AU is celebrating Peace Corps Week from Monday through March 2 to celebrate the establishment of the Peace Corps 49 years ago as well as the 10-year anniversary of the Masters International Program at AU, including a visit from the Acting Director of the Peace Corps in the middle of the week.
President John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps in 1961 to promote world peace. Kennedy’s plan for the Peace Corps sought to provide trained workers to encourage a better understanding of America and encourage understanding of other countries by Americans, according to the Peace Corps’ Web site.
Peace Corps Week is focused mostly on the goal of promoting a better understanding of others on the part of Americans. Returned AU Peace Corps volunteers will speak about their experiences abroad and about the effects they had on them.
This week is also the 10-year anniversary of AU’s Masters International Program. This program combines Peace Corps Teaching English as a Foreign Language assignments with graduate school coursework, leading to a master’s degree in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Teaching English as a Second Language program.
At AU, students have the option of doing the program traditionally - by completing their graduate coursework and then going abroad - or in reverse order. Four AU students are currently abroad in the Peace Corps and two others in the program are currently studying at AU.
Jennifer Lubkin, a returned AU Peace Corps volunteer, said the idea behind the program is that when a student combines graduate study with Peace Corps experience, he or she can offer greater skills and qualify in assignments that others may not qualify for. The program offers the opportunity to complete two years of work experience abroad, as well as receive an advanced master’s degree.
There is also a financial benefit of participating - three credits are waived from the master’s degree and six credits are received as internship credits that are free in return for Peace Corps experience, according to Lubkin.
Brock Brady, co-director of AU’s TESOL program, said he believes the program comes with benefits that will help students later in life.
“I generally think it’s a real good deal because you do your grad work, and then you go off and work abroad for two years,” he said. “You’re doing something that is real, professional work, you come back, and then you complete your degree. At that point, you’re a professional and you can just start your career.”
Lubkin did her TESOL work abroad in a small agricultural town in Azerbaijan, where she taught English classes with an Azeri teacher to primarily middle school-aged children. She said Azerbaijan is a very secular Muslim country, influenced by the 70 years that it was under Soviet control, when inhabitants were not able to practice Islam. She said she noticed Muslims in Azerbaijan are not very religious.
Lubkin said the schools were challenging to work in. There was a lot of corruption in the system, and the infrastructure they needed to be able to maintain the schools and have the teachers engage in professional development was lacking, she said. The school library had no books to check out - only textbooks for the classes.
“Chalkboards were in such bad shape that you could not see what was written on them,” Lubkin said.
Teachers received training in Soviet teaching methodology, focusing on memorization rather than communicative and interactive methods of teaching.
Lubkin said she tried to introduce students to this new way of teaching in a gradual way, convincing them over time that it is something they might want to try.
Acting Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen will speak at Bender Library Wednesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of AU TESOL Master’s International Program.