Classroom Notes: About Stories and Icebergs

This is part of a series, “Classroom Notes” that I will be sharing as I connect with a classroom in the U.S. through the World Wise Schools program. You can read the previous posts about this series here at CLASSROOM NOTES.

A few weeks ago I met with the 6th grade class to share and discuss the topic of cultural differences. We had an activity that I used during Peace Corps training that uses the analogy of an iceberg. When it comes to seeing and understanding cultural differences it can be quite challenging — just like an iceberg. There are things that you can see above the surface (tip of the iceberg) like facial expressions, food, and art and then there are things that you cannot see below the surface like rules of social etiquette or the concept of beauty that are found much deeper under the surface of the iceberg.

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Some of the students here in the lower left part of the screen during our Skype call.

Previously, I had found a neat online tool to illustrate this. You can find the online activity HERE.  It really helped with understanding how there are some things that are much more noticeable like how someone dresses as part of their culture, however one may not understand WHY just by looking at them, but the reason why they may dress a certain way has to do with a deeper level of understanding within their culture which is hidden below the surface of understanding.

Another fun part of our call was a video that I found within the depths of Peace Corps resources explaining different cultural gaffes from around the world. This certainly gave them a different perspective and something to think about if they ever travel abroad.

Cultural differences are just that… different! There is no right or wrong way of doing something — part of experiencing a new culture is learning about the differences and seeing things from a new perspective. There are MANY things that I just don’t understand here in Moldova but I just have to remember that those things are part of Moldova’s culture and history and I may never understand them. And they may not understand me/Americans — but that’s the unique part of being a Peace Corps volunteer; we get to share those experiences and differences with one another.

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Classroom Notes: Are there shopping malls and fast food?

This is part of a series, “Classroom Notes” that I will be sharing as I connect with a classroom in the U.S. through the World Wise Schools program. You can read the previous posts about this series here at CLASSROOM NOTES.

These two classes of 6th graders and 7/8th graders have brought an interesting perspective to my Peace Corps service as I share with them my experiences so far. The first group of letters that these students have written included many questions about my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. This weeks edition includes shopping and fast food!

Where do you go shopping for clothes? Is there a Macy’s? Are there malls? Is there a Target?

When I do go shopping for clothes, which is very rare for me here, I would go to the second hand market where people sell used clothing that is donated or sold at a low-cost mostly coming from Germany. The are no large department stores like Macy’s or Target, but there is a large store that can be found in both Chisinau and Balti that feels similar to Costco, Sam’s Club, or Wal-Mart. It’s called Metro and you can find clothing and food sold in bulk there. Since I live in Balti, we have one here and it is a 15 minute walk from my apartment. As for malls, there is a large shopping mall in the capital city of Chisinau (which I have not been to yet) and then there are a few other shopping-mall-type places that are like a smaller version of a mall.

This is the large Metro store that I can walk to from my apartment.
This is the large Metro store that I can walk to from my apartment.

Do you have fast food there?

Yes, there is fast food, but it’s not a typical thing for people to eat fast food here since many families eat meals at home. McDonald’s can be found in Chisinau, but it seems to be more of an up-scale-fast-food restaurant with American food and it is also expensive. The type of fast food you can get here would be considered a kebab or shawarma – meat with cabbage, tomato, french fries, and sauce rolled into a pita-type bread. They also have hot dogs and serve some sort of version of a hamburger or chicken sandwich at various places too. At most of these types of fast food places they can range from a building with a window where you order and pick up your food or you enter a building, but there is no seating and sometimes a thin table along the window or wall where you can stand to eat the food.

Keep in mind that every Peace Corps volunteer’s experience is different – so the information have I shared may not be the same story from others’ perspectives and experiences.

Stay tuned for more “classroom notes” coming…next week!

Classroom Notes: On people and friendships

This is part of a series, “Classroom Notes” that I will be sharing as I connect with a classroom in the U.S. through the World Wise Schools program. I recently have the great opportunity to connect with a friend’s classroom back home in State College, PA. She has one class of 6th graders and another class of 7/8th graders and teaches middle school English and History.

The first group of letters that these students have written included many questions, asking about my service in Peace Corps and some questions concerning my well-being and interests. These two questions for this week were quite popular and were asked several times… it makes sense since we, as humans are so relational and friendships are crucial (especially in middle school). 😉

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Having some mustache-fun in honor of Amanda J.’s birthday with these lovely ladies. Amanda made these awesome mustaches, aren’t they fancy?

Do you have any friends there?

Yes, I have made some great friends with some fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Currently, there are about 120 of us living and working here in Moldova, so I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many of them through trainings, seminars, and various projects. I’ve also made some local friends through mutual friends and through my workplace. Developing friendships takes time, plus add the language barrier as well as the distance it can take to visit with other volunteers. I look forward to developing those friendships over time in the next ~20 months or so.

How are the people there? Are they nice?

The many people I have met and the things I have learned from them has certainly changed my perspective in so many ways and for that I am grateful. From my experience, people have been kind, generous, and helpful. There are many examples I can share — from the time that I was struggling with carrying my heavy luggage back from a trip and a man didn’t even ask if he could help, just took my bag graciously and carried it to the rutiera (mini-bus) for me (you can also probably imagine how alarmed I was at first too); and then the time I was shopping in a store and a man excitedly came up to me with his two sons and wife in tow to say hello and introduce me to them – I realized he was the taxi driver who took a group of us to Chisinau a few weeks ago. In addition to those examples, I have a wonderful host family who makes sure that I am safe and eat well. They’ve certainly made me feel at home here in Moldova. I have had a positive experience so far and for that I am thankful.

Want to read the other questions the youth in the U.S. wanted to know? Check them out here!

What do kids in a U.S. classroom want to know?

What is it like in Moldova?

This is just one of many questions that have been asked by students in the U.S. — I meet with two classes through the World Wise Schools program; one class is a group of 6th graders and the other class is 7/8th grade. I have had the great opportunity to connect with a friend’s classroom back home in State College, PA during my service. Thanks to technology, so far we meet through Skype and have exchanged letters.

The first group of letters that these students have written included many questions, asking about my service in Peace Corps and some questions concerning my well-being and interests. I will include different installments of these questions about once a week to share their perspective and my responses.

To start out, here are some of their questions along with my responses below…

“What is it like in Moldova?” 

This was the question that was asked the most, and is probably the most difficult to answer. I’ll try to keep it simple though — as far as temperatures and climate go, Moldova gets to experience all 4 seasons; spring, summer, fall, and winter.  The people here are friendly and I have found them quite helpful when I am lost or need help with something. Many buildings resemble life from the way it was during the soviet era; most people walk or use public transportation to get around; and agriculture is an important part of their culture and economy.

“Do you have homework with you learning Romanian?”

Yes I do, I meet with a tutor about two to three times a week to practice and improve my Romanian. She gives me homework each time and then I take it home to work on and we review it at my next session. I also practice every day by using my new language skills at work, home, and when I meet with different people throughout the week. I know that my Romanian language is not perfect or 100% correct – but how am I going to get any better without practicing and using it every day?

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This little guy was adorable and tried to teach us Romanian lessons one afternoon during tutoring.

Also, something to note: today marks the 8 month anniversary of our group being in Moldova! Now 6 months at being at site in Balti! Whoa.