It’s been a busy week out here in training-land. 3 holidays in one week, and only one day off. July 1 is Rwandan Independence Day [but it’s not celebrated]. July 4 is both American Independence Day and Rwandan Liberation Day, and for us, our only day off. My fellow trainees and I went to the local hotel, had pizza, fajitas, cinnamon rolls, and Fanta [or beverage of your choice]. For me it was a welcome day off from the onslaught of language classes that the week brought.
On Saturday, we had our a mid-training language exam. The target at this stage is Novice-high, but I have a plan. My plan is to score Novice-Mid, get put in remedial Kinyarwanda class, get extra speaking practice, and then WOW everyone at the final exam with my Kinyarwanda prowess. But here’s the real deal, I have performance anxiety, and I have had it for years. I almost didn’t graduate from college with my Spanish degree because I had such anxiety for my final oral exam. And this was with my professor who I had known for three years, and was very familiar talking to him. So while yes, I am older and wiser, but I still have so much anxiety concerning ‘public speaking.’
On Friday, I picked up my first tailor-made shirt. It needed a few minor adjustments so I snapped this photo of my [15 year old] tailor making the adjustments.
On Saturday, after our mid-training language exam, I went to the talent show at my host sister’s school. There was singing. And traditional dancing. And Drumming. There was a skit [in Kinyarwanda–I didn’t understand any of it], and some kid read the news. And then there was ‘fashion’. Fashion consists of about 10 couples of modelling different African fashions. And these kids are stylish. And they have real talent… unlike most of the talent shows I have been to in the past.
For those of you who like my soul searching [baring?] posts, this is not one of them. Stay tuned next week for more of that. This one is about pre-service training. What exactly is pre-service training? Glad you asked. If you thought, like I did at one point, that as soon as I got on the plane, I was an official Peace Corps Volunteer, you would be incorrect. At this point, I am a mere trainee. So what exactly am I doing right now?
Pre-Service Training [aka PST, but what I will mostly call training because I think documents with too many acronyms suck]
PST is the Pre-Service Training that Peace Corps Trainees [me!] undergo before being sworn-in as official volunteers. It typically lasts 10-12 weeks and takes place in the country of service. My training will last 11 weeks and will occur in the town of Rwamagana. ,Rwamgana is a city of about 47,000, located in the Eastern part of the country. It’s located at 5000 feet above sea level [think Denver], and is about 30 miles east of the capital.
The entire 10 weeks of training is scheduled with the exception of Sundays.
Kinyarwandan class runs most days from 9-1
Afternoon classes include technical topics like ‘hand washing’, ‘pooping in a hole’, ‘making Oral Re-hydration Salt’, ‘lighting a stove’, ‘taking a bath in a bucket’, ‘washing clothes by hand’, and other exciting topics like ‘preparing your Peace Corps reports’, ‘grant-writing 101’ ‘understanding the Rwandan genocide’ [side note: can anyone really understand genocide? I have visited Auschwitz; I’ve been to Bosnia [and other countries of former Yugoslavia]; the location or the ‘reasons behind it’, genocide is something I’ll never truly ‘understand’.]
Essentially training is like going to summer camp where you know no one and being a freshman at college where none of your friends went all at the same time. Then you make friends, get a little comfortable, and then the rug is pulled out from under your feet again. This is training. And this is where some people quit. In Peace Corps’ parlance, it’s called early termination, and it essentially means you resign from your position as a ‘volunteer’.
In general, I’m not to suffer from test anxiety. In addition to the standard barrage of testing one does while in k-12 , I’ve taken the SAT, ACT, AP subject exams, GRE, MCAT, 2 respiratory licensing exams + one specialty exam, TEAS, an entire nursing program full of ATI exams, and NCLEX. However, the one thing all of these exams have in common is that they are computerized. No talking required. I very nearly didn’t graduate from my first go around in college due to the ORAL PROFICIENCY EXAM. I have always suffered from a crippling fear of public speaking/performance, and while I’ve gotten better as I’ve aged [matured?], it is still one of my least favorite things to do on the entire planet.
One of the requirements to be sworn in as a volunteer is to achieve a certain level on the language exam. It varies from language to language and program to program, but essentially one must score somewhere between novice-high and intermediate-mid depending on the difficulty of the language. The exam usually takes place in the next to last week of training and is essentially a recorded interview in the target language and is graded to determine a person’s fluency. [Side note: Google translate does not have Kinyarwandan as an option.]
Pre-Service Training concludes for everyone on the day of Swearing-IN, [for me, this occurs on August 14, 2018] which is a big ceremony with government officials and TV crews and fancy clothes. After taking our oaths we officially become Peace Corps Volunteers. Immediately after the ceremony we travel to our permanent sites and begin the two years [more or less] on our own. It’s an intense day.