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The Blog of a Peace Corps Macedonia Volunteer.
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A Description of Service

DESCRIPTION OF PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER SERVICE

Michelle R. Vitone

Republic of Macedonia 2011-2013

After a competitive application process emphasizing professional skills, motivation, adaptability, cross-cultural understanding and medical fitness, Peace Corps invited Ms. Michelle Vitone into service as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Macedonia.

Pre- Service Training

As a trainee, Ms. Vitone participated in an intensive 11-week training program starting from September 11th 2011, based in Probistip, Macedonia, which consisted of: 

  • 170 hours of formal instruction in Macedonian with a native speaker focused on speaking, listening, reading, and writing. 
  • 15 hours of cross cultural sessions about host country 
  • 30 hours of training in teaching English as foreign language (TEFL)(methodology and preparation for the Macedonian school system)
  • 10 hours of practicum  in teaching on local school 
  • Living in a village with a Macedonian family of two, neither of which spoke English.  This arrangement was designed so that the trainee would absorb as much of the local culture and language as possible.

Basic Assignment 

On November 26, 2011 Ms. Vitone completed the training and was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

Ms. Vitone was assigned to Rankovce, a village of less than 2,000 Macedonian speakers in the Northeastern region of Macedonia. She worked as an English teacher at Hristijan Todorovski Karpos Primary School, which has a student body of approximately 300 students and a teaching staff of 24 teachers. Ms. Vitone was one of three English teachers at the school. She was overseen by the school’s director, Slagjana Nikolovska, and was directly supervised by her counterpart, Elena Taskova.

Ms. Vitone worked primarily with students in the 1st through 5th grades, teaching the communicative method through interactive games and activities. She integrated new technology into the classroom and worked on developing a more kinesthetic curriculum for the multi-level classroom setting she worked in. 

In her first year, Ms. Vitone developed a series of extracurricular English Clubs for her 7th and 8th grade students. Through these clubs, students had a weekly opportunity to speak English, play games in English, learn about American culture and traditions and watch English-language movies. She also provided remedial English tutoring for students who were falling behind in English and needed a little more support.

During her second year, Ms. Vitone’s primary responsibilities included curriculum development, lesson planning, establishing a school wide behavior management plan, constructing and administering exams, monitoring and evaluating students, and preparing the students’ end-term grades with the assistance of her counterpart. The school possessed remedial resources so Ms. Vitone was responsible for material and course development, which included original lesson plans, creating visual aids and the development of a 1st grade English language book. 

Ms. Vitone increased the English language resources at her school with the help of Darien Book Aid. These new resources included elementary school level English language children’s books and poetry. Following the arrival of the books, Ms. Vitone generated a new technological library check-out system to make the method of checking out books to students more efficient. 

Throughout her service, Ms. Vitone participated in the Coverdell World Wise Schools Program by becoming pen pals and corresponding with a 7th grade class at a middle school in Oakland, California.

Language Skills

After completion PST, Ms. Vitone received the rating of Intermediate High. After retesting in November of 2013, her scored increased (see attached certificate).

Extracurricular Activities

From the beginning of his Peace Corps service, Ms. Vitone, in addition to teaching 22 classes per week at the state elementary school in Rankovce, also involved herself with the following:

  • Coordinated the Macedonian National Spelling Bee as the Lead Site Facilitator for two years. During which she:
  • -Negotiated with senior leadership staff at University American College to secure 15 rooms for over 1,000 Spelling Bee Participants and 63 Volunteers on the day of the national event.
  • -Designed Spelling Bee participant schedule that required usage of multiple rooms on multiple floors and handled complex logistics on the day of the event due to time overruns, delays in staff transitioning to multiple assignments, and loss of participant rooms
  • Co-chaired the Macedonian National Essay contest for two years, in which time Ms. Vitone:
  • Formulated a clear and measurable rubric to advice 56 judges in the scoring of submissions at both the regional and national levels.
  • Established a new paper-free submission process and introduced more technology into the format of the contest which was used to categorize over 2,000 essay submissions from 36 different locations around Macedonia.
  • Served as a counselor for multi-ethnic Girls Leading Our World Camp, which prepared 80 young girls to become future leaders of Macedonia through learning project design and management, leadership, debate, art, and sharing culture while also participating in team building activities and the implementation of social projects.
  • In cooperation with other PCVs established, “Let’s Dance Camp,” an intensive weeklong national dance camp which includes series of dance workshops and trainings for 27 young dancers. Ms. Vitone choreographed and taught several dances from various genres including jazz, ballet, hip hop and swing. 

