only about 6% are over the age of 50. Even so, speaking for the few hundred of us "senior" volunteers, I know I can't give any kind of valid answer to that question. That, of course, has never stopped me in the past, so here goes...
If you are looking for a mission, I think you will be disappointed. If you want an extended vacation to an exotic locale, in spite of the remarks you might hear about the "Posh Corps", the odds are greatly against a "Club Peace Corps" assignment. You will most likely go to a village, small town or city in a developing country. Because of potential health problems, the Peace Corps does tend to keep the older volunteers away from the more remote and isolated assignments. Still, it is unlikely to be really comfortable. As far as I know there are no Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Monaco.
Finally, experience has taught me that I have almost never been happy with a decision I made for the reasons I made it. Long after I have forgotten exactly why I decided to apply to the Peace Corps, something will arise which will make me really happy I served, or, perhaps, really regret that decision, or, more likely, some combination of those sentiments. Life is like that, whether or not you choose to add Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to your resume. I learned a while back that the magic in life is not volitional. So I figure that unless you are a Buddhist, you only go through life once. If you can spare 27 months, accept the bureaucratic hassles, adapt to the difficulties, deal with the disappointments and focus on the positives, then...what the heck, for good or ill, you'll never know unless you do it. I wish you the best of luck.