Saturday, August 20, 2011


Peace Corps Model School classroom, Nor Hojn, Armenia
Photo by Peace Corps volunteer,  Tamara England-Zelenski
           Every day, small seemingly insignificant occurrences begin to take on a life of their own. They begin to add up, and compose a descriptive image of what life as a Peace Corps trainee is really like in Armenia. Life is made up of many small events.  “Little Things do Mean A Lot” as the old song goes.
            Last week marked the end of our Model School in which those of us who  are TEFL’s, or teachers of English as a foreign language, taught various ages of students different subjects using English as the focus.  We taught 6 different classes and during that time my teaching partner and I found that we can plan lessons and execute them in the classroom but need to work on classroom management.  We were “softies”, setting rules for behavior but not enforcing them, especially in one rowdy class of 9-11 year old students numbering 31. It is apparent that my first project upon reaching our new site will be to read more on techniques to deal with student behavior in the classroom setting. The reassuring part of this is that many of my peers will be facing the same challenge as TEFL’s who have not previously taught in a regular classroom.
            Just recently our household needed laundry detergent. I was actually recuperating from what is now called the “Peace Corps Bug” by our training group so David went to the village khnoot (store) and purchased a box of powdered laundry soap.  Upon return to our toon (house), he showed me his purchase. The large colorful letters on the detergent box read BARF.  The name definitely described how I felt. When our host Mother saw it she pointed to the fine print which said in English “for hand laundry”.  Since our family does have a real washing machine which they generously share with David and me, we do not do hand laundry.  BARF was successfully traded by our host Mother for Persil, another brand of laundry detergent.  Our washing machine was happy.

Judith Arvidson-Berg and David Smith, Peace Corps Volunteers

          One of our fellow trainees is a delightful 71 year old lady who has worked and lived all over the world. She is a trooper in the truest sense of the word. Judith lives with a young family whose 5 year old son actually had a bicycle with training wheels, a rarity here in our village. The child was still relying on the training wheels when Judith suggested taking them off. The family, though hesitant, followed her suggestion. The child was riding the bike independently within a week. Now that’s a sustainable Peace Corps project!                 
             We were trying to have a photo made of our village volunteers and language trainers on the last day of our language classes. We were all gathered in front of the school, looking for someone to take the photo when the principal arrived. I motioned to him and thought I asked him if he would take our photo.  It was obvious that my communication failed when the principal smiled broadly and stepped onto the steps in front of his school with all the volunteers, ready to have his photo made with the group!  I believe I still need lots of work on my Hayeren!
 Peace Corps volunteers with Principal at Kotayk School
             Our host Mother and older son share a computer. She has been very interested in our blog, photos and other computer related subjects. Although she knows a bit of English, she certainly can not read a lengthy blog in English.  A younger volunteer told me about GOOGLE Translate so that we could have the blogs translated into Russian which hour host Mother reads well.  She was thrilled to read of her family as described in my first 2 blogs and wants to continue with the GOOGLE process on her own. What a great cultural exchange that has turned out to be.
Armenian rug- making loom with rug in progress
     Recently several of the women in our group visited a local family who makes beautiful woolen Armenian rugs. Their huge loom is set up in a small room in the home, apart from the living space where several rugs are displayed. We saw the mass of colors of yarn and a rug in progress on the loom. These young women already sell their creations in Paris and other international markets. One of the Peace Corps volunteers viewing the rugs has a friend in the US who sells handmade rugs and who may be interested in Armenian rugs. If that materializes and this small village rug maker is linked with a US outlet for her rugs, another cultural exchange has developed.
 Armenian wool in variety of colors for rug in progress
        Then, Ed, my TEFL teaching partner, was the recipient of a small piece of paper with the word “arrogant” imprinted on it. This paper was given to him by a 9-11 year old girl as she left our class the first day we taught. The next day the same child quickly slipped another piece of paper to Mr. Ed as she left the room. On it was the word “confident”. We will not be teaching these children again. Who was this child and where did she learn those words?---or did she even know what the words meant in her limited understanding of English? Mr. Ed will never know, but liked “confident” better.
          These happen-stance occurrences are only a few to be shared and these are during our Peace Corps pre-service training.  Wonder what will occur during our next 2 years to prove that indeed, little things do mean a lot?     Judy

Bari Gisher (Good Night) little Armen.............



  1. i will share these photos with my class on monday! miss you and dave!!

  2. I loved this! BARF -- haha -- cracked me up! Only you and Dave!!! And who wouldn't like "confident" over "arrogant"? What wonderful descriptions of your wonderful experience. You are making such a difference. We miss and love you dearly!!! xoxox Lisa