Not in My Own Words....

I am a Nebraskan.  I wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was 8.  Then when I got to college I learned I had to finish college, that is what I did. 

I worked my way through college with Peace Corps on my mind.  My Czech/Russian teacher one day started talking about me joining the military.  And I looked at her, with such a strange look, as if my eyes were quoting War and Peace: " screwing up his eyes."  She promised I wouldn't have to do basic training.  I didn't really belive it.  I guess I could have been a Russian spy.  Who knows. That my friends, would be another story. . .

I am doing a talk in celebration of not only the Peace Corps 50th, but of the Nebraska Czech/Slovak Padgent's 50th.  I was the Nebraska State Czech Queen 1994/1995.  What is ironic, in 1995 I did a study abroad in Kyrgyzstan.  Yeah, I know, Nebraska State Czech Queen.  Weird title.  But I did study in the Czech Republic as well.  Got there a month after the Velvet Revolution, have a cousin & his whole family who live there & can drink a lot of Czech beer, but that is yet another story ;)

So I am thinking of topics of my talk...and it dawns on me to ask some former students what it meant to have had a PCV in their village.   That is the most personable way to hear about my story: through the eyes of the young people that were in my classroom.

As an RPCV, I recruited for a while at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus before the Denver Office was closed (I was a campus rep) and those were some of the most productive years of my life.  I still can't but help talk Nebraskans into joining the Peace Corps.

One day I will return with my son.  With my husband.  Kuudai Buursa as the Kyrgyz would say.  God Willing.

I taught English in Pokrovka, Kyrgyzstan (name changed to Kyrgyz Republic in 2000).  I served as a English Teacher, and  the speaker at seminars for Kyrgyz English Teachers, entitled: Communicative Methods of Teaching & was the first American at my site.  It was a small school (about 50 students) and many of the students lived at the school.  I was initally supposed to live at the school, but Peace Corps said "NO" and I had a tiny little apartment.  I miss my village every single day of my life.

I lived really far away from other volunteers.  That's OK though, as we are bonded in ways that are stronger than, oh I don't know.  The stomach to eat sheep brains? :)  

It took me a while to get back in touch with my former students and dare I say it?  Facebook has brought us together.  What you will read is unedited & I've left out the names.  We joked (on FB) how I am still giving them homework, even though they are grown ups now!



Story 1:

When I was a teenager the new Lyceum opened in the next village. I have heard a lot of good things about it. But the main point was that they had Peace Corps volunteer. I begged my parents to let me study there. So, I met Ms. Gretchen Mills there. She was my first English teacher ever. After English became my life direction.
Firstly, education. Learning English became my priority wish. I choose to study languages in University because of her and as my dream was to visit USA, that time. It went on to my future work, friendships, family and so on. Now, I speak two foreign languages. I am happy to learn them, as how many languages you know as many side person you are.
Now, I have a multicultural family. My husband works for international company as me. We have a lot of friends from all over the world. Even our son, who is 1 year old have many foreign friends. That what our life look like now. And all because we both speak English.
Sometimes, when I look back, it is difficult to imagine where I would be without my learning English. I don’t know who and where I would be…
Therefore I want to thank my first English teacher for helping me not only learn the language, but also to become who I am now.


Story 2:

In 2006 was the first enrollment to Lyceum “Ulukman” . With the purpose to enter to Ulukman I began learn few English words. Lucky turned to my way and I was admitted to the Lyceum. From this time great and unforgettable days began there. We lived and study in the school. In 2008 we were informed that Peace Corps is going to send us English teacher from America. We were surprised! Our teacher was Gretchen Mills from Nebraska. She was an amazing person!!! She always treated us with warmth and understanding and wanted us to grow up smart and developed. I am sure her hopes realized! Her classes were very interesting. There was never a dull moment in his classroom. She was the first person who bring Halloween to Pakrovka. We made a smart scene, our costumes were gorgeous. Mrs.Gretchen always tried to help old and young people. Once a week we visited old people, helped them in households and they were happy. Miss Gretchen made a lot of friends in Kyrgyzstan, she tried to find individual approach with each people.
So fast flew two years in school and we leave Lyceum together, but still remember and miss each other!!! I want to thank Miss.Gretchen for everything she has done for us!!! I am very proud of my teacher, Miss Gretchen.

I also want to say “Thank you Peace Corps and ask to continue support this program”. Very useful and important.


Story 3:

Thank you! You did a lot for us, but that moment more of us did not understand it. I would like to return the time!!!


Story 4:

Я очень сожалею,что не изучал английский должном уровне.Мне очень жаль и Я прошу прошение Ms.Mills.Я был очень плохим учеником.Да,Я стараюсь наверстать упущенное,пытаюсь.Но,без успешно.Никак не получается,простите роди Бога.Я видел с Вашей страничке в Facebook Ваше фото с сыном и остальное.Мне очень понровился.Я очень рад,Вы счастливы,с чем Я Вас поздровляю от всей души.Примите мои поздравление.Я надеюсь Вы меня поймете.Общение с Вами,хоть виртуальное,меня забаляет.Спосибо,Вам,моя дорогая,не заменимая Американская учителница!!!Я очень горжусь Вами.Ползуясь случаем я хочу сказать Вам огромное СПАСИБО,за то,что Вы нас учили,за нас переживали.Вы держались молодцом.СПОСИБО Вам огромное,за все!!!!


Story 5: sums up being a volunteer. . .

Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) – who are they?
 I was born in a really small town in Kyrgyzstan as the same place which was shown by Borak in his comedy about Kazakstan. Mountains, horses, sheep, donkeys and endless fields of corn, potato and carrot. In some place no gas, no central heating, no electricity and even no drinking water.

And suddenly in such forgotten by God place have come PCV. We were very surprised and wondered who is that and what is that – volunteer? For village people it was like a UFO from another planet talking in a strange language. But for me as a student was not clear the word – volunteer. We used to call them American teacher or English teacher from USA. At that time I was a student at Lyceum “Ulukman” in Pokrovka village, Talas district of Kyrgyzstan.

In 1998-99 our director of Lyceum did her best to get one PCV. I may say that we were lucky it was Gretchen Mills from Lincoln, Nebraska. As soon as we saw her – we fall in love with her. And English subject became as the loveliest one.
There was a big difference in method of teaching. Every lesson was bright, very interesting, full of information, fun and remembering! Even now I remember that each student had its diary book so that we could write everything what happened with us in our life or what we were thinking about. Ms. Mills she was very sensitive psychologist. She had unique treatment for each of student. She ensured us to believe in ourselves, to believe in our dreams, to achieve our high goals. We started to take part in every competition, olimpiads, debates etc. we were very active and I can say for sure that this period of time 1998-99 “Ulukman” Lyceum was on top of its star! As we had such a wonderful, full of energy, entuthiastic, very talented and of course with a big sense of humour - leader of our lyceum team!
Ms. Gretchen changed all my life and me. Thanks to her I discovered not only new language but new culture, new society, new people and new world. But the main thing what I realized that – it doesn’t matter what kind of religion you have, what language you speak, what country you live, we can leave all together on this wonderful planet Earth – in a peace and with the peace!

P.s. volunteer – is a person who has an endless kind heart, strong personal qualities, strong believes and a little bit crazy mind!

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.