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2 years, 3 months
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Up to 12 months
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3-6 months
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Pamela L.

“My in-country service was cut short by Covid, so I was happy to see that I could continue my service through the Virtual Service Pilot (VSP). I’ve enjoyed remaining connected with the people of the country."”

Pamela L headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

I first learned about the Peace Corps in high school. I always wanted to travel and make a positive contribution to global communities. I taught in Argentina, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia before finally applying to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the age of 38. Kyrgyzstan was my first choice because I was interested in exploring Central Asian culture and learning a Turkic language. Previously I had done an educational project in former Soviet Union countries and was familiar with the educational culture and needs.

My in-country service was cut short by Covid, so I was happy to see that I could continue my service through the Virtual Service Pilot (VSP). I’ve enjoyed remaining connected with the people of the country; I also appreciate how motivated the teachers are, and how invested they are in helping their students.

2. What projects are you working on?

For my first virtual engagement, I collaborated online with an institute in Bishkek to provide training to teachers of kindergarten through high school. Previously I was fortunate enough to visit Bishkek as an in-country Volunteer, and explore the unique blend of Central Asian, Russian, and Soviet influences. During that virtual engagement, my counterparts and I focused on methodology, as the language skills of the participants were quite high. Introducing interactive communication activities is always so much fun.

This past January, I started my second virtual engagement with a university in the east—in a city I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit. For this engagement, I am co-teaching English language skills and teaching methods to university students studying to be secondary school teachers.

View of Bishkek mountains, Kyrgyzstan
View of the mountains in Bishkek, capital of the Kyrgyz Republic.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

In my VSP engagement I’m supporting people in a city that I haven’t visited, so I’m looking to learn from my counterpart and students as much as I’m teaching them. So far, we’ve shared travel recommendations and local dishes, which has inspired me to experiment with some of my favorite recipes from my previous in-person service.

When I was in the country, I made a point to say “yes” to as many invites and social opportunities as possible. If my host mom or counterpart invited me to a ladies' weekend lunch party, wedding, or other social activities, I happily accepted. I pushed myself to make Kyrgyz friends who didn’t speak English and I took komuz (a string instrument) classes. I’m trying to maintain that same approach with virtual service.

4. What is a highlight of your VSP engagement?

I would say the best part of virtual service is that there is so much flexibility within the project; I appreciate that my counterpart, the participants, and I can collaborate on creating lesson plans and presentations that will benefit them and directly address their particular needs. We decide what we want to work on together, so everything we do is relevant and useful for the participants.

English Week was a fun and inspiring event for me during my in-person service. The theme we chose was “English as a global language,” and the students completed research projects on people, holidays, food, education systems, and cultural practices of countries—outside of the U.S. and England—where English is the official language or widely spoken. It was great to see how much fun the students had learning about and presenting these different aspects of global culture.

4. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

With Virtual Service, I’ve appreciated that I can reach so many teachers and meet people whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

During in-country service, I spent time with my host family and colleagues. I loved getting invited to parties and weddings. Kyrgyz weddings are quite a spectacle, with a tamada (master of ceremonies) leading the festivities, games, dances, and musical performances, and of course, a lot of food.

I keep in contact with my host mom, especially on birthdays and Islamic holidays. Some former students will update me on what they’re doing or ask for help with a recommendation or application.

5. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

I learned more about the community’s specific needs from both in-country and virtual service. There’s a difference between what you initially expect the needs are and what challenges appear, the longer you collaborate with the community. For example, I learned to be more flexible in delivering lessons, utilizing mixed methodologies to ensure that a bilingual class functions effectively. I was trained in a strictly immersive teaching methodology, so this was a new concept for me, and challenging at first to find a balance.

I also loved seeing how supportive all the students were to one another and how the older students served as role models for the younger ones. I’d like to see more of a connection between different ages in the school environment in my country.

6. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Participant?

I’m looking forward to learning more about educational practices and meeting the needs of the teachers I’m training. The cultural sharing that naturally happens when working alongside those of a different region of the world.

I love cooking and trying other cuisines. Food is something that all students and counterparts enjoy talking about. I like sharing the types of foods we eat in the U.S., especially for celebrations and holidays. I come from a very diverse urban center, and I love sharing the different foods I grew up with, and telling students about these cultures and how they are part of the larger culture of the U.S.

Pamela's host mother had a birthday cake decorated like a traditional Kyrgyz tent.
Pamela's host mother had a birthday cake decorated like a traditional Kyrgyz tent during Pamela's service in 2019-20.

7. Once you finish your engagement, what will you do differently?

I will continue teaching and conducting linguistic research at a university in Saudi Arabia.

One thing I will do differently is make sure that I regularly return to Central Asia for educational projects and to maintain a connection with the culture. I visited Uzbekistan in the summer of 2022 to present a workshop at the TESOL International Conference, and spending time in Central Asia reinforced the idea that I need to spend more time there. Being in the region helped me remember how much I enjoyed living there, and seeing new places and meeting the local educators made me realize how much more there is to explore.

I learned at the start of my in-person service about the benefits of collaborative learning for intensive language instruction; I learned so much from my fellow Volunteers! It’s important to me to keep that in mind when working with students.

I also have taken to the habit of sweetening my tea with jam instead of sugar or honey. That is something that will always remind me of the wonderful lunches and tea sessions shared with my Kyrgyz friends.