Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pre-Service Training (PST) - aka Peace Corp Bootcamp

I probably should not have titled this entry that way, but if you relate this PST experience to what I have been told an Army boot camp is like, then there are some similarities. The one big thing that is missing is the Phys Ed part. And that is a BIG difference. However, the emotional stress, and non-stop activity of going days on end with meetings, (in the army they are called briefings), language training, large group meetings which require travel (often in cramped hot busses), more meetings, and then back to have dinner with people who don’t speak English (and you are suppose to speak Bulgarski), then homework, sleep (if the dogs, roosters, thunder, or the heat do not keep you awake), and then do it again the next day.

Our first meetings were on Monday may 18 in Washington DC. Many volunteers were up before dawn to travel to DC, where our first meeting (it lasted seven hours) started at Noon. We had Tuesday morning off till about 10, and then it was hurry up and wait as all 62 of us started on the trip from the US to Bulgaria. May 18 was also the first day of 13 days of non-stop meetings. Our first day off was Sunday May 31. We had the following Sunday, June 7th off. Between June 7th, and June28, we have one day off. Our small 6 person training group lives from one day to the next. We think that a little of the pressure begins to let up at the end of June. But - - we could be wrong. Assuming all of 62 volunteers make it through this (and that one of the key goals of the PST – to make it), we will be sworn in as official Peace corps volunteers on July 24th. That is when the “protective bubble” of PST will disappear, and the real challenges (adventures) will begin.

OK – now that I have made some of you believe that you should feel sorry for Lynn and I. And maybe you think that this is just a stressful and terrible challenge for all of us. You need to all remember that I do have a tendency to “embellish” facts. Yes - - everything I said was true, but there are some other important things to consider.

First – the Bulgarian Peace Corps staff is awesome! They have done this before, and they know what they are doing. Although at times I feel like we are kittens (or cats) that need to herded, there is a reason and purpose for almost everything that happens. And the staff generally tries to make sure we know why we are doing things. Remember, they have ten weeks to make each of us a positive functioning contributor to Bulgaria. We need to be able to speak, travel, live on our own, and work with other Bulgarians at the end of the training.

Second – Bulgaria is a beautiful country with spectacular scenery every where you look. Our first five days here were orientation. They took place in the Rila mountains in the southwest region to a “resort”. This may not have been an ultra-modern resort like at Brackenridge Colorado, but it was about a mile up in the mountains surrounded by snow capped peaks. I was able to run a couple of times (well maybe walk fast) up the old ski trails, and Lynn did some Yoga in mountain pastures. We were all “jet lagged”, and the meetings were long, but we were with good people in a spectacular location. The first picture in the “First Impressions” blog entry was taken there. I have also included some other pictures of the mountains at the orientation site in this blog.

Third – Bulgarians are wonderful, caring and giving people. All of our host families are very special. They are different, but each of them are helping us to learn about their country and language, and take their tasks very seriously. The folks here love to talk to you (even when it takes five minutes to get one sentence understood), and learn. They also go out of their way to help you. Twice when I have been in a car lost (I’m not driving), and we have stopped to ask for directions, and the person we asked, just got in the car, to take us there, and will then walk back to where he was. The first time was a little scary. Normally in the US, when someone jumps into the backseat of the car, you are expecting to have your “car jacked” and stolen. Not to have someone make sure you get where you are going. They also love to sit and talk - - and they laugh a lot. Laughter is one of those things that transcend language. Even if you don’t know exactly what is being said, you can generally get the jest of it.

Fourth – our language trainer (Slavi) is amazing. The PC language trainer is much more than a trainer. Yes – she teaches us 3-4 hours per day Bulgarian, and tutors us individually each week. But she is also our mentor; cultural expert, Bulgarian history teacher, protector, and sometimes a little like our mother. But most importantly, she has become our very good friend.

Fifth – we have a good training group of 6 people at our site. We get along very well. We try to help each other when one of us is having a bad day (and we all have them). We work hard often going 90 minutes of language study without a break. And we laugh a lot. That helps us get through many of the tough times. And through all of this we are living and training in a beautiful little village surrounded by mountains with hot mineral springs and tree-lined streets.

So… the bottom line is that this is HARD! But the Peace Corps told us it would be tough. But there is an awful lot of good things happening to help us get through all of this. And… We are more than half way finished now!!!


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