On Common Ground
-Two CofC Grads Share a Peace Corps Thanksgiving
Life in America is one unique experience after another. We’ve got shops on every corner selling any manner of goods and people who come from all over the globe right next door. There are languages and foods and religions galore, not to mention opinions, customs and such. It’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on and truly, it is not lost on us Peace Corps volunteers as we change our usual habitat for something bigger than ourselves, going through all of the motions to receive a Peace Corps invitation to serve and then getting on a plane to stay in a new and foreign community for a two year-plus volunteer term.
Each day, we are challenged to create, understand, adapt and share with others far away and each day, we think about who we are, who we were and who we will be. We know where we came from, that’s for sure, but it’s difficult sometimes to know what our service will eventually mean and how we will fit into that former life after our Peace Corps work is over. These questions are common ones for all Peace Corps volunteers and during our service we think about them a lot.
Other volunteers of course can relate, but each of us does come from a different place in America, has a different background, age, lifestyle, etc. and honestly, it’s not so easy sometimes to talk about the little things that matter as they stand out in stark noise apart from the obvious. Like when the cold comes and the snow has yet to blanket the land here in Eastern Europe (as we know it will) with a bit of warmth, so all that you can think about is a soft night breeze coming off the waters of the Ashley River or the feel of the extra hot whitish sand under your feet at Sullivans. Those are the little things that only a few of us know and those were the things that I talked about this Thanksgiving with Elena Boroski, a fellow graduate of the College of Charleston, miles from our beloved Charleston in Skopje, Macedonia.
You see, Elena took the leap to join the Peace Corps, too. She and I are serving in different countries, about 500 or so miles apart. Because of her grandmother, Edna, we met online as Elena was just entering the Peace Corps realm and for the last 18 months or so had never met face to face until this Thanksgiving weekend. The newest volunteers there were to be sworn into service and then treated to an American Thanksgiving Day full throttle. It’s now become a tradition for the old and new volunteers, their counterpart teachers, host families and staff in country via Macedonia Peace Corps. Turkey and all (and I should mention that theirs was delectable!) it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners and occasions ever. I was grateful to be invited to spend time with everyone there and enjoy the spoils.
In my third year now of Romania Peace Corps and Elena just finishing her first, we both had a heap of things to say after that and each day there in Macedonia we got to learn more about each other’s experiences. I found out a lot about Elena and was impressed by her drive, her kindness and her knowledge. She’s an English teacher, also, and both of us had many stories to tell. We had had similar, yet different experiences. I’d been in the countryside, while Elena’s first year was in a small township. She’d not taught school before as she was a recent grad in the communications field, and I’d been an adjunct and worked with afterschool programs with a master’s degree in language education. Both of us have helped our host country partners receive grant funds for afterschool ventures and both of us have an appreciation for the arts and good friends. Despite some of the differences in experiences, the playing field was of course leveled when it came to cultural adaptation, school discipline, the constant changes we face, the feeling that we were the connection to American life and lore as we both set out each day to teach school or to interact socially or to participate in or lead a secondary project in our communities. Even our likes and dislikes and feelings of loneliness or joy were as we found out likewise amplified in this volunteer job of ours as we discussed over dinners, visiting her friends there, and long bus rides to other small towns in the country.
But that’s not the most interesting part. We found we already had a lot in common.
We are-the two of us-are both very dedicated Peace Corps volunteers who are proud CofC grads. And wouldn’t you know, even though she is in her twenties and I am over fifty, we didn’t skip a beat when sharing fond remembrances of days gone by and our Cougar years. The College of Charleston had been our home, too, and both of us love to tell others about it. The education we received there was more than just a liberal arts education. The language training and the bonus of having a varied international faculty were huge advantages. The city and the campus are in our blood and many miles away in Eastern Europe, it was a special occasion to meet a long way off from Charleston now and have that history.
In this year of the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s vision, and Sargent Shriver’s handiwork, the Peace Corps stands as strong as ever, and Elena and I are some of the lucky ones who try to uphold that every moment here and who’ve gotten to spend time with people who never shared our American past, and yet embrace our traditions and encourage our work in our respective countries despite that we may sometimes wax poetic about our heritage and our days in Charleston, with a bit of tear in our eye for a place and the people who at the College of Charleston, and elsewhere in our favorite city, have shaped us and given us the foundation to do good things.
Separate, yes, but apart, no. We are sisters in this Peace Corps. Romania and Macedonia are wonderfully different and worthwhile places to serve. I will go back to a place like that and feel right at home. As well, Romania feels the same. Going on thirty one months here has made me a fan in so many ways. Yet Charleston is our home and we will never tire about talking about that. Even when the winds blow cold and our USA seems not so near, these Cougar girls know that the learning we received at our alma mater was a privilege and we are privileged to share that in our volunteer jobs each day.