So many of my students know that they want to live and work abroad, but they're not sure exactly how to go about it. There are many paths, of course, and several of the "Student Spotlight" entries on this blog highlight former students who are now living abroad or incorporating Spanish into their lives in the United States.
The Peace Corps, of course, is a well-known way to live and work abroad for a few years. That is the path that James Peters has chosen.
James was in my course on social entrepreneurship last year. James really stood out to me because he was full of ideas, willing to participate and because of his dedication to the Boy Scout troop he worked with in the community. So I was delighted to receive an e-mail from him recently recounting his adventures in Luque, Paraguay. I loved the insights into the local language and indigenous culture. I asked James if I could share his information with others on my blog, and this was his reply:
Hola! Yes I would love to stay connected with you and any class you have. If you have any students interested in working abroad/Peace Corps/ Teaching English in South America- please do not hesitate to give them my email.
Hasta Luego from Paraguay!!!!
Peace Corps Volunteer Paraguay 2011
University of Illinois UIUC 2011
Eagle Scout 2007
President and Founder of Pi Lambda Omicron
Below is James' first e-mail describing his adjustments and assignment. I hope that it will inspire someone to take the step of contacting James or even to join the Peace Corps. What an adventure! I cannot wait to see how James' experiences and perspectives evolve over his two years in Paraguay.
Finally traveled into an internet cafe about 15km from my community. I hope everything is well at home in america. The past few weeks have been quite hectic and actually a bit intense. I guess I´ll start with before Thanksgiving because it was pretty memorable and a good place to begin my thought process. 4 dyas before turkey day, I went on what is called my site visit. I got a taste of where I would live and what I will be doing.
I travleled alone to a town called Luque by bus. From there I met my contact, which I will work with for the next 2 years. His name is Blas and he has a larger than life personality (also a huge guy). He met me in Luque as well as my host father who traveled from the barrio to downtown Luque to see that I got there safe and show me around. First, Luque is a tale of 2 distinct cities. Luque itself has around 30k population and is spilt into 2 very different parts. Downtown Luque reminds me of an old rundown industrial center from somewhere that looks geographically like Arizona. Luque´s epicenter (i think thats the translation) is a big park that street vendors and people hang out and sell stuff. It is pretty intense city because of the hyper population, which is concentrated in the downtown district (1km by 1km). That half of city is very gritty and commercial with tons of pollution and trash. On other side, there is a massive church, the municipality, and the soccer stadium (the team of Luqueno plays there). This half of the city is very nice, even from american standards. Large apartment complexes line the streets along with green vines and treetop canopies. This area has gym´s, fast food restaurants, and party centers (will explain later). I received a quick tour of Luque from my host dad and Blas then headed toward our barrio (neighborhood, sorry its difficult to explain things sometimes in English).
My new barrio is called Yká´a Caranday (pronounced, oookaaauuuaaa Karanduuah). The barrio is also a tale of two distinctly different sectors of the population. My street is paved (slate rocks) and has rows of upper class houses (satellites, cars, garages, very chuchi (spanish for yupi). My house is definitely very nice and is going to be very easy transition- living with the host family. Off of my main road in the barrio, there is a small unpaved path that leads (about .5km) to government housing projects (3rd world ghettos). This area is truly eye opening- even if I tried to describe it now, it would difficult to tell you all how these people live. Needless to say I was humbled and decided I would try to assist that community in what little ways I could (note this is a different area, that I am technically not allowed to help with because it is not my official assignment). Either way, my new host family was great- made sure I was comfortable and well fed (I will live with a man (50ish, and 2 women who are sisters- 60s) . My host dad is hilarious and very handy around the house and he was quick to show me how to do things like install a ceeling fan and fix the pipes in the bathroom. Its tough to describe my role in the community but as I see it now, it will involve a few things- Teaching environmental conservation (recycling, trash management), English, and Geography in Escuela Basica 446 Sañ Jose (middle school). The school is about 1km walk from my house, so it is very close and right inbetween the nice areas in the barrio and the gritty trash ridden parts. i will also run a youth group called Verde Corazon (green heart) that focuses on trash managemnent in the dirtier parts.
