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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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Paul S.

“I have recognized through my virtual conversations that the skill sets I first acquired as a Volunteer 20 years ago have been baked into my way of engaging with the world ever since. This speaks volumes for the value of the Peace Corps.”

Paul S headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps, specifically the VSP program?

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), my country of service, Moldova, has always been on my mind and in my heart. When my sister, another RPCV, texted me a link to the Virtual Service Pilot, I immediately knew I too would participate. Twenty years after my in-country Volunteer service, I was back collaborating virtually with adult educational leaders and teaching basic English.

Last year, I decided to support a second engagement which had me working with teenage Ukrainian refugees through a Moldovan NGO. I co-led an English conversation group. Both engagements were very meaningful, and I ended up continuing beyond my initial end dates for both.

2. What projects are you working on?

In my most recent engagement, I co-led a beginner- to intermediate-level English conversation group for teenage Ukrainians as part of services offered by Altruism, a Moldovan NGO. The organization has done so much to support mental health for Moldovans, but also for Ukrainians displaced as a result of the invasion of their country. The engagement was meant to support them educationally, as access to educational opportunities may have become disrupted due to the war, but it was also meant to uplift their spirits as they experience ongoing trauma because of the crisis.

In my current engagement, which will be starting soon, I will be supporting faculty at an Ethiopian university who are preparing to write academic articles and publish them in scholarly sources. The university cannot receive in-person Volunteers, so I’m grateful I can support them virtually.

3. What is a highlight of your VSP experience?

Little things like a quiet student, whose fluency was not as strong as some of the other students, remaining for a moment at the end of class to say, “Thank you for listening to me.” He was exactly the person I most hoped to reach as a group leader. Another huge highlight was being able to work with some members of the Peace Corps Moldova staff I worked with 20 years ago as a Volunteer. A few staff members who taught me Romanian all those years ago could now listen to me speak their language and were kind enough to pretend I wasn’t that bad at it!

4. What strategies have you used to meet the challenges of a short-term, remote experience?

Like any Peace Corps experience, there are many challenges, but that is part of what I find compelling about service. The most worthwhile experiences are often the most challenging. Listening to my closest counterparts and actively adapting my practices as a result of their feedback was the most important strategy for being successful.

The biggest challenge of my Ukraine engagement was serving a population in crisis. Displaced people experience all kinds of disruptions to their lives, included, but not limited to, power and internet outages due to missile attacks and psychological stress due to the ongoing war. Students were, understandably, sometimes distracted to the point that it affected their ability to engage with classroom activities. Patience, flexibility, and support from my counterparts was vital in helping me serve successfully. The whole experience foregrounded the value of learning more about trauma-informed pedagogy and how to effectively serve populations experiencing ongoing trauma.

5. What benefits are you gaining from your participation?

I think it’s fair to say that any Peace Corps Volunteer or Participant will tell you they’ve taken away much more from the experience than they’ve given. That’s certainly the case for me. We may find meaning through our family or work but there's a kind of meaningfulness that relates to contributing to the broader welfare of humanity that I felt I was missing.

In working with adult educational leaders or Ukrainian teen refugees, I found that feeling of contribution in a broader sense as well as at the micro-level, in the joy that comes with working closely with someone from another country. Participating in VSP was also a nice opportunity to practice my Romanian and Russian languages.

6. How did your previous Peace Corps experience influence your VSP experience?

My in-country Volunteer service was 20 years ago, but I have recognized through my virtual conversations that the skillsets I first acquired as a Volunteer have been baked into my way of engaging with the world ever since. This speaks volumes for the value of the Peace Corps.

Many of the fundamental perspectives the Peace Corps champions, such as being flexible, listening to counterparts, paying attention to human connections, scaling back your expectations, making do with what is available, and respecting people, are necessary for a successful VSP experience.

Paul served as a Volunteer in Moldava in the late nineties.
Paul served as a TEFL Volunteer in Moldova in the late nineties.

7. What will you take away from your experience as a VSP Participant?

For one thing, human connections. I’ve developed positive working relationships with Moldovans in my two engagements that no doubt will extend into the non-virtual world should I visit Moldova. I can imagine the smiles and hospitality I would receive. I’ve also taken away a more personal perspective of world events, thanks to my recent work with Ukrainian youth. I think a better understanding of people directly affected by international crises is vital in America, given our national debates on such issues. Finally, there is a deep satisfaction from being able to do something (anything) for my previous country of service. The people of Moldova provided me with so much personal development and love.