Nora Springs Retiree Completes Peace Corps Service in Bulgaria
By Mary Pieper
Mason City Globe Gazette
Joan Myers of Nora Springs has proved it's never too late to join the Peace Corps.
"It was something I wanted to do when I was young," said Myers, 64, who recently returned from two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria.
However, when she was younger she didn't have the skills to join, so she decided to wait.
After a 20-year career teaching English language arts, reading and social studies in the Nora Springs-Rock Falls (now Central Springs) school district, Myers decided it was time.
She accepted an early retirement package from the school district and made her Peace Corps application.
The Peace Corps has no upper age limit, and about 7 percent of volunteers are age 50 or older.
Myers was an English education volunteer in the city of Rakovski, Bulgaria. She said there's a push to get people to improve their English-speaking skills so the country can join the European Union.
She co-taught in fifth- through eighth-grade classes and often worked one-on-one with struggling students.
Myers learned a little Bulgarian before she started, but not much.
"It was hard to discipline students when I didn't know their language," she said.
She also taught English to adults during the evening. Many of them already knew the basics and just needed to improve their grammar.
"While I was teaching them grammar, they were teaching me more Bulgarian," she said.
Myers secured a grant to fund an English language resource center that included a library, computer, projector, and interactive white board at the school.
Two other after-school programs Myers helped coordinate also allowed students to develop and use their English skills.
In one, the students researched other European countries, created maps of the countries to show land formations and natural resources, and wrote brief reports about their countries' history.
"We also found traditional ethnic recipes for some of the countries and prepared them in the school's kitchen," Myers said.
The other program was formed to encourage participation in the National Bulgarian English Spelling Bee and help students prepare for it.
Myers noticed some interesting cultural differences in Bulgaria, such as the fact that smoking was casual and common there, reminding her of the U.S. in the 1950s.
Many people were still using horse or mule-drawn wagons to haul things, and her landlady had her garden plowed by a man who used a horse-drawn plow.
Many people don't have clothes dryers, so they hang their clothes out to dry all year round.
They also use bicycles a lot. Those who have cars don't drive them unless they have to go long distances.
Also, "Everyone has a garden," she said, noting the vegetables from those gardens were some of the tastiest she has ever eaten.
Myers said she now misses certain things that are uniquely Bulgarian.
"I miss the people. They were diverse and interesting and resourceful," she said. "I wish I would have learned more from them, especially about gardening."
She also misses the challenge of learning and using the Bulgarian language.
"It was very difficult for me, but now that I don't need it, I wish I had a reason to use it," she said.
Myers now is working as a tutor at the Student Learning Center at North Iowa Area Community College.
She and her husband, David, have two grown children.
As far as serving as a Peace Corps volunteer again, "I haven't ruled it out," she said.
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Hold The Front Page!
Dumb Yank goes to learn "Bulgarian" from a bunch of tsigani while teaching them "English" and after two years here still hasn't noticed that we have been in the EU for the last 6 years.......looks like all the reports about Americans are true after all! ;)