Congratulations! You have been invited to serve as a TEFL Volunteer with Peace Corps in Chad, West Africa…
As I sat there in my office at City Year of San Jose, I kept rereading those seven words, Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad, West Africa. I began imagining what the next two years of my life would be like in country so foreign and so far from southern California where I was born and raised, or from Northern California where I had been living while obtaining my B.A. from San Jose State University. Questions began to arise. How could I best transfer my skills gained from a degree in Environmental Education? How would my experience serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer and working as a civic development coordinator for a high school leadership program assist me in the classroom and community where I would to be placed? Would my travel experiences around Europe, South-East Asia, North America, and the Caribbean give me an edge when it would become time to integrate into my home? What should I pack in order to survive desert living? Little did I know that after serving two years in Chad I would end up in Morocco where I would serve another two years as a Youth Development Volunteer with Peace Corps and continue living here past my service working with Morocco Exchange as project manager and cultural facilitator, and Where There Be Dragons as a course instructor.
My original assignment was to teach English in Mondo, a small village in the north of Chad. Far from any roads or other communities, Mondo sat alone on top of a dune overlooking the vast desert landscape. Although the Peace Corps staff had informed my village months in advance that a volunteer would be joining them, my arrival came as a complete surprise, not only to the community, but to the director, Mr. Abbas, of the school where I was to work. However, as much of a surprise as I was to my new village, my real shock was learning that the months of intensive French language training I had recently completed was of little use- Mondo was a predominantly Arabic speaking community. So, in a village perplexed at the arrival of their very own American and speaking a language that was nearly as foreign to them as English, I plunged headfirst into the world of Arabic and Sub-Saharan culture. The following days in my village I spent getting to know my new host family, initiating awkward charades-like conversations, meeting local officials and counterparts, all the while getting acquainted with the village layout, including the college where I was to teach the next two years.
Upon taking a tour of the school facilities, I was shocked to see that in place of children and teachers, donkeys and goats escaping the sweltering rays of the Chadian sun filled the mud-brick classrooms instead. In addition to the residential livestock occupation, the rooms had no doors- merely holes cut out into the brick walls, broken desks strewn about on the sand covered floor, and two pieces of unpainted wood, my “blackboards”, tacked on to the wall of each room. As the director of the college, Mr. Abbas, and I stood at the foot of the door hole gazing into one of the classrooms in silence, we turned to each other and smiled enthusiastically, acknowledging the tremendous amount of work which awaited us.
The school session was to begin in a week’s time and one question loomed; how would I teach English without a blackboard? My Peace Corps training had taught resourcefulness, how to conduct lessons without handouts, utilizing the communicative approach with class sizes of over 100 students, along with building confidence to manage the daunting, ever-present issues of language barriers and cross cultural differences. However, throughout our entire training process I was assured that, despite our lack of materials, each classroom would have, at the least, a blackboard and some chalk at my disposal. Mr. Abbas, watching me stare at the bare boards, reassured me that our tacked up wood would somehow morph into blackboards, “Just give it time.” Call me a skeptic, but without paint or brushes I was perplexed at how those blackboards would magically appear and began planning accordingly, and somewhat inadequately, for what I envisioned my first day of class to be- a calamity. It was then, pacing back and forth in that mudroom that the legions of students came marching up to their school. Armed with brushes made from sticks and leaves, bottles of murky water and the Nigerian branded “Tiger Head Batteries”, the students began working that magic. By opening the batteries and pouring out a black powder into their bowls and mixing this with their water, a paint like substance soon began to form then applied to the wood, and, true to Mr. Abba’s word, blackboards began to take shape. During this time I decided to see how my adapted lesson plans played out on the working students, so I ran through a quick introduction game teaching beginner level English greetings. The calamity that I had been preparing myself for quickly fell into a success and I was soon bonding with my future students over Nigerian brand batteries. My first few days in Mondo laid the foundation for what I would expect to find over the course of my journeys; be resourceful, believe in yourself and others, be flexible, be patient, and enjoy and learn from your experiences.
Though this experience I share with you took place in Chad it is a familiar theme that tends to repeat itself time and time again. Whether serving in Peace Corps Morocco and working at a Dar Chebab (Youth House) as an English as a Second Language trainer coordinating language workshops and developing learning materials. Empowering young leaders to take initiative and believe that they can find the resources needed to create a technology lab serving the local youth of Sefrou. Directing summer and spring English language camps sponsored by the Moroccan Ministry of Youth & Sport. Or whether it is working for Morocco Exchange guiding university students around the High Atlas Mountains visiting remote village and exploring the ancient cities of Rabat and Chefchouen, developing new trip itineraries and activities for future programs, using my language skills in Derija and French to facilitate home-stay orientations and create training materials, or working with local sub-Saharan refugees in Rabat to develop a sewing cooperative benefiting local women of the community. When faced with challenges and self-doubt, times that call to think outside the box and to be resourceful, or when I find that those around me need encouragement, I always step back a moment and reflect upon that first moment with Mr. Abbas in Mondo and the lessons learned from that event. It is this professional experience, my understanding and ability to speak multiple languages, and my passion for cross cultural exchange and education that has brought me to Where There Be Dragons.
As you begin to prepare for your journey into Morocco remember to be resourceful, believe in yourself and others, be flexible, be patient, and enjoy and learn from your experiences. I encourage you to read a book or two suggested from the list in your Morocco Course reader, the Caliph’s House, is a personal favorite, a little cultural knowledge before coming to Morocco will go along way. When questions or concerns arise take a gander at the Yak Yak board to see what your fellow travelers have to say. And of course stay fit and active, start to become best friends with your backpack and remember to pack light; everything you need is already here.
I am excited to accompany you along this trip through Morocco and I hope that this experience will be memorable and leave a lasting impact upon you. Morocco is a place I call home and it is a home I adore, I am excited to share my love of this culture and country with you.
Darren Allen Grosch Morocco, Course Instructor Where There Be Dragons firstname.lastname@example.org Ph# 011-212-66-02-03-847
Dear Mr. Darren Grosch, Congratulations! You have been invited to serve as a TEFL Volunteer with Peace Corps in Chad, West Africa… As I sat there in my office at City Year of San Jose, I kept rereading those seven words, Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad, West Africa. I began imagining what the next two […]