GOING BACK TO SCHOOL IN THE PEACE CORPS
Note: Julia de la Torre ’98 is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Moldova, and will share her experiences as part of an occasional series for news@haverford. Julia's previous piece is available here: http://www.haverford.edu/newsletter/june04/moldova.htm
It’s Back-To-School time all over the world, and students are gearing up for a new year. As I prepare for my courses and get ready to enter the classroom once again, I can’t help but wonder where this past year has gone. Now one year into my Peace Corps experience in the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe, I find myself with time for reflection. It is now that I can think about what I have accomplished in one year here, and what I hope to achieve in the coming months.
This time last year, I was wondering what my students would look like, what my classes would cover, and what my transition would be like from an American classroom to a Moldovan one. One year later, I realize that I have learned much about Moldovan schools and universities. I know that my students will stand when I enter the room on September 1, the official first day of school. I know that they will likely give me a single flower as a sign of “congratulations,” the typical wish offered to teachers for the new school year. I know that my chalkboard may or may not work, and that I may need to go in search of an available classroom before I can start teaching. I know that I won’t really know what I’m teaching for the entire month of September, and that flexibility and patience are useful qualities to have. I know that everyone—students and administration alike—will know what is going on at school at least two days before I ever figure out what is happening. I know that I will need to grade students on a scale of 1 to 10, and that the process will be difficult since assessing the quality of a student and his/her work based on a number is virtually impossible. I know that everyone at the university will be able to address me by name, whether or not I have ever met them—the result of being the only American. I know that my colleagues will help me with just about anything, offering me advice and useful tips in order to help me survive in a foreign place. Finally, I know that the school year will pass quickly and that before I know it, I’ll be starting my second year.
Now that I have the process down, I hope to focus on enriching my students’ learning experience and to offer new opportunities to my fellow educators on teaching methods and strategies. We recently won a grant to create a multi-media English Center, bringing video and audio into the classroom, along with a rich library of books. Nothing of its kind has been created yet for English learners at the university. It’s particularly exciting because students and teachers will be able to learn about English-speaking cultures through actual visual images and audio clips, making the language come alive for them. When I arrived, the room had a broken door, a useless blackboard, and worn-down furniture. Through the efforts of my colleagues, we have together created a center that the entire region can use and benefit from.
I hope that in the coming year, I will be able to spark in my colleagues and students a desire to improve their own university. Our school is new—only five years old. Through the English Center, they are seeing that anything is possible with hard work and persistence. It’s already rewarding to see my Moldovan colleagues get excited about applying for new grants to bring computers to our center, and to create an English teachers association in the south of Moldova. The more I work here, the more I realize that my job is to simply get the ball rolling in my community, but that the real responsibility is in the hands of the people with whom I live and work. In the end, I feel lucky to be here for two years and to be a part of something lasting in the lives of Moldovans.