From English camp and s’mores, to so much more

By Ulugbek Khakimov
Feb. 8, 2023

I will never forget when, in 2003, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, 20 Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in my hometown of Gulistan, Uzbekistan.

I was 18 years old and a student at the Gulistan Academic Lyceum High School, where I studied English only from books. Everything changed when my classmates and I first heard English from the mouths of native speakers, the Volunteers who arrived in 2003. From that point on, I spent several years learning English and participating in many other enriching Peace Corps activities.

These experiences changed my life forever.

Peace Corps Volunteers shared their American culture and values with us by celebrating Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other important American cultural days. In turn, we taught them how to cook plov (pilaf, our national dish), and how to celebrate Nawruz and other Muslim holidays like Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha.

Volunteers were generous in my community. During the Christmas holidays in 2003, the Volunteers, their other students, and I went to Sirdarya Orphanage to donate toys, supplies, and gifts. We also fundraised for the orphanage at the schools and universities where the Volunteers taught English.

During their time here, Peace Corps Uzbekistan Volunteers raised money from their friends and families back home in the United States so they could host an American English summer camp in the Farish Mountains. I attended with nearly 200 other students.

At the camp, we stayed in a big barracks in a forested area of the mountains. There, we learned about American culture. We learned how to make s’mores over the campfire and we sang campfire songs. We played American sports like baseball, American football, and frisbee. We had movie nights and watched American movies.

Ulugbek Khakimov
Ulugbek Khakimov works as a press assistant in the public diplomacy section at the U.S. Embassy Tashkent.

At the camp, Volunteers introduced us to life-planning skills, which was an entirely new thing for us Uzbekistani students. As part of that lesson, they taught us how to write motivational statements for college applications, create résumés, and draft essays. They also taught us how to conserve water and take care of the environment to reduce pollution in our country.

The American Volunteers were always cheerful when they taught English and created extracurricular activities for us. After several years of English language learning with the Volunteers, I started speaking nearly fluent English and also began thinking in English.

Now I am adult working in the public diplomacy section at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Thanks to the Peace Corps, I have made a career out of English, writing, and my knowledge of American values like freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Looking back at the time I spent with the Peace Corps and its Volunteers, I am so thankful to all my American teachers and the Peace Corps for helping us improve our English language skills. Doing so helped me build a better career and a better future for my family.

When I look at today’s Uzbekistani students, I realize how much they are missing out on because they are not able to have the experience I had with Peace Corps Volunteers. I look forward to when the Peace Corps returns to my country to serve the younger generation in Uzbekistan.

Ulugbek Khakimov