If I hear the infamous phrase “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love” one more time, my cranial nerves may just detonate. It’s funny, every time I heard this from a Peace Corps official or any other source I figured it was referring to living in a developing country and adjusting to the life style. Turns out that is the easy part. The difficult element, which is beginning to challenge my mental toughness, is doing a job – which is already difficult to do in the United States – in a foreign language.
The final few weeks of Pre Service Training started off marvelously. I was beginning to feel confident with my language ability (I was even starting random conversations on the bus with locals, which typically ends with invite for some house wine) and truly feeling comfortable in my new milieu. I was incredibly humbled during class the following day when I was elected as the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) representative. This position represents the leader of the program, which is all the M27 Health Education volunteers in my case, and meets with the country director once a month to confer about progress reports, potential program modifications, and so on. Being the youngest member of the crew, just the nomination itself was an incredible honor. Two years is going to be a synch. Then began practice school.
Practice school is exactly what it sounds like, we teach health related lessons to Moldovan children with our future partner to get a feel for what life in the classroom might be like. We are to give three lectures, to three different age groups on the same topic. I never got to meet Galina, my teacher partner who was en route to conquer the first week of practice school with me, during my site visit to Lapusna so I was filled with anticipation. Assigned to the topic of Time Management for My Health, I was feeling prepared and ready to go. If you haven’t been able to detect the foreshadowed downfall already, here it is.
Galina turned out to be a delightful and patient soul but the situation itself was no less vile than Hell. Diverse districts and localities have differing dialects and accents, so the language barrier appeared to have brought us all back to day one in Moldova. The inability to convey our ideas about the topic was appalling on all levels. To our partners, it felt as if we came off as moronic and completely disoriented individuals, not well educated and highly motivated handpicked PCV’s. Armed with nothing but more awkward icebreakers, a dictionary, and books in English, we had now become Chimpanzees in a test lab being observed by our superiors on how well we were able to complete a “simple” task. We had meetings, were given materials, were shown skits of possible problems that could arise between a future pair, and given schedules that planned our every minute of the entire week. After the quick 20-minute lunch break, we were told to go off and start constructing our lesson plans for the first of three lectures. What was supposed to be a 9-5pm day quickly evolved into a 9am-10pm nightmare. Staring at a blank piece of paper that is to become an intricate lesson plan and comprehensive script would have been doable if my partner and I could understand a single word coming out of each other’s mouths. I won’t go on to every detail about the disturbingly prolonged days, but after completing the first of two weeks of practice school, I can say there was a severe lack of sleep, a sense that all patience has disappeared, far too many Volunteer tears and venting sessions, and a stress level that was so palpable that it could have been felt from miles away.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that all of us Health Education volunteers actually fulfilled our simple task of delivering three lessons completely in the foreign language and had children responding to our questions, participating in our activities and even thanking us afterwards for teaching them something new. Now we are only ten days away from being sworn into the US Government as official Peace Corps Volunteers where the real journey and difference-making voyage can initiate. However, we have all been left wondering what in the world convinced people to put us in a situation that made us question our commitments and decisions, brought us to the brink of our breaking points, and made us feel so incompetent and unintelligent just two weeks before they send us off to be alienated in an entirely new village.
There is only one-way to look at this: stay positive and realize that it’s just a test of our mental toughness to weed out the weak and prepare us for the most difficult obstacles we may ever face. I made a commitment to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate to me, knowing full well that it will not be easy, but I was sure blind-sided about which parts may be the most difficult. Now knowing that I will never again take for granted the benefits of simple debriefing phone calls to my mother and father, I will face the second week of this Hell with my head held high and hopefully as the strong-willed leader that my peers elected me to be.