|When I graduated from Trenton State College
in 1996, I had the whole world in front of me. My future was
bright. I was a young American ready to live the American
dream. It was time for me to make money. Or, I could join the
People asked me, "Why don't you just be normal? You don't need
to go halfway across the globe, you can get a job here." But this
was the time of my life. I should go for it-find myself, discover
life's purpose, and let my future unfold. So I applied to the United
States Peace Corps, "the toughest job you'll ever love." I
immediately understood the "toughest job" part. It was the
"you'll ever love" that took some time to discover.
It all started on June 11, 1997. After a brief staging convention
in Chicago, where I joined the other forty-eight Peace Corps trainees,
we embarked on our way toward the Republic of Moldova, a small,
former Soviet republic sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine.
I was about to live in a country that fifteen years before had been
part of an empire I thought was going to drop a nuclear bomb on
As the summer ended and I completed pre-service training, I was
given the location of my site, the village in which I would live
out my Peace Corps service as an English teacher. I was to leave
the capital, my host family, and all the other Americans. I was
to start over, the true beginning. As I raised my right hand in
front of our Peace Corps director, the American ambassador to Moldova,
and the President of the Republic of Moldova, I swore to serve my
country and the host country to which I dedicated my service. I
was proud to be on foreign soil. I was proud to be an American.
I was petrified.
As the school year ended, almost a year had passed since I first
set foot in Eastern Europe. I needed to think seriously about my
future. I had completed one year as a Peace Corps Volunteer. A select
few of my students could speak English quite well, and I had become
very close with a couple of families in my village. I had learned
to shoot vodka like the Soviets and I had no problem with the mice
that kept me awake many long, cold nights. I never tripped over
the baby turkeys on the dark way to the outhouse in the middle of
the night, and even the front yard pig slaughtering didn't catch
me off guard anymore. I sort of enjoyed lapte acru, a soured milk
kept on the windowsill for about a week before drinking. I could
sing along to Romanian bands, and wearing five layers of clothing
became normal. However, could I stay another year? Did I want to?
Three months of intense pre-service training was a walk in the park
in comparison to the intensity of moving out into a village, living
with an unfriendly and indifferent host family, beginning a teaching
profession, and trying to survive in a new, cold, and confusing
Stuck somewhere in the middle of communism, free market society,
greed, and poverty, Moldova is not an easy place to live for Moldovans,
let alone Americans. People were incredibly angry, mostly because
they had been dominated for years. Once a part of Romania, Moldova
was annexed by Russia in 1940 during World War II. Stalin made Moldova
a Soviet Republic, bringing in Russians to control it. Everything
was taken away, including any Moldovan power, their tradition, and
even their language. The official language was changed from Romanian
to Russian, influencing the government, banks, and even schools.
Thousands of Moldovans who had any amount of influence or money
were exiled to Siberia and Kazakstan. Close to half a million Moldovans
were killed as a result of work camps, the cold, and famine. Communism
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, theoretically, communism
was gone. Moldova was liberated to regulate itself-democratically.
The only problem was Moldova had no idea how to govern itself, let
alone rise to democracy. Romania, buried in its own debt and national
problems, could not take Moldova back under its broken wing, leaving
remnant Russians to pick up the pieces. Communist thought and corruption
continued, and got worse. Stealing government funds and driving
Mercedes automobiles, officials in Parliament ceased to pay workers
in social services. Doctors, pensioners, and teachers still don't
see income for months on end. It is no wonder these people were,
and still are, so bitter. After I learned a little, I understood
why they were so hopeless. Yet it was still frustrating to understand
why they took it out on me.
Maybe it was because I was from America, the land of opportunity
and money. I had to explain time and time again that money in America
does not grow on trees. They doubted me when I told them that I
still owe $27,000 for college. And they refused to believe that
about one out of five Americans actually lives under the poverty
level. They simply thought that I was insane, a spoiled brat who
didn't know what it was like to go through what they had gone through.
All of this made me look at my life in the U.S.
our society isn't perfect, there really are more freedoms, rights,
and opportunities to borrow money, learn, and work. It made me look
at the fact that I probably couldn't help the people in Moldova.
Although I didn't want to give up, I thought maybe I should go back
home and study social welfare in my own country, where at least
I could communicate.
I set up a meeting with our Peace Corps Country Director to help
me make a decision. He listened, gave sound advice, and offered
an option other than early termination. I could move to a small
town, start over, and teach in a slightly more developed area where
Americans had worked before. Leaving my students, who had kept me
in Cojusna for so long, would be hard. How would I tell them that
I was transferring to the regional center, where the students were
supposedly "better"? I knew their feelings would be hurt and
they wouldn't understand my need to move. It was difficult for me
to understand. The reason for a two-year Peace Corps service is
to have time to create personal relationships and professional sustainability
within a community. Why was I being uprooted and forced to "start
over" at the midpoint of my service? Basically, after a year I should
have had more cooperation from the community where I had been placed,
for their benefit and mine. The school system had made a commitment,
just as I had, to the Peace Corps' and Moldovan Education Ministry's
mission toward English education. The school administration was
careless and my mental health was seriously at stake. I chose to
move to Straseni.