June 11, 2003 - The Advertiser Tribune: Rob Cobb taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia's "Silicon Valley"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Russia: Peace Corps Russia : The Peace Corps in Russia: June 11, 2003 - The Advertiser Tribune: Rob Cobb taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia's "Silicon Valley"

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Rob Cobb taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia's "Silicon Valley"

Read and comment on this story from the Tiffin Ohio Advertiser Tribune on Rob Cobb who taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia's "Silicon Valley" at:

Russian teaching experience broadens H-L grad's horizons*

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Russian teaching experience broadens H-L grad's horizons

By Cathy Willoughby

Staff Writer


The desire to do something different, while making a difference, drove one former area resident to desolate areas in Russia.

Rob Cobb, 32, a 1989 Hopewell-Loudon High School graduate, has returned after a tour with the Peace Corps in the city of Krasnoyarsk. The city, in Siberia, is bounded by the Ural mountain range.

"From Moscow, it was four and a half hours by plane,'' Cobb explained. "It was a city in the middle of the country. It took 60 hours by train.''

Cobb taught business English at the Siberian State Aerospace University. It was a departure from his previous work, for a small software consulting firm in Denver.

"I taught business-type English for business,'' Cobb said. "The concepts that they will need to know when using English, such as supply and demand.''

The Peace Corps provided training to the volunteers, allowing them to be student teachers in Moscow for 10 weeks before sending them on their assignments.

"Doing the student teaching allows you to practice what works and doesn't work, and receive feedback,'' he said.

The area where he worked was considered the "Silicon Valley'' of Russia, Cobb said.

"It was a closed city until the 1970s,'' he explained. "And until the end of the 1980s, it was closed to foreigners.''

Due to the imposed isolation of the area, the citizens didn't hear foreigners speak Russian. Few foreigners still visit the city, Cobb said.

"There were a few Peace Corps volunteers, and it seemed like every couple of weeks, Americans would come to adopt children,'' he observed. "There were a few missionaries, too.''

He was slated to teach for 18 months; yet his term was cut to six months by the Russian government.

"They accused us of being spies,'' Cobb said. "The FSB, the new form of the KGB, said that the Peace Corps workers were engaged in spy activities.''

"There were problems previously with the FSB, saying that the government did not want the Peace Corps there, that the Peace Corps was for African countries who didn't know how to wash their hands. But we were providing a free teacher of English.''

Cobb said that the Peace Corps had a presence in the country for 10 years.

"I wanted to complete my full term of service, and I wasn't able to,'' he added. "They delivered the decision on Christmas Day to the embassy. When I left, there were only 31 Peace Corps volunteers left. A year before that there were 150. It was low because their visas had not been renewed.''

Of his initial group of 40 volunteers, Cobb said, he left with eight others.

Despite the short amount of time spent there, Cobb enjoyed working with the students.

"The students were at a good level of English, I could communicate with them,'' he said. "Sometimes you had to use a simpler vocabulary, or speak more slowly, but they were very interested in learning English. They knew that it was beneficial, and knew how it would affect them in the future.''

They were also interested in the United States, and the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

"I enjoyed meeting with the students and talking with them,'' he said. "Communicating with them, and sharing information with them about their culture.''

Russian students have more of a sense of respect for their teachers, he said, although there were a few initial problems.

"They thought if they had an American teacher, the class would be more fun,'' Cobb said. "So we had some discipline issues, and I had to kick some students out of class.''

Part of the problem was the age of the students, Cobb theorized.

"They are 16 or 17 when they start college,'' he said. "They go for five years and receive a combination bachelor's and master's. So the way they act may simply be because they are immature.''

"The majority are serious about learning and practicing their English,'' Cobb said. "People are the same the world around. I had some discipline issues, but kids are kids.''

When he traveled out to the villages in the region, he found that they were not as enthralled with democracy &emdash; "Now they are not paid on time, and they don't have as much money,'' Cobb said.

However, he said, the people realized that what the American government does, and what the people do, are two different things.

"They knew under Communism that they still wanted to be friends with Americans,'' Cobb said. "They had a positive view of the United States, just not enough positives.''

While in Russia, Cobb had the opportunity to see some of the vast country.

"I went to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world,'' he explained. "It holds one fifth of the world's fresh water, and is called the pearl of Russia.''

He also had the opportunity to travel to Mongolia, which he said was beautiful and mountainous.

Although a marketing consultant in his "previous life,'' Cobb said he hopes to continue teaching English as a second language at other spots around the world.

"My goal now is to live in every continent,'' he said. "Africa, South America and Australia. It's a great experience, meeting all of the people.''

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