From the beginning of her service, Ms. Vitone almost immediately made contact with the local high school dormitory located in Kriva Palanka and involved herself in their activities. She tutored struggling students in various topics and administered several events at the dormitory including a Halloween fair and art classes.

Seminars

Peace Corps volunteers are expected periodically to participate in seminars as part of their in-service training.  Typically these are weeklong affairs involving daily seminars on a wide variety of subjects, including cross-cultural training, work-related training, and language training.  Ms. Vitone participated in two of these, one in summer 2012 and another in the fall 2013.  At the second, Ms. Vitone facilitated a discussion on the implementation process of her music cabinet project. 

Grants and Special Projects

In 2012, Ms. Vitone collaborated closely with the music professor at her school in preparation and implementation of project for Music Cabinet which was awarded through the Peace Corps’ Small Project Assistance (SPA) program. The Music Cabinet was equipped with  several instruments such as guitars, pianos, flutes, drums, tambourines and xylophones With Ms. Vitone’s assistance, the music professor formed an after school orchestra consisting of 24 talented students. The orchestra has performed several performances in their community at special events and also took third place in a regional music competition in 2013.

In early 2013, Ms. Vitone organized a team to conduced a needs assessment for the school; with her assistance the school was awarded another grant for the establishment of an annual math and science fair at her school in Rankovce. Ms. Vitone worked extensively with the math and science departments on the project design and execution. In May of 2013, 52 students from the school collaborated on 20 unique experiments using the scientific method. The students continued on to compete regionally and nationally in math and science competitions around Macedonia. 

Ms. Vitone completed her Peace Corps service in Macedonia on 11/07/2013.  

Posted: December 4th
my boyfriend and I during one of my last days in the Peace Corps office

my boyfriend and I during one of my last days in the Peace Corps office

One Month Later

It has been almost one month since I flew home from my Peace Corps home in Macedonian and it has been a little strange readjusting. I am constantly overwhelmed or underwhelmed by my surroundings. Before COSing PC staff warned us that we may experience reverse culture shock; thought there are a lot of things here that I still don’t understand, like how to use my new smart phone, I am constantly feeling underwhelmed at the changes that occurred during my absence. Everything is almost exactly how I left it and my adventures in Macedonia seem like a foggy dream that never really happened. I don’t really talk about my experience in Macedonia with any of my friends here, nor do I really want to. I feel like trying to talk about all I did and lived through for the past two years of my life is just too much. However, sometimes something will remind me of something in Macedonia and I will tell a quick anecdote to whoever I am with.
In Macedonia I developed a habit of tuning people out because most of the time I didn’t fully understand what they were saying, I have found that that habit has followed me back to America and even though I can understand everyone around me I am constantly zoning out and having to ask people to repeat themselves. I go to large stores or malls and zone out as well; I kind of just stand there and stare blankly at the endless aisles of stuff. Though the strangest thing I think I have noticed is how incredibly exhausting it is to continually speak and understand English. I am so tired at the end of each day just because of my interactions with people. Unlike in Macedonia, I don’t really get a lot of me time. And just incase any current worried volunteers are reading this, you do lose the weight you gained during your service, I don’t know how because I have been eating a lot more than usual, but it happens.

So what next?
I have been applying for a bunch of jobs here in Los Angeles and so far I have only gotten one interview, which will be on Friday. The interview is for a disgustingly underpaid substitute teacher position, but it will give me the experience I need for my own classroom one day. I have also applied to the Council of International Schools hoping to teach abroad again soon.  

