After you receive your invitation, the country desk asks that you write an essay stating what you think your job will be like and what you plan to do with the work while your there and after you leave. Though it was difficult at first to write another essay, it turned out to be a great experience for both of us and to read what the other wrote. They're written in 5 sections, but I blended them altogether so sorry for any confusion. Still, thought they'd be nice to share.....
Professionally, I rely heavily upon both my basic computer skills such as mouse operation, touch typing, word processing and spreadsheet writing. I suspect that I will be teaching these skills, so I also expect to grow as both a communicator and teacher.
Moreover, I hope to learn a great deal about computer programming by teaching about it. It is my hope that I will be given the opportunity to teach advanced computer usage such as script- and program writing, in a capacity that will not only give important skills to my community, but will also give me new insight into my craft.
Because I do not yet know the skill level of my students (I'm not even certain I'll be teaching!) it is hard to speak specifically about my strategies for working effectively with host country partners. However, when it comes to teaching others to use computers, in my experience, there is one strategy that works almost universally: be patient. I remember my wonder, amazement and confusion when I first started using a computer. Learning to use a computer -- one of the most complex machines on earth -- is a skill with a steep learning curve. By remembering what it was like for me the first time, I will put myself into my students' shoes and better be able to guide them to mastery.
Unsurprisingly, I intend to adapt to the culture of South Africa by keeping an open mind above all else. In the past three years of my life, I've experienced a great deal of personal growth by living in communities such as New York City and Southern California that differ so greatly from the suburban Minnesota I grew up in. Keeping an open mind helped me adapt to and quickly become a participating member of those communities.
In South Africa, I intend to make myself a member of the community I live in, and the skill that will best help me achieve this goal is language. During my pre-service, in addition to knowledge about the culture of my community, I hope to learn a local language. The best way to speak to people is by speaking their language, whether in a metaphorical or literal sense.
In addition, I look forward to formally learning more about teaching. Specifically, learning how South African students expect to be taught will help me be a more effective instructor.
It is my expectation that the Peace Corps will give me an opportunity to make myself a stronger person. I have lived a largely sheltered, easy life in the U.S. Exposure to hard work, minimalist living conditions and an alien culture is an opportunity for me to grow.
This exposure is in keeping with my personal goals for life after my service has ended. My life's goal is to make a difference in the fight against global poverty. Through the Peace Corps, I will learn more about the people and the need so that I am better able to help in the future. My plan for fighting global poverty has only two specifics: I will volunteer my time and money to charities with the same goal. There is no way I can give myself more time, but I can increase the amount that I donate by growing as a professional; how specifically, I am yet unsure.
The lessons I have learned from teaching in southern California as well as my time as a training coordinator for the Fundamentals Center will be invaluable during my Peace Corps service. As a teacher, I found patience I never knew I had, strength when I was ready to quit, and hope in the small and infrequent victories. Teaching by nature is a profession of constant growth and self-evaluation. Through this, I have learned to keep a very open mind when confronted with new people and new ideas; because this is where relationships are built and good work can begin.
My time as a training coordinator will be useful on a technical level. From this, I learned about managing multiple sites and understanding that each community-no matter how similar-has vastly different needs and must be dealt with in a personal, thoughtful manner. I also learned how to package materials in a “train the trainer” type model which I plan to use in my service. My hope is that, though I will leave in two years, the programs and curricula that I help establish will go on for as long as they are needed.
In addition to my duties and aspirations for my math education placement, I hope to be involved in women’s health work for my secondary project. My hope would be to apply the public health concepts I have been studying independently, and create or continue a program that the community I am serving desires.
My greatest wish for all my work is that I truly listen to the people who have brought me to my placement, and give them whatever services they desire, and not the ones I think they need. I know that programs like these make the most effective and lasting changes. Just as in teaching, when I meet students where they are at, we can all forge a better path towards where we want to be.
As I stated in my previous passage, I think the most effective strategy is keeping an open mind and really listening to what the host country partners are saying. I have just as much to learn from this experience, if not more, as they do. Though my training and skills will be useful, it will only be through discussing their wishes, that we will find how those skills can best be used.
I believe the second most valuable strategy is persistence. Change never comes easily, no matter how much I and the country partners want it to. People have to learn to trust me and my motivations, and this is not an overnight process. If I fail to help someone today, or I am being met with great resistance, I know the best thing I can do is go home, reflect on those challenges, and go back again tomorrow.
My background as an army brat (a child of someone in the military) has done nothing but teach me strategies for adapting to a new culture. I have learned to be an excellent observer. Through this observation, I can learn whatever outer aspects will make people feel comfortable, as well as have them know that I am trying to understand and appreciate their culture (i.e. clothing, food, day-to-day routine).
At the same time, I have learned that this process does not mean changing what is important to me. It just means valuing where I have been, while appreciating what my new surroundings have to offer. This way I emerge a better, wiser me, but still me at the core.
On a technical level, I am hoping that the pre-service training will provide me with the essentials needed for my job placement as well as strategies that have been effective for past volunteers. I am expecting to learn any language requirements in addition to other basic cultural and safety adjustments I may need to make.
On a more personal level, I would hope to learn strategies for dealing with struggles I might face during my assignment. I look forward to hearing a variety of tools past volunteers have used or created to help them with the transition to South Africa. I would hope to hear about secondary projects that were successful, and what made them successful. Mostly, I am hoping for an immersion experience with a strong and knowledgeable support system that will help me through the initial culture shock of living on an entirely new continent.
I think of all the questions, this is the most difficult to answer. My service will influence me greatly; there is no doubt in my mind about that. However, if I have learned anything from my past experiences, it’s that you can never predict how something will change you, and that is the beauty of it.
I have aspirations to serve my community wherever I live. I’m not quite sure what that service looks like yet, but I feel like with every new experience, I am getting one step closer. I am contemplating a career change into health, and my service might solidify those dreams. However, I know that I love teaching, and my time in South Africa might place me firmly back on that track. In the end, I could be shown something entirely different I could have never imagined.
In all honestly, I am content to let the journey decide. I will work as hard as I can and pour all of myself into my time with Peace Corps and my service beyond. Because what matters most to me is that I do the very best I can, and perhaps make the lives of the people around me a little better. What I get out of that is completely secondary, and in the end, not really in my control. Like the great poet said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”