Monday, August 21, 2006

Live From Armenia

Բարեվ Ընկերներ
Hello Friends!!!

I have officially settled into my site! I am in the middle of Armenia for the next two years where I serve a role as an English teacher. I have met with the school director, who is rather progressive. He is excited about my background in athletics and is optimistic of integrating me into the physical fitness aspect of the school as well. There may be a possibility of coaching basketball!!!! This only brought big smiles across my face. The school director seems to be every excited to have me, which is great!

Physically, the school itself is not comparable to the United States. My school, in particular, has over 700 students but does not have the space for so many students. Students attend school Monday-Saturday and there are two sessions: 9-1 and then 2-6 p.m. The educational system is entirely different from the states until of late. Starting this year, students will enter a 13-year educational experience. As of now, students attend primary school from the first grade until the tenth grade, then higher education if it is the student’s choice (though it is required for all the boys who have graduated to serve 2 years in the army). Now, a K-12 system is being implemented as well as a more Westernized higher educational system to the likes Europe and the States. At present, I have taught a few tutor lessons as well as summer school, but the true scholastic experience begins September 1st!

My new host family is wonderful. I have three younger brothers, which helps being a single American woman in a village. Gender roles are a bit different here than the United States. However, these differences can be seen in many other countries besides Armenia. For all the American women out there, though we continue to seek strides in gender equality, we really need to count our blessings in the progress of equality even if it may be slow. However, with that said, a country like the United States must continue to press this issue for countries seem to look towards the success that the United States has had…random philosophical ideas….

My counterpart and I really get along and I am really looking forward in working and team-teaching with her. Currently, we do not have our class schedule, so I am not for sure which grades I will teach, but rest assure that I will be tutoring all ages in my English Clubs! I have also indirectly started a fitness club, without any attention. I ran one morning with my older host brother, and soon, kids from all around starting running with us. Now, we try to run every other day. It has been a real enjoyment for me, as I have learned to relax when I run (Sorry Coach Hendricks, I know this was long waiting…). The neighbors are amazing as well, and are constantly asking me if I would like to marry a “Hay” aka Armenian boy…By the way, there is no such thing as a “personal” question in Armenia. I have actually gotten used to it.

Personally, the last month has gone rather quickly. After my last update, I was busy along the sides of other TEFL volunteers administrating an English Teaching Workshop, as well as sharpening up my Armenian language skills. Before I swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteer, I had to pass a language exam. I was very nervous, just like my high school track meet days! The day before the exam, I could not even introduce myself in Armenian, something that is quite easy. However, through many pressure situations I have had in my short life, as well as a wonderful support crew, I was able to build up confidence the next day and I actually spoke very well and scored a bit better than I expected. WAHOO! Armenian is a tough language because of the unique sounds in its 39-letter alphabet, but at the same time, the language is so elegant!

Currently, I do not have any language faux pas to spread to you, but be sure there are going to me some more to come.

Before I left my first village, I spent a lot time with my first host family, as well as my community of TEFL volunteers, because we soon realized we would be spread out throughout this very small country (but very difficult to travel through). The nine of us Americans as well as our village really bonded. If fact, when the final day came, many community members wished us off with kind words and big hugs. I will not lie, I was completely sobbing. It was such a weird feeling because we had only lived in that village for 2 months, but everyone has such a direct impact on each other. But we just shared the simplest things in life that touched deep within…two cultures uniting…this is a wonderful and amazing experience. In all honestly, I cannot describe in words my emotions of how extravagant the first two months were…YES, Syd Merz could be left speechless, though it happens quite rarely...aka last time South Africa.

Now, after a big celebration of passing pre-service training, the new PCV’s are spread throughout Armenia, audaciously implementing the goals of the PC share and amalgamating two cultures while providing encouragement and service. I am really enjoying this experience, but do not think this is just an easy ride. There have been many challenges thus far, and it is early. There are bigger obstacles that I need to maneuver around as well as conquer. There are times of happy tears that can be easily followed by tears of frustration, but that is why I took this journey and opportunity. Never in my life, has fate, or whatever you may refer to label it, made any sense. From developing relationships with country natives, to the joys of connecting with the community, to the aggravation of not completely understanding the language, to the sporadic water availability, to the coming long winter months; the “Universe’s” plan is coming into action. I still pinch myself once in awhile and ask myself, “ I am really in the Peace Corps?...Where am I…Armenia??”; and of course, it is not a dream, it the truth, it is reality…I am living a dream; a dream of mine and maybe others. I was told from the beginning that this experience would be the “toughest” job that I would ever love…I must say they are right and I still have two years left…

Here’s hoping all is well in your town, village, and/or city, in what ever country you reside,
Sending much love with hugs,