Posted: December 4th
surprise from the 8th graders

surprise from the 8th graders

our final bottle of wine together

our final bottle of wine together

Saying My Final Goodbyes

My last week at site was one of the most hectic weeks during my service. It started off with a goodbye lunch with all of my colleagues at my school. I was surprised when almost everyone showed up for drinks and a small lunch. Towards the end of the night, my school presented me with a huge painting done by the art teacher at the school. I began to make a speech in Macedonian, but only got a sentence in before crying. 
The following night I went out for wine with two of my best friends in the village. We drank, laughed and even danced the oro one last time together. These two nights weren’t very difficult because even though they were goodbye dinners, I knew I would see all of them in the upcoming days before my departure.
Thursday was Halloween so I headed up to the nearby town to direct some activities at the high school dormitory which included dancing, apple bobbing, mummy making and pumpkin carving. I spent the whole night with my site mates which I had to say goodbye to in the morning.
My counterpart’s as well as my host mother’s birthday was on friday so the next night, after saying goodbye to all of my teary eyed students for the last time (they were literally hanging out the window telling me to come back), I headed to my host mother’s place for a giant Macedonian style feast. Almost everyone that I knew in the village came to wish my mother a happy birthday and to say goodbye to me. Yet, I still stayed strong and did my best not to cry.
Saturday I woke up early to go with my host mother to the cemetery to have a small picnic on her deceased husbands grave. After waiting for 3 hours for the priest to come and bless the grave we fed her husband and then ourselves. This is a tradition in Macedonia and so several different people were in the cemetery, drinking wine and stuffing their faces. After our picnic was over I went to the town for my counter part’s birthday party. The music teacher was there and played Michelle (both the beatles song and the serbian song) several times for me. We stayed out till 3 in the morning trying not to think about anything but how happy we were in that exact moment. 
My final day came so much faster than I had anticipated. I spent the day cleaning and doing last minute packing. The rest of my day I spent with my host mother as well as with my best friend. We sat in silence for most of the time because there was no language to say what either of us wanted to say. It had been two years. Two long years of friendship and laughter and eating and learning and working. I did it all with these people by my side and now I was absolutely speechless.
I woke up before the sun on my Monday morning and got breakfast as I usually do at the small market by my house. By 7am my friend had arrived to help me with my bags. We drug them down the dirt roads towards the bus stop, and then several of my students came to help. As I stood by the bus stop with all of my luggage several teachers and students came up to me to say their final goodbyes. They stayed with me till the bus arrived and waved goodbye as I took my seat. I cried the entire bus ride to the capital.     

Posted: November 13th
Field Day

Field day is an event organized by the current volunteers in order to meet the new trainees as well as to say goodbye to the COSing volunteers. The only thing I remember from my first field day was the COSing volunteers getting drunk and making tosts to each other while standing confidently of the bar tables. I was scared. What was I getting myself into? The following year I was overwhelmed with excitement to meet all of the incoming volunteers. I remember being really social and trying to introduce myself to everyone whom I was spending the next year with.
But this year was different. Going in as a COSing volunteer was strange because I really had no desire to meet or get to know any of the new volunteers. I just wanted to spend time with my group because I knew it would be the last time I ever got to see most of them. After two long years of serving together this was it. I feel like I didn’t really even get to say goodbye to any of them. We had a picnic and then went out to the pub for drinks and then everyone kind of parted ways. Yes, there were lots of tears, but I kind of hoped for it to be more personal. 
During field day I got to meet the volunteer who will be replacing me at my school. I have been preparing my students for my departure and her arrival all week by telling them fun facts about her. All they do is moan and ask if we can switch places and she goes back to America and I stay with them. I’m not going to lie, that made me kind of happy. I am kind of depressed that I am getting replaced because I feel like all of my students and community will forget about me. Either way, I wish her the best of luck in Rankovce because I know she will do great things there. She seemed very enthusiastic and curious which is always good. 
In packing news, I have successfully filled both of my suitcases with 50 pounds each. Everything else now has to go in my carry on. I feel like I’m taking home a bunch of things that I really don’t need but I am way too emotional right now to start throwing things away. I feel like I will have to reevaluate a lot of my things next week.  

Posted: October 22nd
Field Day 2013. All of the Peace Corps volunteers in country got a chance to come up to the capital this past weekend to meet all of the new trainees and say goodbye to all of the COSing volunteers. Here is a picture of Peace Corps Macedonia past, present and future. 

Field Day 2013. All of the Peace Corps volunteers in country got a chance to come up to the capital this past weekend to meet all of the new trainees and say goodbye to all of the COSing volunteers. Here is a picture of Peace Corps Macedonia past, present and future. 

This past weekend my boyfriend and I enjoyed a nice in-country vacation in Gevegalija and Demir Kapija. We did a wine tasting and got an awesome tour of the winery in DK. Only one more month of this beauty left.

This past weekend my boyfriend and I enjoyed a nice in-country vacation in Gevegalija and Demir Kapija. We did a wine tasting and got an awesome tour of the winery in DK. Only one more month of this beauty left.

So It Begins

This past weekend I went to see my host family from pre-service training. The family who made sure I was well fed and taken care of during my first three months of service…over two years ago. I went to say my final goodbyes to them as my flight back to America is in about a month. We laughed and talked about memories as well as future plans. They fed me until I was stuffed and then even packed me a to go dinner. I held my host mothers hand the entire way to the bus station and cried as I hugged her for what could possibly be the last time. She told me that she couldn’t have dreamed for a better daughter and that we will one day meet again. Saying goodbye to her was incredibly difficult and I feel like it will only get harder from here on as I begin to say goodbye to all of my friends and family at site. I recently talked to my friend in America about this, and how different it is from when I said goodbye to everyone in America and came to Macedonia. It is incredibly different because I simply said “see you in two years” to my friends in America. Here I am saying goodbye for what could be forever. 38 more day.

Posted: September 29th