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James Mayers travels to Bulgaria on a Peace Corps mission
James Mayers travels to Bulgaria on a Peace Corps mission
Stafford man on a mission to Bulgaria
Stafford resident travels to Bulgaria on a Peace Corps mission
By KATHLEEN LEWIS
Date published: 8/25/2004
More than 5,400 Virginia residents have served in the Peace Corps since the agency was established in 1961. Today, 278 are working in places such as Kenya, Belize, Uzbekistan and Nepal. Fifty-five more have accepted assignments.
James Mayers of Stafford is one of them.
"I needed a new challenge," said Mayers by phone two weeks ago. He was preparing for his 27-month stay in Bulgaria--a country in which he barely knows the language.
"I'm pretty adventurous," said Mayers, 37, who had applied to the world-renown volunteer organization last year.
The timing was right--midway between establishing his career and starting a family, he said. Otherwise, he would have had to wait until his 50s to go. And, he didn't want to postpone the adventure.
So, after making arrangements to rent out his house, after saying goodbye to friends and family, Mayers was off to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
For years, Mayers had thought about joining the Peace Corps. He developed a penchant for travel because his family moved around a lot, he said.
After hearing the experiences of a former volunteer at an information meeting, Mayers decided to get some volunteer experience before applying. He made arrangements to be a mentor at Widewater Elementary School in Stafford. Then he served as an English as a Second Language tutor in Spotsylvania.
The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, added to his desire to serve as a volunteer. "I felt like I wanted to do something to support the American ideal and express that throughout the world."
For the first three months, Mayers will receive eight hours of training daily while living with a host family.
Some of that will include basics that he will need to know in order to blend into the culture.
"He'll learn how to go to the market, how to haggle, what is appropriate behavior in the culture," explained Sara Johnston who is with the Peace Corps' mid-Atlantic regional office.
After the training is over, Mayers will be ready to take over his post, located beyond the city.
His primary role will be to organize a nongovernmental environmental agency.
His volunteer work will utilize skills in business development. But he understands that there may be other roles he will have to take on.
"I will learn whatever I can from my Bulgarian peers. If they want me to make coffee, I'll make coffee. I'll try to help out any way I can."
Johnston explained that being a Peace Corps volunteer is more than just filling a slot for a job. And, acceptance of an applicant depends on more than just employable skills.
"We're looking at the whole person and how they can interact and relate within a whole community. We're looking at their ability and willingness to learn a language and culture from others and be effective in it."
For the past eight years, Mayers has worked for the Marine Corps at Quantico as a civilian engineer. He received the Superior Civilian Service award for 2002-03. Prior to his service at Quantico, he worked for the Navy in Arlington and Norfolk.
Mayers earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Old Dominion University in 1991. In 1989, he had earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Longwood University in Farmville.
Mayers compared joining the organization to volunteering for military service.
The type of work is really the only aspect of the assignment that is certain, he said. Other aspects such as place and time fluctuate.
"It's a good little test run to check your patience," he said about the process.
The idea, Johnston explained, is that volunteers join to serve countries.
"You can show a preference, but you are placed where you are needed," she said.
More than two months ago, Mayers received an invitation to Bulgaria. More paperwork followed. He received information about the country and language skills material.
Volunteers receive a stipend for living expenses. From this, Mayers will have to acquire an apartment, purchase food and supplies and make arrangements for his transportation. He will also receive about $6,000 at the end of his service.
"I'm going to miss my car," he said. "It's just the idea of getting in a car and driving wherever I want."
In some of the earlier paperwork, Mayers was asked how this assignment tied into his life goals. Mayers admits that he enjoys meeting people of different cultures. He also mentioned an interest quirk: He daydreams about problem-solving. He is always wondering how something can be improved.
"Sometimes I can't turn it off," said Mayers.
Since he can't stop it, he may as well use it to benefit a country.
To reach KATHLEEN LEWIS: 540/374-5000 ext. 5749 firstname.lastname@example.org
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.