Lindsey Grutchfield, LE Romania Alumna, on becoming an English Education Teacher for the Peace Corps
What led you to apply to become a Learning Enterprises (LE) volunteer for the summer of 2018?
I had a friend who had done LE Poland the year before, and she encouraged me to apply, knowing my interests and passions. She felt like it would be a good fit for me, and it was!
Why did you choose Romania?
I had traveled to Romania once before as a tourist and fell in love with the culture, history, and people there. I especially love the art and architecture in Romania and the beautiful mountains and forests of Transylvania, so it was a natural choice for me.
What was your experience like while you were there?
My experience in Romania was really incredible. I divided my time between two small towns on the outskirts of Oradea in the far west of the country. I also got the opportunity to spend time with the Hungarian minority community in Romania, which was a really interesting and unique experience and one that I never expected to feel as passionately about as I did. The communities in which I was placed were incredibly welcoming and so generous, and I feel tremendously lucky that they opened up their lives and welcomed me into them. Although teaching was challenging and tiring, I always felt compelled to put 100% effort into it because of how supportive and encouraging the community members around me were. I even made some lasting friendships with some great people with whom I still keep in touch.
What challenges did you face, both expected and unexpected, in your role as an English teacher and/or as member in a foreign community?
I really wish I had had access to more and better training beforehand, but fortunately, members of my host community were very helpful in getting me up to speed. Additionally, teaching was definitely a little exhausting and overwhelming at times just in terms of the mental effort required. That said, as previously mentioned, I had a wonderful support system in my community, and my students and their kindness and eagerness to learn made it all worth it. I also felt challenged to push myself further because of my wonderful students –to give them the best that I possibly could.
You were recently offered a position as an English Education Teacher for the Peace Corps. Can you tell us what this position entails?
Beginning in June, I will be working in the English Education sector of the Peace Corps in Moldova. I'm very excited, especially since I will once again be teaching English as well as working with English teachers in the community, in a country with many cultural and linguistic similarities to Romania.
How did your experience as a Learning Enterprises volunteer teacher in Romania help prepare or inform you for role as an English Education Teacher?
My experience as an LE volunteer teacher in Romania sparked in me a desire to teach and a desire to integrate into my host community and build relationships there as much as possible. Both of these desires were a large part of why I applied to serve in the Peace Corps in the first place, and I hope to take the many lessons and skills that LE taught me and develop them further in the Peace Corps for a longer term.
I also feel that LE taught me that I was capable of showing up at a train station by myself with just the name of someone to meet, meeting that person, and settling into the community to teach. The knowledge that I'm capable of these things is integral to my belief that I can be a Peace Corps Volunteer and strive to excel in that role.
Did you already have an interest in international volunteerism or programs prior to volunteering for Learning Enterprises?
I had an interest in international work and in volunteerism prior to volunteering for LE, but beyond tutoring and spending some time at cultural-exchange discussion groups, I hadn't volunteered internationally before. Part of this stemmed from a wariness of “voluntourism” and the desire to make sure that I was serving the community that I was volunteering in rather than the other way around. LE was sort of the first program that I encountered where I felt comfortable volunteering and where I felt that I could volunteer without exploiting my host community for my own gain.
What would you tell young adults about Learning Enterprises, including those who perhaps don't currently have a great interest in international volunteerism or programs?
On one hand, you really should have an interest in international volunteerism before volunteering abroad in any way; volunteering can be very mentally challenging at times, and if you don't really believe in what you're doing, you won't be able to serve your host community the way they deserve, especially given the effort that they put into supporting you.
On the other hand, I didn't know that I had a great interest in international volunteerism for a very long time, so it's always worth looking into LE and the incredible work that they do. As a whole, LE was a tremendous, beautiful, exhausting, and empowering experience, and one that I am profoundly grateful for, so I really would encourage any young adult to apply as long as they are willing to be passionate and dedicated.