January 15, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Dallas News: Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: January 15, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Dallas News: Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan

By admin (pool-141-157-13-244.balt.east.verizon.net - on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 10:19 pm: Edit Post

Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan

Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan

Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan

Language lessons in letters

Peace Corps mission isolating but fulfilling for teacher

06:11 PM CST on Saturday, January 15, 2005


EDITOR'S NOTE: Lewisville school district substitute teacher Shane Pettit signed up for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps. Mr. Pettit, 25, spent the summer training to teach English as a second language to secondary students in Kazakhstan, which used to be part of the Soviet Union. He has since been assigned to the town of Khromtau in northwest Kazakhstan. Since leaving in June, he has written several letters home. Here are excerpts about his experiences:

I left for Washington, D.C., on June 10. ... After several days of orientations, a farewell bacon cheeseburger and a farewell episode of Conan O'Brien, I departed with 41 other Americans on an awfully long plane trip to Kazakhstan.

After three days, I met and went home with my host family. Our interaction, though, was and still is somewhat limited. I had only been studying Russian for one day at the time, and only one member of my host family can speak English. My host family (consisting of a mom, grandma, two pre-teens and a teenage son who can speak English and whose name I'm still trying to figure out how to pronounce) live in a two-bedroom apartment at the edge of the village where I am in training.

Unlike some others, my host family has indoor plumbing. But if I want hot water, it has to be boiled on the stove. And my host family does not have a telephone, which is by no means uncommon here. But they do have a TV and VCR. They have already shown me both The Fast and the Furious and Mission Impossible 2 dubbed in Russian. ...

They take really good care of me, and I'm having a hard time getting them to let me help out. For example, only just now am I allowed to take my dishes to the sink after a meal. ... After some strong persuasion, I convinced my host mom that I could do my own laundry. I am lucky that my family has a half washing machine. The water still has to be heated in the kitchen and then the clothes have to be rinsed out in the bathtub. Then I put the clothes on a line to dry. ...

I am really beginning to enjoy this family, and it is becoming easier and easier to communicate, not so much because my Russian is improving, but because I am getting better at charades. ...

I got to observe a Kazakhstani fifth-grade class one day. I noticed several differences from American schools. The classroom was very small. The walls were stark white with no decorations. I won't even guess how old the chalkboard was. And the students were completely quiet, sitting straight up in their seats with their arms folded on the tables. And almost every girl was wearing high heels. ...

[During student teaching] I taught four lessons based on the theme of "the body" to a class of sixth-graders. This unit culminated into a grand finale of cultural exchange, where wisdom and kinesthetic prowess were bestowed upon the students. That is correct. I speak of the "Hokey-Pokey." I do believe that it will go down as a highlight in my educational career. Kazakhstani sixth-grade boys try to pretend they think the "Hokey-Pokey" is stupid, but once you get them started, there is no stopping them. ...
Spending money

The cost of living is not high here in the villages of Kazakhstan. Even with all of my traveling (including my visit to a camel farm), taxi rides almost everywhere I go, and my enormous investment in the chocolate industry of Kazakhstan, I'm spending about $30 a month thus far. I can get a good-sized meal at a restaurant for less than $2 (drink and all). My recent haircut cost me $2, and my host mom was upset because I was apparently way overcharged. As for wages, one auto repair employee here made a little less than $4 a day. ...

On Aug. 19 I attended the swearing-in ceremony at the former Communist headquarters of Kazakhstan. After taking a pledge, poof I became a Peace Corps volunteer. The ceremony felt oddly like a high school graduation.

A couple of days later, I parted ways with the other former trainees and my wonderful host family. I headed out for Khromtau, way on the other side of Kazakhstan. ...

My host family, which I am supposed to live with for six months, is very nice. I have two host brothers, both of whom are away at universities. Life is interesting as my host parents do not speak English. ...

My school is in a slightly stark, slightly old building. There are about 100 teachers and 1,500 students, grades 1-11. They have about 30 computers, two of which are hooked up to the Internet on the same phone line as the one school phone. This means that if you want to use the Internet, you have to tell the office secretary not to pick up the phone. ...

Educators especially might find it interesting to learn that a new teacher at my school makes about $150 or so a month. An award-winning veteran teacher can pull in over $200 a month. ...
Call for donations

I will now do something I have not done with effort since I sold M&Ms in the fifth grade for my elementary school. I will try a little fund-raiser, or to be more precise, a movie-raiser (yes, the conditions of Kazakhstan also permit me to make up my own vocabulary).

In order for Kazakhstan to attract more business and increase its economy, the overall level of English must be raised. The president of Kazakhstan has labeled English fluency one of the top three educational goals for this country. There are many local teachers here who do not really know that much English. As a result, many students do not really know English. From these students, new English teachers will emerge, thus perpetuating the problem. This is why the Peace Corps has concentrated a large portion of its efforts here on teaching English.

In my attempt to both make English fun and give the students more access to native English, I have started a movie club [and am seeking videotape donations for students here]. ...

There is only one person that I know of who is completely fluent in English. It is the largest cultural isolation I have ever felt. At this point, I only know a small number of people, but there are many people who know me. When I walk through the town, people of all ages, and especially kids and teenagers, yell, "Hello, Shane!" Often I have no idea who they are. ...

In mid-October the English department at my school was inspected by a regional office from Aktobe. They also observed one of my classes. Many of the teachers were extremely nervous, and they even took the "lower-ability" and "discipline-problem" students out of class and just pretended they didn't exist. Though I question its honesty, such a tactic does make a class observation run smoother. I have to admit, though, I was not that nervous. If my observation went bad, what were they going to do? Send me back to America? ...

And on a final note, the next time you eat tortilla chips with salsa or processed cheese dip, do not take it for granted. It is a beautiful thing.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Dallas News

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