In Short: School started. I switched to warm clothes; got a cold. Had to ask another PCV how to request medicine ‘cause I didn’t pay attention during PST and thought I’d never get sick. FINALLY finished that book. Visited Lake Sevan. Visited my PST Host Family. Fell behind on my running schedule. Restarted English Club (yay!). Saw some real improvements in my Armenian. Started an emergency chocolate stash.
Had some really wonderful times in the classroom.
Had some really hectic and disheartening times in the classroom.
Mostly, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what the next two years are going to look like. Mostly, I failed in figuring that out.
The Long Version:
I sat next to the tall girl in the sixth grade who hadn’t yet started her classwork.
“Oknem?” I offered. Should I help?
She watched me and smiled just a little. I took that as a yes, and slid into the seat next to her.
“Do you know the difference between am, are, and is?” I asked in my TEFL voice.
She blinked, and I repeated it once more in English before switching to Armenian.
“Uh… gites tarberootsyoon am, are, yev is?”
She frowned and shook her head.
“Okay. No worries. Problem chka.” I pulled my pad of sticky notes out of my pocked and made a quick flowchart, doing my best to explain the grammar rule in Armenian, using my own ironically bad Armenian grammar.
“Hasgatsar?” I asked when I was finished. You understood?
She nodded, shy, never saying a word in either language.
“Okay. If you need help, say.” I got up and moved on to help a different student, still not convinced she understood.
Later, I checked up on her and she had filled out the rest of the exercise correctly.
“Good job,” I told her, and gave her a big smile and thumbs up.
She smiled back, then quickly looked away.
After class, I went to follow my counterpart (co-teacher) out of the room.
“Miss Maddy?” A voice from behind me, quiet. “Thank you.” A soft smile.
“I—“ I paused. It’s hard to explain why I felt the way that I did. Maybe because before this I’d only ever taught English as a Foreign Language to adults and my very motivated club kids. Maybe because I very much remember what it feels like to struggle with a foreign language—first in middle school when I stayed quiet for all of Japanese One, then in high school when I flinched at being called on in Spanish, then in college when I chose Latin as a foreign language so I wouldn’t have to speak, and now every single day in the last six months that I have choked out broken Armenian. Language learning is so personal, and I know that her coming up to thank me in my native language took courage.
“You’re welcome,” I beamed back at her.
This time, I got a full smile in return.
In the fifth grade, I worked with a student who didn’t yet know the alphabet. Here in Armenia, English starts with the alphabet in the third grade. Students end up learning three alphabets—the Armenian, the Cyrillic, and the Latin.
“What does this word mean?” I crouched next to his desk and pointed at the word “both”.
“Miss Maddy,” his friend said softly. “Na chi karogh kardal.”
“Tjisht e?” I asked. Is that true? You can’t read?
The boy nodded and wrung his hands together.
“Vochinch. Ksovorenk.” It’s nothing. We’ll study.
“Bayts yes chgitem Angleren,” he told me. But I don’t know English.
“Kamants, kamants. Amen inch lav klini. Uh…” I paused. It’s a bigger word, one I just learned. “oonetsir hamberootyoon qezi het.” Have patience with yourself. (I think).
He nodded, and I wrote out the twenty-six letters and quickly drilled him. A bigger boy from behind leaned forward and drew in blue pen on the student I was working with’s white shirt.
“Hey,” I whipped around. “Mi ara, don’t do that! What was that for?”
Blue pen kid grinned pack at me. The student I’d been working with’s eyes got red.
“Don’t do that,” I repeated in Armenian, clearly angry.
“Do what?” he smiled back, pretending to be enthralled with his assignment.
I turned back to the alphabet, hoping for a little patience for myself.
It’s not that I ever thought Peace Corps was going to be easy, but it’s been hard in different ways than I expected.
I have wifi, and warm water. I’m in a prime spot for easy transportation. I can get chocolate at the nearest store, and I have a French press. I listen to Lana Del Ray’s new album twice a day. It’s not going to get crazy cold here in the winter (good luck to Shirak and Lori Marz).
My life at my site is very comfortable. #poshcorps
Discomfort was the primary challenge I prepared for, followed by loneliness and isolation. While sometimes I do feel lonely and isolated, a lot of times I don’t.
I wasn’t prepared to flounder with the language as much as I have. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time it would take to feel like I had figured out my role in this place. I wasn’t prepared to be expected to fill the shoes of the previous volunteer at my site.
I was never a “change the world” type of person—that’s just not really me. I didn’t expect that of myself.
But I did expect that I would be able to bring my “A” game, 100% of the time. In all honesty, most of the time I’m probably rocking a solid “B”. And to really level with you, in one sixth grade classroom I regularly hit a C- (those kids do NOT want listen to me or my CP and any patience I might’ve had is near gone).
It’s neither fair to myself nor realistic to expect I’m on my “A” game 24/7, or to be more or less “working” every second of the day, but some days it certainly feels like that. Sometimes I feel like every second of how I chose to spend my time is up for evaluation—by people here at site, by Peace Corps expectations, by other volunteers, but most of all by myself and the idea that there is a right way to do Peace Corps.
I knew this was going to be a problem for me as far back as June. I had a perfect day. My Armenian was good. My English Club went perfectly. I had coffee with neighbors, helped my host sister with her English. I went for a really good run. I finished all of that, and sat down at the end of the day and didn’t feel like enough.
There’s not an objective right way to do anything. The opinions of other people are really just noise—people have opinions everywhere you go.
What’s not noise is the way I treat myself. And lately, I’ve developed a habit of being really hard on her.
And I’m back at oversharing sharing on the internet because I know other PCVs and other people in general, are feeling the same way holding themselves to unattainable standards.
So it’s okay if I have a bad day in the classroom, or if my Armenian isn’t perfect (or even good), or if I skip a run (*cough* four runs), or if I need to watch American shows for a few hours every now and then.
I’ve been here for six months. That’s both a lot of time, and hardly any. I am still figuring things out. This time next year, I will probably still be figuring things out.
If I am going to ask my students to be patient with themselves, I also need to be patient with myself.
(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)