Something that has struck me ever since Emily and I first started talking about joining the Peace Corps was the powerful perceptions everyone had about the program, including ourselves. From co-workers wistfully recounting their regret for not joining the Peace Corps when they “had the chance”, to church members affirming us that we’d be a blessing to our new community, to RPCVs reminiscing about the varied highs and lows of their service, expectations and perceptions of what it meant to be a Peace Corps Volunteer ran the gamut. And yet when we tried to inform ourselves about what to expect by reading blogs or reading online material or talking to RPCVs, we’d mainly hear “it depends” and “Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Like most applicants, we certainly joined the Peace Corps hoping to make a difference while also challenging ourselves through learning about a new language and culture. Every step along the process, from receiving our invitation to Nicaragua, learning we’d be TEFL volunteers, being exposed to the TEFL program in Nicaragua, and finding out about our site, to meeting our counterparts and our schools, honed and modeled our expectations and understanding of our role here as TEFL PCVs in Nicaragua. With all of these goals, hopes, and desires for our service, self-doubt is a near universal experience during the adjustment cycle of being a Peace Corps volunteer.
Although you may not see it shared on our Facebook status or Instagram updates, it’s something that all PCVs I’ve talked to have grappled with and/or are currently grappling with. I’m no exception, and have tried to share honestly here about my struggles, both as we started and after a few months.
We’re finding ourselves in a stage of our service, a year, in that can be a particularly painful clash of expectations and reality. According to the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” that Emily wrote about back in January, we are in the middle of the period when many volunteers experience their Mid-Service Crisis. After nearing your half-way point in your service, the amount of progress you’ve made vs. the amount you hope to make during your entire service can be jarring.
At the same time, by this point, much of your first year of struggles is leading you to a point where meaningful work can occur. Due to that, Emily and I don’t feel like we’re in any sort of mid-service crisis. Quite to the contrary, we’re currently riding a mid-service high! When we were assigned our site, we were told that there was a strong possibility that Estelí would be the next site where they would open the STEP (Striving Towards English Proficiency) program, and that we would be asked to be the coordinators. As we’ve mentioned, we think STEP is pretty amazing, so we were honored and excited by the prospect of playing such a key role in improving the English of the teachers in our region. We made it a priority to form close relationships with our key contacts in the Ministry of Education here in Estelí, so that we would have their support if we were granted the chance to open the program in the department.
On July 30th, the Minister of Education in Managua officially authorized us to start STEP in Estelí! With that, we hit the ground running. Here is a snapshot of our August prep work for STEP:
- Planning meetings attended: 5
- Sessions offered for the placement exam: 3
- Teachers who took the placement exam: 145
- Helpers we had to grade all of the aforementioned exams: 3
- Hours spent doing data entry on exam scores and teacher contact info: 100+
- Previous STEP sites that have had this level of participation and interest in the course: 0
Right now we’re just waiting on the course books to arrive to start the program! Our tentative start date is October 11th, and Emily and I couldn’t be any more excited to get under way. We haven’t even taught a class yet, but we’ve already been showered with appreciation and warmth by the teachers:
“Thank you, I am looking forward to learn more English and I can´t wait to start the course. If you guys need any help, please let me know. I will be please to do that. I want you guys to know you are huge blessing in our country. God bless you.”
“I’m appreciate your help in our country!”
“Thank you so much! You are special persons. May GOD bless you!”
I don’t imagine that self-doubt will ever completely disappear during my service, and a measure of critical reflection is definitely a constructive thing. However, it sure feels good being able to have such a significant project becoming possible based on our groundwork. We feel so fortunate to be entrusted with such responsibility, and grateful to have the opportunity to support our fellow TEFL PCVs in their ability to do the meaningful work that is teaching these classes and the motivated, hard-working Estelí teachers in their learning.