Peace Corps Essay #2
By John Mark Ratkovich
Life in Spain
Since I was a young boy, I have had a natural knack for leadership. I have always wanted to be first in line, front of the class, first to volunteer and counselor instead of camper. I always wanted to be the hero of any situation and I reveled in the compliments of others about the quality of my work or behavior.
From a Summer Camp Counselor, to substitute teaching karate classes at my University, I have always been motivated to step in and take over. I once volunteered as a Construction Assistant for Habitat for Humanity and headed up several projects with groups of three or four other volunteers, removing an old building in Chicago. As an accomplished potter, I have many times supplemented my teachers in my pottery classes in the demonstrating and teaching of pottery techniques to other students.
My first experience abroad was during my high school years, while a junior. I participated in an 8 week work project in Sonora Mexico. Ten students along with two faculty members, travelled from Iowa to live in a small village of some 30 or 40 people. Our main purpose was to help develop the community in ways such as building shelters, irrigation for crops, water and sewer plans, and cooking. We lived in cardboard huts, and slept on cots with the local people and worked during the days to help them improve their own community.
Inspiring ourselves and the local people to accept one another's' ideas and developing a trust between both sides was paramount to obtaining the goals we had set for ourselves.
While we were there mainly to help them find independent ways to meet their needs, we certainly received our share of education and benefit from the sharing of their culture. Working side by side with unfamiliar tools and practices, and being forced to speak the native Spanish language was a tremendous experience and development of our appreciation for not only the language but also, things like cooking, building, and general work ethics.
We accomplished a remarkable amount in such a short time and the gratitude from both sides was very evident.
Living in Spain for a year, during my junior year of college, was a second experience that I was fortunate enough to have participated in. A small town called Salamanca, located in the center of the country was my home for a very special part of my life. I left college for a year and went to live in Salamanca. Being on my own to find a place to live and establish a "life" was challenging, but as with everything, over a short time my Spanish improved dramatically and I became much more confident. I signed myself up in a college, a university and a local high school, where I audited classes and absorbed as much of this new culture as I could. I went to a local pottery shop and volunteered my experiences to some of the local students. I helped develop part of the high school's computer system and I spent many hours with the local young people, socializing and exchanging cultural differences.
Being a young American in Spain made it rather easy to take the interest of other local young people, but like every situation, it takes an effort and a particular tact to develop the trusts that allow unfamiliar people to closely interact with each other.
These two specific experiences living abroad, along with a multitude of local interactive activities and projects that I have participated in, in my life, has given me the confidence and skill set I need to be ready, willing and able to face pretty much any new adventure with excitement and enthusiasm.
I see the Peace Corps as the peak of the mountain. It will be the ultimate reality I have been exposed to only slightly in my life. I want to make a difference somewhere and grow my own repertoire of experiences at the same time. The Peace Corps can make that happen for me, and I know that I can make the Peace Corps an even more productive organization, in whatever small contributions I can give.