Marla Kozlak, PCV in Békéscsaba, Hungary, in 1991

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By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 23, 2001 - 7:55 am: Edit Post

Marla Kozlak, Hungary '90

Marla Kozlak, Hungary '90

Marla Kozlak '90

When Marla Kozlak arrived in Békéscsaba, Hungary, in 1991 for her Peace Corps service, it was a homecoming of sorts.

As a UCR undergraduate, Kozlak studied abroad in Hungary for a semester where she learned the language, gained insight into the culture and watched as the Berlin Wall came down.

After she graduated from UCR, she longed to return to Eastern Europe but was also determined to enhance her international education. She applied and was accepted into the Peace Corps.

"I liked the fact that the Peace Corps has a great support group, excellent training, and is sensitive to each country's needs," she said.

After waiting several months for placement, she got her wish to return to Hungary to teach English. She trained for three months then traveled to Békéscsaba, her home for the next two years.

Her previous stay in Hungary helped her to avoid the culture shock that many Peace Corps volunteers encounter. However, she still faced some difficulties. For her first three months, Kozlak shared a small one-bedroom apartment with a math teacher.

"It was awful, I lived out of my suitcase for three months," she said.

She eventually got her own apartment but soon experienced the isolation that many Peace Corps volunteers face. To fight her loneliness, she got a dog, Titkar, who served as Kozlak's unofficial calling card.

"She went everywhere with me," she said. "I would take her for walks and it forced me to be outside where I got to meet all my neighbors."

For her first teaching assignment, she was put in charge of a rowdy eighth-grade class.

"Every teacher in the school kept telling me it was the worst class. I was petrified," she said.

In an attempt to give her students a constructive outlet she formed a drama club and helped organize the English Language Drama Festival, Hungary's first such event.

"As we rehearsed, there were lots of conflict between the students but slowly they started talking more in class and working as a team," said Kozlak.

More than 600 students from several area schools participated in the event and Kozlak's class won the elementary school category. The festival, one of Kozlak's proudest achievements, is now held annually.

Kozlak currently works for UCR's International Services office and is a Peace Corps mentor, advising potential volunteers to make sure they are good candidates to serve abroad.

"One-third of the volunteers in Hungary left and it's not good for the volunteers or the country," she said.

"You need to be an independent soul and be able to break into a culture," she added.

Nevertheless, she added it can be well worth the effort.

"The Peace Corps is an opportunity to discover yourself and your accomplishments. Everyday I had a wonderful feeling that I was accomplishing something."

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Story Source: UCR

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