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 Peace Corps.

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 us.

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.

Tough Decisions

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 environment. 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 ruled.

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.

Although 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.