Basically I did a few things to get myself in the door of the community and demonstrate how I can help. I went to the school and introduced myself to the director (principal) as well as met some of the kids who were trying to figure out how to work some old computers that were given to the school by the government (another story for another day). Afterwards, I returned to my house and build a 2 tablon (bed) garden growing simple veggies with a compost pit. Now, as many of you know, I am no expert in gardens or compost pits, but it is important for my credibility to show people how easy it is to grow and maintain ´self sustainable practices´ like gardens. So I grow veggies and throw all of my trash (yes that includes toilet paper because you cant flush tp here) in the compost pit. Trash is the #1 problem in my new hood and I have to first show them how I can manage it myself. So moving on, my visit was fun and very informative. I also have the option to go to a city called Aregua to work with ecotourism department with my contact Blas whenever I want (Aregua is a beautiful city tucked in the mountains, very green and has a lake and a beach to swim in). Aregua is about 15minutes away by bus. I am very excited to work in Aregua and with the people there because they are really hard working and its straight up gorgeous.
So I left my site on Thanksgiving and went to the Ambassador´s house. The american ambassador is a nice, well spoken man, who lives in an enormous compound with tennis courts, pools, and 50 maids. It was awesome to step back onto ´´Merican soil and enjoy some lavish living. I watched a little of the football game, which was refreshing to see and ate a ton of food. I also swam in the pool and tried to play tennis. It was a great evening with very influential people and most importantly, mericans. haha. That night was great, but life was about to get pretty weird after that.
I woke up the next day and went to class as usual in Guambare. In the middle of a lecture explaining the differences between personakuerañdive and personakuerañdi (with peoples and for peoples, weird translation), one of my friends Vanessa (girl i traveled with a lot to go visit volunteers) stood up and said simply- ´¨Im done, I cant do this anymore.¨ And she left. She was was back in San Francisco the next day. Its really weird to think about it because of how easy it is to actually leave and return home, yet how powerful it affected the entire group. In 1 week we all leave and go to our sites and that was kinda weighing over all of our heads....when Monday rolled around.
I woke up Monday morning, rolled out of bed and was enjoying my mate (hot green tea that usually burns the living hell out of my lips). My host mom rolls in the room and says casually, ¨Vos companero se murio¨... That translates very cleanly to..... your friend died. I spilled the mate on my pants, which scortched an area I care not to describe, and sputterd ¨Que?¨ (what?). She replied that a volunteer in Paraguay had died. I quickly walked to Mason´s house (friend in Peace >Corps that lives nextdoor) and it was on TV- a girl who lived in the Caazapa (central paraguay) died in a car accident. It made the front page of the Paraguayan news papers that day from Asuncion to Encarnacion. It was such a big deal I think because of Peace Corps presence in paraguay, which has been here since 1967. So i didnt know her and she was in a different sector (economic development), but it hits home when 1 of 200 volunteers dies, which is also extremely rare occurence in the Peace corps.
So stuff was pretty hectic down here, and it is also interesting because I am sure none of you all heard about a death in Peace Corps because of how obscure that is. I have definitely done some self reflecting and decided that I am truly happy here, and I want to live in Paraguay for 2 years. It has been a tough training, but I am ready to begin helping out in any way I can.
Friday I move to Luque and get to party in Asuncion for the weekend so I plan on finding a tennis court and a beer that is darker than Brahma light (less than 1$ for 40oz, you do the math, but absolute garbage tasting). I hope everyone had a great thankgiving, I will also have internet and a phone come next friday. More info to come- Sorry again for the spelling errors but I cannot help it on this computer.
Hasta Luego, Jajotopaata (see ya lata in Guarani)