July 4, 2001 - Job Web: Chris Elbich is an elementary school English teacher in the Bulgarian village of Smilya

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: July 4, 2001 - Job Web: Chris Elbich is an elementary school English teacher in the Bulgarian village of Smilya

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Chris Elbich is an elementary school English teacher in the Bulgarian village of Smilya

Chris Elbich is an elementary school English teacher in the Bulgarian village of Smilya

A Letter From Abroad

By Chris Elbich

Working through the Peace Corps

Chris Elbich is an elementary school English teacher in the Bulgarian village of Smilyan. He is finishing his second year as a Peace Corps volunteer and is applying for a third.

I presume you and I share a fondness for poking about the world's nooks and crannies, and like me, working in a foreign land has always held some appeal. For those who take these steps abroad, our stories are as different as Bulgaria's street dogs.

My story begins during the spring of 1998. Wanderlust got the best of me. I vigorously began my research—scouring the web, spending rainy days in the library, fishing with my foreign buddies, anything to give me a connection to wider world.

When learning a new language, one is often deaf to common words until one actually learns them, and then they seem to sprout in every conversation like wild strawberries. So it is when searching for a job overseas. Opportunities and contacts, including former Peace Corps volunteers, suddenly came out of the woodwork:

* A friend from church: "I served with one of the first groups in the Pacific islands."

* A regular customer at the natural grocer: "I served in West Africa."

* A professor: "My sister served in South America."

* Dozens more said: "I've always thought about the Peace Corps..."

Peace Corps was not the only "end of the road" possible.

A friend recommended an entire book entitled Alternatives to the Peace Corps, chock full of overseas opportunities for do-gooder hippy types.

My East Asian friends had contacts in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan who would hire an English teacher immediately and pay well. (Rule to remember: Teach English, will travel. I found that many schools world wide will bend over backward to hire a native English speaker. For more information, check TEFL and education journals and Internet listings.) I determined that I had to work in East Asia or Western Europe to earn enough to make [student] loan payments.

In the end, though, I sent my application to the Peace Corps (the JET program in Japan ran a close second) because:

1. They provide health care.

2. I could defer my loans.

3. Their 40 years of experience would provide support so that I could do my job well.4. I was aiming to work in special education, and few provided such an opportunity.

In a fluster, I coughed up the sorriest resume ever, writing every nauseating detail of my experience, down to a stint at an apple farm. (The Peace Corps requested that I write it all, but I later saw my resume and only a few select lines had been highlighted.)

I received an invitation to an interview in September—but I hadn't expected to deal with job-related issues so soon! (You need a suit for a Peace Corps interview?)

I was advised by my career services office to treat the interview like any other. In spite of the fact that only a few adventurous do-gooders consider working in a developing country, these employers are looking for serious and dedicated professionals to represent our country.

So I wore a tie to the interview (which I haven't done in years), and held my end of the conversation thoughtfully and deliberately. It went well, and in the end, the recruiter and I discovered a shared interest in yoga and the African music scene.

In a follow-up call, the Peace Corps tentatively offered me a special education assignment in Latin America. I said "okey-dokey" and awaited my official invitation for several months.

For a while I felt like a kid before Christmas. But then my work in special education began turning sour. I won't share the gory details, but I withdrew from student teaching and began questioning what I would do with my life.

Then, the invitation arrived in April like a lump of coal in my stocking. I reluctantly opened it to find that someone had filled the special education assignment, and that my bachelor's degree and subsequent teaching experience qualified me for an English-teaching assignment in Bulgaria.

I accepted. And I left for Bulgaria in June, 1999, about a year after I began the whole process.

Most of the stories I hear about joining the Peace Corps are similar to mine. One cannot afford to be picky, nor expect all decisions to be logical. If you are patient, determined, and flexible enough, you will hop the plane at a moment's notice.

To date, almost all of us are delighted just to take advantage of such an experience. Almost all.

People ask me why I came here, and my most immediate response is, "because I can." I hope that you and other North Americans realize and take advantage of our unique opportunities. The world is before you.

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Story Source: Job Web

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bulgaria



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