All in a Day's Work
- Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Estonia
Before applying to the Peace Corps, I talked with a friend who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand several years ago. She told me that she lived in a remote village—far from where any other Peace Corps Volunteers were living at the time. I panicked when I heard this. Then I quashed my fears. After all, did I really want to spend the bulk of my time hanging out with other Americans? Not really. So I began to prepare myself for the challenge of possible isolation.
As it turned out, I was assigned to the country of Estonia, which is the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. All the Volunteers in Estonia live within a long day's journey of each other's towns. Still, I have few visitors. Living away from other Americans has encouraged me to find friends in my community. Most of them are several years older than I am, married, and have one or two children. Consequently, I am "Aunt" Amy to a troop of children. This is a common title of respect.
One of my new friends is a secretary at my school. Last year, she stayed home with her new baby and did not work at school. I am lucky to have her as a friend, and hopeful that she will help me to overcome one of the biggest challenges I have faced during my first year as a Volunteer: the lack of information about school-related activities. The other teachers often forgot to tell me things because they assumed I already knew. What was common knowledge to them, however, was utterly alien to me, the new American teacher. I tended to find out about field trips, shortened periods, canceled classes, and deadlines on the day they happened or a day in advance. But this year, I believe, is going to be different: My new friend promised to keep me informed of all school activities and schedule changes this year.
Another challenge that I faced during my first year of teaching was the lack of classroom space. Sometimes I did not have a classroom to teach in. This year, I do not have a room of my own but teach in whatever room happens to be empty. Every so often there are no free classrooms in the afternoon. My school has two shifts because there are too many students for the size of the school, and the shifts overlap briefly in the afternoon. I have held class outside, in the school cafeteria, in the teachers' room, and in my apartment. This constant change makes it difficult for me to use my lesson plans because I might not have a chalkboard or chairs. I always carry backup activities in my bag.
These challenges have taught me to be more patient and flexible, and to not assume anything. I know now that I need to ask more than one teacher for information, and to emphasize that, as an American, what is normal for them may not be normal for me. I also need to pester a few students and ask them for news that affects our school and town. Students know almost everything, often before the teachers do.
In a way, dealing with schedule changes and lack of classroom space is both an adventure and an exercise in creative thinking. A change in pace often relieves students' stress, and it certainly gives me something to laugh about!