Saturday, July 23, 2011

Aspiration Statement

Bom Sabado, meus amigos!

Today I wrote my aspiration statement for the Peace Corps office in Mozambique.  This, along with my resume, is the only information that they will receive about me before my arrival.  No pressure.  I've included it here for two reasons:  it gives an accurate portrait of what I am expecting from the Peace Corps, and it will be helpful for other volunteers who are attempting to fill out the same document.  For those of you who would prefer lighter reading, I've included a pleasant summary at the end of this post!

Lisa Spencer
September 30, 2011

Your aspiration statement should describe your expectations about your Peace Corps service and assigned project, your strategies for adapting to a new culture, and how you expect your service to further your personal and professional goals. 

Now that you have read your Volunteer Assignment Description, please tell us about:

A.     The professional attributes that you plan to use, and what aspirations you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service.
Having worked as an environmental educator, an assistant teacher, and a group counselor, I expect to utilize my experience and enthusiasm to be a powerful and effective classroom leader.  I believe that, even with limited material resources, a good teacher can captivate and maintain an audience with a combination of creativity, flexibility, humor, novelty, and substance.  I hope to use my background experience to provide these attributes to my assigned program.  I have demonstrated creativity in my informal lessons, flexibility in the variety of roles I have played, novelty in the large repertoire of lessons, games, and songs that I bring with me, and substance in my knowledge of classroom procedure.  My sense of humor, I’m sure, will help endear me to my students whenever I find myself falling short in any of these categories. 

I intend to prepare my own English lessons and exams, develop future lesson plans and materials for the school, and work with local teachers to exchange ideas and styles of teaching.  I am adept at working with large groups and would enjoy the challenge of creating my own lessons for my students.  

My professional aspirations are three-fold:  To inspire a significant portion of my students to a higher level of education (or simply to inspire in them a love of learning), to improve my communication and leadership skills, and to leave behind a reasonable curriculum to be built upon by future English teachers.  I am hoping that my experience in the Peace Corps will not just make a lasting impression upon me, but upon my co-workers and students, as well. 

B.      Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.
Like most Peace Corps Volunteers, my ultimate goal is not to impress American culture upon my host country, but to fully experience that host country as a receptive, open-minded individual.  Without compromising my personal beliefs and sense of self, I believe that I can absorb and respond to the culture and mores of my host society.  I will take the needs of the community and school into account before taking action as a teacher.  Likewise, as I begin my secondary project(s), I will consider how my skill set can satisfy the needs of the community. 

C.     Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.
Learning to behave in a new culture is difficult, but learning to reconcile contradictory ideas from new and old cultures can be even more confusing.  Cross-cultural interaction is not as straightforward as memorizing handshakes, greetings, and titles.  In order to maintain a personal identity, the individual must also incorporate their own beliefs and limitations into their behavior.  In my country of service, I intend to be patient and understanding of my adopted culture, but request some patience and understanding in return.  When possible, I will behave according to the social customs of my host nation. When it is not possible to behave in a certain way or it feels like my personal identity is threatened, I intend to use the situation as an opportunity to teach cultural differences.

As a both a youthful-looking recent college graduate and as a female, I expect that I may struggle to find acceptance in the workplace.   My plan is to be cheerful and flexible and to learn to do my job well.  I hope to lead by example, proving to my colleagues and students that a woman can be a capable leader in the workplace and community.  Finally, if I feel like it is necessary, I would like to address the issue of female empowerment.  I don’t intend to overhaul long-standing traditions, but I hope to provide women with the skills and self-confidence to advance their own ideas and agendas. 

D.      The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.
I hope to gain language fluency quickly in order to make friends and to create a supportive network for myself and for my husband in our new country.  I hope to learn how to interact with new people in a culturally acceptable way and to learn how to express my personality in a way that aligns with social and cultural norms.  I hope that I will bond with my host family and make friends with other host families, community members, and volunteers during pre-service training.

Professionally, I would like to learn how teachers behave in Mozambique.  I will never relinquish the skills I learned as a teacher in America, but in order to be effective, I feel I must mix Mozambican and American teaching styles.  I want to know suitable alternatives to corporal punishment, for instance, and how to handle situations that are unique to schools in the developing world and in Southern Africa (“rampant cheating and significant administrative corruption” according to the assignment booklet, and students with HIV/AIDS). 

E.      How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.
I can’t say exactly how the Peace Corps service will change me.  I expect that I will be braver and more confident by the time I finish service.  I will have become a more competent teacher.  I expect to be fluent in a new language and to be an accepted member of a new community.  I expect to have made new friends.  Finally, I hope that I will have inspired my students and that they will go on to be great people who make positive changes to the world.

My current goal is to experience 27 months in the Peace Corps, earn my teaching credentials, and teach school in America.  In the summer months, I would like to begin creating an environmental summer camp for children with the ultimate goal of buying land and opening my own outdoor education program.

My experiences in the Peace Corps may change these aspirations.  I might decide to teach English on a permanent basis or to never teach again.  I might decide to devote myself to the AIDS crisis or to fight for female empowerment.  I might return to Africa or I might not- I can’t know.  I haven’t been there yet.  But I expect to emerge from my experience as a more capable, more experienced, and more knowledgeable version of myself.  

Summary:  I've never been to Africa.  Once, I traveled to the Strait of Gibraltar and took photographs of a remote horizon that may or may not have been the coast of Morocco.  It is accurate to say that my understanding of Africa is as fuzzy as that distant shoreline.  Ergo, I cannot predict how my work in Africa will affect me.  I hope to travel to Mozambique with few expectations and treat each and every day as a brand new adventure.  In the end, my goals are to
     A.  Learn Portuguese!
     B.  Be a good teacher!
     C.  Still be me, but better!

Thanks, faithful readers!  Next time:  more pictures, fewer words.

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