Meeting the Director

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was invited by the PC BG staff to have lunch with the Director of the Peace Corps. That’s the boss of my boss’ boss’ boss. There were 12 of us total and it was just us PCVs as well as a few PC BG administrative staff (like the country director of Bulgaria. To use to the words of language trainer during PST, the “big cheese”), some of the Directer Tschetter’s staff as well as regional staff (didn’t think about it, but it makes sense the the PC divides up the world of PC countries which are overseen by another layer of administration) and his wife. The Director and his wife served in the Peace Corps in India in the late 60’s.

The 12 of us met in the city center in Pazardjik, which is about two hours outside of Sofia (and about 1:45 from Chirpan) and walked to the restaurant and waited for the director and the rest of his entourage to arrive. He came in with everyone and greeted us. After meeting everyone and shaking their hands, we sat down. The Director sat just across from me. I was a bit nervous sitting to someone so important, but not just that, but for an organization I work for. However, he was a very nice guy. It seemed a bit surreal seeing how laid back he was and (what I thought was ) a little police escort (he outranked the US Ambassador to Bulgaria in terms of ranking diplomats in country). Throughout the course of the meal, we talked about life in Bulgaria and how we thought our service was going. He seemed impressed with horo dancing. During the first course, I commented that this was the fastest I’ve ever eaten a salad in Bulgaria (20 minutes) that it usually took me close to two hours!

After the meal, he gave a short speech. He’s currently on a world wide tour of all PC countries. Bulgaria is number 36 out of 76 on his tour (he has held the post for just over two years). He said that in every country, he has met volunteers and they all say the same thing “It’s difficult, but…“. To him, he said, that was the best response; that PCVs are seeing more than just the hardships of service, but the goals of service. He told us that the PC is opening a post in Rwanda and some stories from service countries. He also said that there is a worldwide demand for PCVs. For example, he met the president of Mongolia who told him that he wants an additional 220 PCV on top of the currently 110 (all TEFL). When asked why he wanted such a huge increase, the president replied that there are 330 governmental districts and he wants a PCV in each of them. China also has a high demand for TEFL PCVs. They are all posted in universities. They are, not unsurprisingly, not allowed to pursue side projects, only teach English. An interesting country for service indeed. He also mentioned that PC Kenya had been suspended two weeks ago due to the political unrest. I was a little surprised that they pulled out only two weeks ago. But he explained that the PCVs were at little risk being so well integrated into village life that they were safe. They pulled out when more and more road blocks when up and it became difficult to travel. PCVs from Kenya have now been either re-assigned or are waiting back in the US for the all-clear to return. (Side note: he said that, because of Peace Corps Volunteers, Kenya now has a standardized sign language. Before it was regional or even village based. Truly a great accomplishment!).

We had a chance to discuss PC policy with him as a table. He asked if there was anything we wanted to change, etc. The best response was how board the application process is. When you apply to the Peace Corps you don’t apply to a particular program, you apply to them all. You could be a teacher in the US, but when you apply, you’re also applying to be a public health or an agriculture volunteer among others. He told us, chuckling, that this had been brought up several times before and they’re trying to make in logistically possible. He also asked if training did a good job preparing us for our jobs. A TEFL took this one and emphatically said that there was nothing that could possible prepare a PCV for a Bulgarian school. This drew laughs from everyone. She said that some teachers ask her how, in American movies, a bus driver can control so many kids on a bus alone while at her school in Bulgaria, on a bus half the size, there are six teachers and a bus driver!

The whole event lasted about an hour and a half and at the end of it, we were all impressed with him. He’s a really nice guy and genuinely cares. However, we were all jealous of his aide. His personal assistant graduated college the same time I did and gets to travel around the world meeting foreign dignitaries with the Peace Corps Director. There has to be a power political figure in his family to get him that job.


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