Pre Service Training (PST) is a whirlwind of information, experiences and attempts to communicate. As we all stumble through life with our host families, we learn a little Kyrgyz or Russian along the way, but the challenges of our long days of Language classes come in a format we are a little more used to, or so you would think. While we are technically students right now, learning the language and studying aspects of our assignments, be they Health Education (HE) English Teaching (TEFL) or Small Community Development (SCD), classes here are nothing like I’ve ever taken before, university or otherwise.
Here are just a few differences:
- Our school week begins on Monday and lasts until Saturday, making Sunday the only full day for any attempt at relaxation. However Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) usually use this small amount of free time as the only day to get out of their PST villages and go for a hike, explore the local bazaar, or spend the day doing fun things with their host families, like say, spreading cow dung all over the tomato seeds that were planted yesterday.
- Instead of going to a classroom every morning, I walk to the house of my Language and Cultural Facilitator’s (LCF) host family. On the way I pass cows, chickens, sheep, and their assorted excrement that paves the roads here.
- Instead of looking in the mirror at the end of a long day of studying and thinking “I really gained a good amount of knowledge today,” I frequently find myself thinking instead, “I still only have the ability to communicate at the level of a three year old with an indecipherable accent.”
- On the plus side: No essays to write! Instead we are assigned 2-3 years worth of grammar and vocabulary to memorize in the span of a week. I have never been so desperate to find flashcards in my life.
Our language class is only six people total (Amanda, Ashley, Forest, Lila, Stephen and myself) so practicing in class by participating in language learning games and activities is a fairly regular part of the day. My favorite game so far has been what we have deemed “the ball game.” This activity essentially amounts to nothing more than the six of us, plus Usen (our LFC), forming a sentence… then throwing the ball to someone else so they too can form a sentence. Although there are days when Russian grammar truly makes me want to cry, our group is supportive of one another both in an out of the “classroom” (aka Usen’s host mom’s guesting room plus a whiteboard).
On days when we don’t walk to Usen’s host home for a full day of language class, we attend training sessions on various topics at the hub site. Our group is lucky enough to be one of two groups to actually live in the hub site village, so hub days for me also include a lot of walking back and fourth from home to the town center. The local special needs boarding school (or “Internat”) in Krasnaya Rechka was kind enough to allow Peace Corps to use their grounds for our training which means we are commonly greeted excitedly by students; sometimes in English, sometimes with a smile or a blown kiss, and sometimes with the traditional Kyrgyz flat stare that resembles some form of constipation and confusion.
Our K22 Peace Corps group has been split up into 9 language groups spread out across 5 villages. Out of those 9 groups, there are 8 Kyrgyz language groups and only 1 Russian group. Needless to say, we are slightly isolated. On “hub days” the other groups are mixed up and have the opportunity to practice Kyrgyz with new faces. Unfortunately, our inability to understand Kyrgyz prohibits us from participation in these conversation hours. While this language barrier does make it difficult to envision being able to collaborate on projects with the rest of our Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) we have been assured that in this bilingual country, both languages will be useful and equally important. So while it feels a little weird during PST, I am extremely thankful for our tight knit Russian group. Especially since we get the privilege of having Usen as our LCF. He is probably the most interesting, intelligent and (most importantly) patient teacher I have ever had. Additionally, he is also “master of the ceremony” for pretty much every event put on by Peace Corps; e.g. host family matching ceremony, swearing in ceremony, and final site placement ceremony. This last one (final site placement ceremony) actually happens tomorrow morning! I am nervous and excited to find out where I will be spending the next two years of my service and will post more about it as soon as we all find out our sites!