Interview With A Former Peace Corps Volunteer In Kazakhstan: Part 2

011.jpgFor Bob (who, incidentally, is NOT featured in this picture, at least I don’t think so), the best part of the two years as a whole was being part of a meaningful cultural exchange – he became ensconced in the local culture and felt he could offer locals a view of American culture and way of life in return. The challenges sound overwhelming, and Bob points out the importance of keeping things in perspective. In his experience, those who went with “save the world” motives ended up being the most disillusioned. You have to be able to laugh at problems and, it seems, keep functioning when the going gets tough. It is essentially a chance for the volunteer to experience personal development and for the community to be a part of cultural exchange – anything beyond that is a bonus.

Bob was able to put his language and intercultural skills to work with an international aid organization following his time in Kazakhstan; more philosophically, he wound up with a better picture of the world and his place in it. One of the most quantifiable skills he gained (i.e. this one’s for the resume) is the ability to work with people from different backgrounds.

On a more serious note: what about Borat?

Opinions abound, but I give a bit more credibility to someone who lived in Kazakhstan for two years and who can also provide perspective on how a largely American audience will likely perceive the film. In Bob’s own words:

I am saddened by it. Most people know next to nothing about Kazakhstan and after they watch the movie they will think it is a backwards place with ignorant people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The country has its share of problems but it also has a 99% literacy rate. The people are warm, compassionate humans who in no way resemble the stumbling fools you see in the movie. I wish Borat would have chosen a fictional place instead of giving a bad name to a country that doesn’t deserve it.

Bob’s advice for potential Peace Corps Volunteers:

  • Apply well in advance of when you’d like to leave – it can take from 9 months to 2 years from the date you apply to the date you are placed.
  • Be armed with 1)a sense of humor so you can take the challenges in stride and perhaps even 2) TEFL training of your own if possible.
  • Don’t expect to save the world – look at the experience as an opportunity to take part in another culture, share your own culture, and grow as a person.
  • Bring your own hot water heater (okay, that’s my attempt at a joke. Bob didn’t say that but it’s not a bad idea, is it?)