They always tell us that Peace Corps is a 24/7 job, that we are always on duty as Volunteers and Americans. I’ve blogged and posted a lot about cultural differences, learning the language, Albanian friends I’ve made, traveling, and how hot and cold it can get here. But I actually do have a job that I do every day…or, rather, several jobs. Work is technically 1/3 of the reason that I am here representing my country.
So, what do I actually do as an English Education PCV?
Teaching English at the public high school: This is my “primary assignment,” or the main purpose that Peace Corps hired me. Each TEFL Volunteer is assigned a school and a counterpart–or an Albanian teacher that they shadow, teach together with, or in the stead of (depending on what your relationship with your counterpart is like). I get along great with my counterpart but she isn’t the most reliable person in the world. Sometimes, there have been days where she hasn’t shown up for one reason or another and I have to teach by myself, which is usually a disaster because I’m a young American girl and the students aren’t afraid of me like they are of her. Other times, we’ll be in the middle of the lesson and she’ll randomly walk out to take a phone call. I’m lucky if she comes back. Albanian students aren’t like American students; they have been conditioned to only respond to physical discipline (corporal punishment). Basically, they think they can get away with anything up until the teacher pinches or slaps or punches them. Different Albanian PCVs have different approaches to this problem, but I personally choose not to touch my students because I feel that it is wrong. This only adds to the lack of respect they have for me. (They like me as a person, but they know that I am pretty much powerless to punish them because I don’t have the connections that the other teachers do.) Things I have seen my students–mostly boys–do in class: choke each other, throw other students’ things out the windows, throw chairs, break chairs, stick gum on every object in sight, carve genitalia and swear words on desktops, and set various objects on fire. So, yes, my kids are a handful, but they are all really nice to me outside of the classroom! There is a big group of boys that congregates at the front gate and yells, “HELLO KATE!” as I walk in to school each morning, and I get nice Facebook messages from my students all the time. They drive me crazy but it is worth it, especially after a good lesson.
Model UN: I selected nine of the best English students to compete in the national Model UN competition, and our school got accepted this year! It’s been really rewarding but a lot of hard work for me and the students, and just like in class, they tend to drive me crazy with their dramatic excuses for not doing research and their unfortunate Albanian tendency not to talk over one another, but to SCREAM over one another until I’m banging on the desk just like I do when I teach and yelling “QETËSI JU LUTEM!” We have our first mini-conference this weekend and it may or may not be a disaster, we’ll see.
- English lessons at the Cultural Center: My sitemate Jill and I teach English at the local culture center. The first day, we showed up and found about 25 students–many from the impoverished Roma communities in and around Kavajë–that couldn’t speak a single word of English. We were stunned. It’s been two months of hard work and confusion and frustration, but we finally have two organized classes (Jill teaches the beginners, I teach the intermediate students) with rosters and lesson plans and things are going well. My kids are about 10-11 years old on average, and they are adorable. I teach about 50% English and 50% in Shqip because their comprehension is limited, but it’s actually really good for me because children a) don’t make fun of you or judge you when you try to speak, and b) they aren’t afraid to correct you when you make a mistake. So it’s good for both parties involved.
- Small Projects Assistance Grant/Teaching at the primary school: My boss’s cousin-in-law, Orkida, teaches at the local nëntëvjeçarë–or primary/elementary school. I went to visit her and spoke with the director about getting some funding for educational materials. So, I’ll be writing my first grant ever! Every time I go to school, the teachers beg me to teach there, and I’m actually thinking about it since my schedule at the high school has calmed down. Even better, I’ve become friends with Orkida and her family and I consider them to be my second family in Kavajë.
I’m also now on THREE Peace Corps committees, because I am insane.
- Volunteer Advisory Committee: At the end of training, each sector (English Education, Health, and Community Development) elects one person to be its representative on the VAC, which acts as a liaison between the Country Director and the Volunteers. My TEFLers chose me, so every few months the six of us (three from Group 15, three from my group) meet with the Country Director and discuss Peace Corps issues and develop action items to resolve them. I’ve just volunteered to the be the President the next fiscal year, as the new group of PCVs comes in, and I’m really excited about it!
- Monitoring, Reporting, & Evaluation: This committee is devoted to developing tools (mostly Excel spreadsheets) to track Peace Corps programs’ official goals and provide a way for Volunteers to monitor their progress in their service. A TEFLer from Group 15 and I brainstorm ways to do this for each of the goals and then create the tools, pass them back and forth between our supervisors, then develop a final model and present them to Peace Corps. I like it because I’m a huge nerd.
- Language & Cross-Cultural Committee: I got recruited to this one by our L&CC coordinator, because for some reason people still think I am good at speaking Albanian. Language is really important for PCVs, and progressing can be difficult if you can’t find a good tutor at site, feel pressure/temptation to speak only in English at your host agency, or are struggling to find motivation to keep studying. My goal is to help Peace Corps incorporate the belief that everyone’s learning styles are different, and we should create ways to help everyone and their individual needs.
So, that’s what I do most of the time. I do get to have fun on the weekends and during breaks, but my assignment and my secondary projects and my PC responsibilities keep me pretty busy! Now I’m looking forward to winter vacation, when I’ll embark on my first real international trip as an adult and spend Christmas and New Year’s in central Europe.