Five Reasons Not to Join the Peace Corps

I’m not really in the business of selling you on joining the Peace Corps, even though it was so great for my wife and me as you’ll see in A Breeze in Bulgaria. Still, the question arises, why do people do that? 

There are plenty of reasons, but I came across an article that really caught my attention. In the indie travel guide BootsnAll, Jill Nawrocki draws upon her experience in Namibia to tell you “Five Reasons Not to Join the Peace Corps.” It’s a terrific read.

2 thoughts on “Five Reasons Not to Join the Peace Corps

  1. Bruce,

    I can’t agree more with the title of the book.
    Years ago, you said I had “s*** attitude” about Peace Cop Outs. Read my story.

    Peace Corps is different than the ads show. My service between 2002 to 2004 had unexpected twists. In my last semester in Varshets, Bulgaria teaching high school English, my students threw rocks at me in the street twice. Not only that, my 8th and 11the graders threw fire crackers at me in my classroom. My 12th graders chased me out of class by yelling and jumping off of desks.

    None of my students did their work, insulted and swore at me, and threw pencils and books at me. Worse, the school demanded that I give such learners good grades to make their classes look good.

    In reality, they gave me good students my first year. The school wanted me to write grants to remodel the gym and purchase exercise equipment. That was reasonable. What was not reasonable was writing another grant for a $30,000 (60,000 Bulgarian levs) greenhouse. You could buy a house with that much money. Besides the school had no way to support the green house. It could not afford to remodel the gym or buy library books without Peace Corps grant funds. The school cheated Peace Corps buy giving me horrid students my last semester. I was also the only male English teacher at the time.

    Why did they do this? My friends and neighbors in the sleepy town of Varshets told me amazing things about my principal. For example, she did not have control over the students. Also, they did not know how to manage the teachers or deal with school problems.

    My principal in horrible judgement took me out of all my classes to work on grants. The truth was she was angry with me. The violent learners created safety problems. Refusing to work didn’t let me give good grades. She wanted me to lie about the pupils making good grades. With me out of the way, she could lie about the students’ grades.

    When my situation became to dangerous for me to stay, Peace Corps sent me home. Two Peace Corps officials met with the principal and I before departing. She accused me of provoking the students. How did I do that? Her story was I was not fair with grades, was mean to students, did not play enough games in class, and was a sticker to the book. The lady said I was not like another American teacher who only did theatrics to rile the students up.

    My first year, she only said positive things about my teaching and made no accusations. Also, the principal made excuses for placing me with poor and out of control students. They were to give me a fresh start with behavior problems. The principal also said she had no idea I could not handle poor students who were violent.
    Nobody listened to my side. They just blew it off as the principal not being perfect. Such people assured me that the school did not know how the out of control students affected outsiders.

    There were others who did worse things than me. One Canadian teacher friend of the principal would teach classes drunk and intimate students. He would give the commencement address drunk and crying. This person crashed teacher parties drunk and wearing dirty clothes. One American teacher never had education training and barely developed teaching plans. He just played games, danced on tables, and did what they wanted with learners. Despite this person, being well liked, students and teachers could see right through his theatrics. It was poor teaching.

    Things may be different now, but at the time my three co-workers in English were inexperienced young women. They were still completing their university degrees. A young man teacher from a nearby town also helped teach English. He was conscripted after my first year and had to serve in Bulgaria’s armed services. None of the co-workers except for one did lesson planning or scheduling with me. They avoided me. My plan was to do lessons on my own. The students complained they did not go with my co-workers.

    Our school hired a new male English teacher halfway through my last semester. The out of control students said they liked me better than the new teacher. Former learners and neighbors also said he was not good.

    After leaving, my friends in Varshets told me the English program was down to two of my inexperienced co-workers; it fell apart due to poor management. The violent students even chased out the new teacher. Be glad to not have an experience like that.

    So, I hope this explains my negative view of Peace Cop Outs.

    Matthew Cox

    • Matthew, I’m glad to hear from you. When I used that word it must have made an impression on you. It has been 14 years since I asked, “So is your life better now, or do you find that your s*** attitude gives you back the same?” That was after you replied to a suggestion that our group should have a reunion. In declining that invitation from friends, you told about the terrible things you had endured in Varshets. You declared that you wanted to break all contact with Peace Corps and anyone and everything involved with it. That expressly included all of us who served with you.

      I took offense because I for one did not throw any rocks or firecrackers at you. I used another strong word, appalling, in telling you what I thought of you putting all of us in the same category as whoever did those things to you.

      Your experience in Bulgaria was terrible. It was appalling. I do hope your life is better now.

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