Note: If you are interested in learning about volunteer opportunities, BJ Whetstine from the U.S. Peace Corps Office will be available to talk to you at their booth # 225. He’s also giving a presentation on Thursday at 3:30 in Room 213 on ESL Teaching in the Peace Corps.
When I graduated from college, I joined the Peace Corps but not as an ESL teacher. I had received my Bachelor of Science in clothing, textile, and design and was accepted to work as a nutrition educator because many of the volunteers were working with clothing cooperatives as income generating projects for destitute women. This work led to my career in TESOL upon completion of my service due to my love of language learning and teaching.
When they asked for my preference of location, I decided to say “anywhere” in order to increase my chances of placement. Given that Spanish was spoken in my home, I figured I’d be sent to a Spanish-speaking country, and that’s how I ended up in Honduras. I received three months of intensive Spanish language training in Tegucigalpa, as well as cross-cultural communication, and nutrition classes. All the volunteers lived with Honduran host families to help us acculturate to our new setting and learn the language. We even attended language classes on Saturdays. Training was extremely stressful but also a wonderful time to meet other volunteers from all over the U.S. I keep in contact with many of my fellow volunteers even now!
After passing the language exam and being sworn in, I was placed in San Jose de Copan, Honduras, Central America. It was an impoverished village with dirt roads, no electricity, nor indoor plumbing. I was a nutrition educator and worked with the local nurse and school teachers to give presentations on health and nutrition, as well as arts and crafts. Besides working in the village, once a month, I assisted another volunteer in teaching some children in a remote village where there wasn’t any formal schooling.
I continued working with an existing clothing cooperative but provided more authentic designs to the products such as Mayan Indian designs from the nearby ruins of Copan. In the past, volunteers had helped the villagers produce embroidered clothing with tourist motifs such as palm trees, setting suns, and hibiscus. I was able to improve on the design of the clothing, as well, by utilizing my degree. After a while, I started other artisan projects with several women who worked with different media: clay, seeds, guacales (gourds), and loofahs.
During my two years of service, I made great friendships with the Honduran families in my village. I like to read literature and write poetry and was able to do both of these, as there was nothing to distract me. I wrote about the strong spirited individuals in the village. Even after I left Honduras, the images, smells, and music remain with me.
I drew on my experience again while pursuing my master’s in teaching. I wrote a poem about my Honduran neighbor and used it as part of a dance and spoken-word performance I choreographed for the theater department. If my Honduran neighbor only knew the profound impact she had on me with her small-framed presence, smoking her hand-rolled cigar, sitting quietly in her backyard among the banana tree fronds!
The Spanish language has stayed with me, as well. Upon my return to the U.S., I was able to teach Spanish 101-102 to pay for my graduate studies, as a teaching assistant. I received tuition remission and a stipend plus teaching experience at the college level! My professors were amazed! I had to take a few advanced grammar classes to professionalize my speech because the majority of my Spanish language interactions in the village were in the local dialect and not formal speech.
Fortunately, I have used Spanish as part of my work since that time. I became a bilingual elementary teacher and used my Spanish to educate children in East Los Angeles to become biliterate. I also worked for Hampton-Brown which produces Spanish and ESL literacy and language learning materials. The best part of all is that I can carry on a conversation with my Spanish-speaking mom!
I didn’t realize what irreplaceable gifts I would receive from serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. The gift of interacting with a culture different from your own, the gift of learning a second language, and the gift of having served others! In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship. The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Sandra Annette Rogers
RPCV Honduras 1985-1987
P.S. US Peace Corps is hosting a reception for all RPCVs on Friday the 18th at 6:30 in the Hilton Newberry Room. See you there!