My Story

By Grete Phillips
Feb. 13, 2024

How did a 72 year-old grandmother find herself back in the Peace Corps and serving in the Republic of Moldova for the second time?

Well, I’d like to say it was the fault of my older brother, but that is not entirely true. My older brother served five years in the Peace Corps, all in Spanish speaking countries. During his first tour in Honduras and Uruguay, I did not take the opportunity to visit him. It was during his second tour (twenty years later), when he was serving in Colombia, that I spent a week with him in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta. During a visit to the Peace Corps office in Barranquilla, my interest in serving in the Peace Corps was kindled.

Grete is visiting her brother, PCV in Colombia
Grete visiting her brother, PCV in Colombia

While at the Peace Corps office, I had the opportunity to speak with several Volunteers and was amazed at the interesting things they were doing for their communities. Everything from teaching English (my brother), agricultural reform, to even trying to establish a national park on a small island. My reaction was, “Wow!” Then I thought maybe I could do something like that. I was nearing retirement age and trying to think of something to do after I retired. I am not one to sit around, and my son and his family were establishing their own lives. I was healthy and knew my age would not preclude me from serving. The Peace Corps was actively recruiting 55+ individuals.

I returned home and the more I thought about it, the more the idea sounded like something I would be interested in doing. In addition, I was contemplating buying a retirement house in Mexico and what better way to learn Spanish then two years with the Peace Corps!

I started the application process shortly thereafter not realizing how complicated it was. I did state my preference for English Education in a Spanish speaking country although I was willing to serve where needed (with a few exceptions). After the interview, I eagerly awaited an invitation.

When I did receive the invitation, it was to serve in the Republic of Moldova. I went ”What? Where in the heck is Moldova?” I quickly did a Google search and found out where this little country was located. When I looked at the map, I said, “that’s not too bad.” Moldova was close to parts of Europe I had not visited and my stay there would give me opportunities to travel. Plus, the Romanian language was closely related to Spanish. I quickly accepted the invitation and started thinking of ways I could start learning Romanian. By the way, I went ahead and bought the house in Mexico.

Receiving an invitation to serve in Moldova was probably one the best things that ever happened to me. I arrived in Moldova in June 2017 with the rest of my cohort as a member of M32. There were about 45 of us divided into English Education, Community and Organizational Development, and Health Education. There were a couple volunteers who had served in the Peace Corps before, but the rest of us were all “newbies.” After getting over jet lag and orientation, we settled into our Pre-Service Training villages and got down to the business of technical training and language training. All of our tech trainers and Language Training Instructors were terrific, very patient especially those of us who struggled with the language training. After 10 weeks of grueling training, we were sworn in and made our way to our villages or towns.

Peace Corps Moldova Close-of-Service conference.
M-32 cohort at the Close-of-Service Conference

I can’t say enough about my village, and my school.

Everyone was welcoming and excited about my being there. My co-partner was head of the English department which consisted of three other English teachers. We worked well together and for two years, I co-taught English to grades 2-12. In addition, I facilitated two English clubs, taught English to a family immigrating to the U.S., and on Sundays, taught English to the other teachers in the school. It was probably during the first year, I realized I had a knack for teaching and delighted in the process and all my students. What a great bunch of kids – so eager to learn English and along with their parents, appreciative of my efforts.

When I ended my service in July 2019, I thought I was leaving Moldova behind me. I came back to the states and headed to my house in Mexico where retirement beckoned. While there, I did some volunteer work for the local Boys & Girls Club and then COVID hit. Everything shut down, and I was left with looking at the Pacific Ocean. That may sound great but after six to seven months, it gets a little tiresome. I decided retirement was not for me; sold the house and came back to the Kansas City area where I knew I could find a part-time job. Most of all, I missed my friends in Moldova, my students, and teaching. I started looking for ways to return.

About a year later, the Peace Corps was slowing opening up again after COVID. I figured this was my chance of returning to the Peace Corps, maybe not to Moldova, but service in another country. I applied for Mongolia and then to Georgia but did not receive medical clearance for either country. Frustration set in. WHERE COULD I SERVE? I was told I could serve in several South American countries, Moldova, and North Macedonia. Because a former Volunteer and a good friend was serving in North Macedonia, I applied for service there. I received an invitation and started the medical clearance process – again. I did not apply for Moldova because I was under the impression a volunteer could not return to the same country as prior service. That turned out to be wrong, but Moldova was still not able to accept Volunteers because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on Moldova’s border.

While I was going through the medical clearance for North Macedonia, I came across an opportunity to return to “teaching” in Moldova - virtually. Peace Corps Moldova had just initiated a Virtual Service Project whereby former Volunteers in the U.S. would participate in a project virtually. Each Volunteer would work from their home in the U.S. at their convenience, taking into consideration the time difference. The first project offered was audio/video recording of some of the new Moldova English textbooks. I applied and was accepted. There were eight of us from different parts of the United States– all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. A couple of us had previously served in Moldova. Over the course of several weeks, we recorded the dialogues and readings from the new textbooks. With the help of America House in Chișinău, we video-taped several of the sessions. It was great work to work with Peace Corps Moldova again and this was the perfect project. I could record at my convenience between my work schedule and other commitments.

English Education Community of Practice
English Education Community of Practice conference

Once that project ended, fortunately another Virtual Project popped up. This one right up my alley – facilitating a Virtual English Conversation Club for two schools in Moldova. I applied and was readily accepted. I did not know it at the time, but one of schools participating was my old school in Dubasari raion, along with my former partner and some my old students! The other school was in Drochia in the north of the Moldova. For the length of the school year, we met virtually every Saturday morning, Moldovan time, and consistently to my surprise, we had 25-27 kids attend from both schools for an hour or more of English conversation, fun and games.

I was a little sad when the club ended because once again, I thought my English teaching career in Moldova was over. Not so. While this virtual project was in process, Peace Corps Moldova was building a Peace Corps Response program. I had heard of the Response program in other countries but did not consider it as I was on track for service in North Macedonia. That all changed when the English Program Manager at Peace Corps Moldova asked me specially to apply for the Response program. She and I had worked together on the two Virtual Projects. The project would entail facilitating a national English Teacher Training program, and teaching English to various staff members. Two years in North Macedonia or one year in Moldova? There really was no question of which one I would choose. I withdrew my application to North Macedonia and applied for the Response program. In addition to being the first Response cohort, my fellow Response Volunteers and I would be the first Peace Corps volunteers back in Moldova after three years. My application was accepted and I eagerly awaited medical clearance.

Instead of sitting around waiting to hear from the Peace Corps Medical Office, I took on my third virtual project with Peace Corps Moldova – teaching English to the staff at the Sunflower Center in Chișinău. The Sunflower Center was helping Ukrainian refugees that fled the war and settled in the capital city.

On August 28, 2023, eight Response Volunteers (M1), all former two-year Volunteers in Moldova, landed in Chisinau. All of us agreed: it felt like coming home. So yes, my older brother was partly responsible for me being back in Moldova, but also the country itself. Moldova and its people become part of your heart and you cannot help but come back.

Peace Corps Response volunteer posed in Chisinau airport holding Moldovan and Peace Corps flags. on the day of their arrival to Moldova
First group of Peace Corps Response Volunteers M1 at Chisinau airport.
Headshot of Grete