by Charles Gussow, T-11
After completing their service overseas, Volunteers are considered "Returned Peace Corps Volunteers" rather than "Former Volunteers" to emphasize their continuing duty to educate Americans about their country of service. This responsibility is tied to the 3rd goal of Peace Corps - bringing the experience back home to the United States (the first and second goal are providing technical assistance and sharing American culture with foreign hosts, respectively).
In honor of the upcoming Peace Corps week (March 1st - 7th), Camel Spit is pleased to offer some suggestions for successfully sharing your experience at your local school or community center.
Don't be afraid! Use the classroom match at the Peace Corps site or just call a school/library near you and set up a talk. At least once during your service, you convinced a room full of children/doctors/ministry officials that you knew something about health/business/the English language that they didn't (okay, you probably didn't need to fake English language knowledge). You actually do more about Turkmenistan than most people in the U.S., so will be able to pass on a ton of information to your audience.
Do bring props. Grab the mini-carpet under your telephone, the cheshkas (slippers) in the back of your sock drawer, the takia (skull cap) in the memento box, the don (robe) in the closet, the stuffed camel from your bed, through them in a bag and bring them in. Put your favorite photos in a PowerPoint, or just print them out if you're not sure about computer access.
Do speak a little Turkmen.
No longer a Magtymguly when it comes to the language of your service? Fear not! Thanks to the good people on the Internet, you can now find the official Peace Corps intro to Turkmen booklet on line at: http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/audio/languagelessons/turkmenistan/TK_Turkmen_Language_Lessons.pdf . Basic introductions and phrases are on pages 4-5. Print out some of the basic phrases, read along with your best impression of your host parent / counterpart / favorite taxi driver and you'll be a multilingual sensation.
Don't lose touch with reality.
I was a counselor at an English camp during my second summer. I'd like to think that I did more than share American culture and familiarize Turkmen students with English spoken with a Staten Island accent. I'd like to think I gave my students a taste for the dramatic arts through my improv comedy workshops. I'd like to fondly remember the hilarious student-led comedy performance on the last day of camp. I'd like to think I instilled in them new performance skills and mastery of the English language.
Unfortunately for my ego, and fortunately for the cause of accurate memory, another Volunteer brought a video camera to camp and gave me footage from the workshop. What the camera shows is me sweating profusely and failing miserably to convey what "short form improv" was and how, exactly, it related to the good citizens of Turkmenbashi. It turns out that my fondest desires for training the next generation of Turkmen comedians was ill-matched to the 10-12 year old basic English language learners I was assigned.
At Peace Corps week, I could tell American students that I created a burgeoning comedy scene on the Caspian coast. But, that would mean ignoring an important part of Peace Corps life: the error in the trial and error process of grassroots development. We all learned a lot from those parts of our service which didn't go well. Our audiences in America can as well.
* All rights reserved by author *