Thursday, August 20, 2009

4th grade prediction?

The following is a statement about what I hope to learn, encounter, overcome and achieve while serving in Turkmenistan.

In 4th grade on a project, each student was asked “what do you want to do when you grow up.” As an adventurous ten year old, indicated I wanted to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. At the time, I do not think I fully understood what it meant to serve with an organization like Peace Corps. During college, however, I had many opportunities to serve in my local community, other regions the United States, and abroad. As I prepared for life after college, Peace Corps seemed to make perfect sense as the next step in my life.

In my own volunteer experiences thus far, I have discovered that America has a lot to learn from people in less developed areas, whether those be areas within our own country or beyond. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer will not only allow me to develop a better understanding of myself in relationship to the world, but I will also have stories to share upon returning home, at which point I will be able to help educate the people around me who are not fortunate enough to share in my experiences. Even so, I know there will be many times when I will be challenged while working as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Those challenges may range from adjusting to non-air conditioned schools to not seeing eye-to-eye on certain goals of programs. I expect that I will struggle at times with both missing friends and family and feeling like I live in a fish bowl. While I expect this to be the most difficult and rewarding two years of my life, I could not be more excited and committed to helping develop more effective ways of teaching the children of Turkmenistan.

I am aware that many times, volunteers make the mistake of trying to offer their help with a certain task before asking what it is that the people actually need help with. In my many trips to Africa, I have learned that to be most effective in aiding someone, you must take the time to learn what is needed before offering assistance. Entering into the classroom, I will first try to learn as much as possible from the other teachers and the school administrators. I want to collaborate to achieve goals that we set together. I intend to keep an open mind and not assume my familiar ways of doing something are the best or the only ways. At the same time, I want to tirelessly offer my skills and abilities to improve the methods of teaching English while remaining mindful of respecting the system that has existed before my arrival. My intention is to add to the strength and operation of the program, and to leave it a strong and successful outlet slated to endure long after my departure.

Adapting to new cultures for me has been both exciting and refreshing. I earned a degree in sociology and I have always had a passion for interacting with and understanding people, especially those from vastly different cultures than myself. I come from a very homogenous, rural town where everyone knows everyone and people genuinely care for one another. As much as I loved growing up there, I always desired to experience different cultures. During my first year of college, I got the chance to volunteer with a Muslim refugee family that came from Russia. Over the past four years, I have become more than their volunteer; I am part of their family. Even with volunteering in the United States and traveling abroad for month-long trips, I want the chance to get more than a snapshot of a culture. I want to invest myself and my time into the Turkmen culture. I want to be open minded to all there is to learn and to take an active role in submerging myself into their culture. I believe serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer will afford me the opportunity to realize the similarities between the people from my small hometown and those from small Turkmen towns, despite cultural differences.

Since accepting my nomination, I have been reading anything and everything I can about Turkmenistan. I want to go into the experience educated so I can be as culturally understanding and sensitive as possible. Yet, while collecting information through books, internet and blogs of Peace Corps Volunteers, I want to keep an open mind and not to go into the experience with too strongly-held preconceived notions or ideas about the country, culture or people.

I look forward to gaining knowledge during pre-service and being pushed beyond what I think I am capable of. I anticipate being challenged with learning Turkmen, but I am dedicated to applying myself and really absorbing as much of the language as I can. I think the ability to speak the native language is key to developing relationships with locals and show them my commitment to become part of their culture.

I am also excited for the challenge of teaching English to Turkmen students. I want to establish great relationships with the current teachers and instructors. I plan to first learn from them what works and what doesn’t before trying to apply my skills and knowledge. The biggest personal goal for me is to be able to offer foreign insights yet remain culturally sensitive. I want the learning and sharing to be a two way street, where we both learn equally about one’s culture, country and lives.

As I previously stated, I believe that Peace Corps will be the most difficult and rewarding two years of my life. I also believe it will highlight the ideals I hold to be true in life. I believe I will be more committed to leading a life where I contribute the skills and the abilities I have been given for the benefit of the local and global community that I live in.

My professional plans at the end of service include continuing my education and possibly working at a non-profit organization or in a position as a social worker. I expect to learn things about myself that I did not know before, and I also expect to be challenged in ways that I never imagined. This being said, I believe I could return from service and end up in a field that I had never even thought of previously. Regardless of what profession I find myself in, I plan on using the experience that the Peace Corps provides to be a better person, humanitarian, and globally conscious citizen.