Peace Corps, despite its best efforts to combine volunteers with local partners and projects, often leaves volunteers, for better or worse, on their own to find ways to fulfill our goals here. From just adding up all the things Albanians asked for help with, (besides emigrating to America) the most common request was “teach me English.” Neither I nor my site mate are part of the English teaching sector but we nonetheless as Americans speak pretty good the English so we decided to give it a shot.
The fact there is a university in my site served as one of the reasons I was placed here. I surmised the best way to keep busy would be to live in a site that features not just a city hall but a regional council and a university. Thus, I petitioned for such a site and found myself placed in one. After meeting the professors and introducing the idea of starting a group for students wishing to practice English, everything appeared promising. Quickly, though, reality set in. Soon we heard that the professors threatened students that they would be punished if they attended our fledging English students group. It turns out that the English professors earn money by offering private English courses to their students in exchange for better grades. These professors considered us a threat by starting something independent at no cost. As a result mostly students in high school and younger populated our English conversation hour meant for university students.
Luckily, a much more enjoyable and less problematic English teaching gig presented itself with sixth grade students. Through our Albanian language tutor we established that once a week for about 40 minutes my site mate and I would give a lesson on American history, culture, and language. I can’t help but smile now when looking back over the lesson plans from those classes that included language games, funny topics, and some American history the students had never heard before. Some topics were relevant to everyone’s interest but honestly kind of frivolous such as differences between American and Albanian weddings while other topics important but rather dry such as “why do American speak English?”
Although the English teaching I did I only considered as a side project at the time, the experience of interacting with students is one of my best Peace Corps memories. Measuring success of an endeavor, as Peace Corps always stresses we do, proves difficult with students at different levels and with whom you only meet weekly. Regardless, I delighted in hearing students explain something to me that I had taught them the previous weeks. One of our students, perhaps the brightest person in all over our region, gave me the best indicator of our teaching success one day over coffee. She told me that whenever it rains she thinks to herself “What a bummer.”