I didn’t ever really want to stoop to using the term ‘Peace Corps moment’, but I suppose the time has come for me to give in and become like everybody else. So here it is, the account of one of my very own ‘Peace Corps moments’ and how it kind-of-sort-of changed my life a little bit.
Back in September I went to an orientation about teaching court staff at the Supreme Court of Rwanda. The project has interested me for awhile, mostly because whenever I hear the words ‘Supreme Court’ I think of Law and Order and doling out justice and big important trials held in big important rooms. Peace Corps Vols who signed up were agreeing to help out teaching English to judges, lawyers, etc. who work for the Supreme Court. Everyone who wanted to participate signed up for one weekend each month and a level.
My first weekend was a couple of weeks ago, and I taught level four, which is for the most advanced students. My fellow volunteers and I (four of us newcomers altogether), set off for the Supreme Court a little bit early to set up and get situated in our classrooms (which were really courtrooms with blackboards in them). We were all a bit nervous; in my case it was because I’ve never really had any teaching training outside of Peace Corps, and most of my students these days have trouble remembering what a verb is. Adults, especially ones with such impressive resumes, were a little intimidating compared with my usual students. So I stood in front of my class of twelve students that first day with more than a little trepidation, wondering if the lesson plan in front of me would actually work and hoping that my newly-shaved head wouldn’t stand in the way of gaining the wary respect of my new students.
My class trickled in little by little, the last students arriving about an hour into the three-hour lesson. Our introductions (which were supposed to take fifteen minutes) ended up being extended by nearly half an hour, during which I was able to explain how I’ve already finished university and why I recently decided to go bald. We went around the room, letting each person talk about their profession, their life experience, and why they wanted to learn English—what a relief to be with students who could talk about themselves in English for five whole minutes straight! In some cases their English was better than mine; before signing up for Level Four I was warned that you have to watch yourself around them because they so often trip you up on grammar. We held mock interviews, and a conversation about handling yourself in a job interview quickly turned into a heated debate about how to interview a witness. We went over on class time because I didn’t want the discussion to end—quite a change from my usual philosophy of ending exactly on time so that I can hurry home to eat. When I finally did end class, I shook each of their hands and they each said ‘thank you’–I can’t begin to explain how wonderful it was to get appreciation and genuine respect just for the simple act of speaking English.
My brief introduction to the Judges program hit me like GLOW camps hit me—it reminded me that we volunteers can actually do something useful every once and awhile. Who knew?
So, high on my recent brush with adult education, I came to a decision that may or may not decide what direction my life will head in the next ten years; I decided to see if I have what it takes to become a professor. Those of you who know me might make some quips about me being an ‘absent-minded professor’, which will probably end up being true if I really do choose to go after this hastily-chosen profession. Both ‘absent-minded’ and ‘professor’ are words that do tend to run in my family already (sorry, Dad).
Summary: I had an epiphany after teaching my first adult class in Rwanda. I came to the conclusion that seven more years of school might actually be worth it, and I might actually be the right person to sign up for it. New goal—earn a PhD before I’m thirty.
So thanks, Peace Corps, that stuff about finding yourself and growing and changing…that’s all actually kind of true.