Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

jeudi, avril 27, 2006

Aspiration Statement

As part of the requirements when invited to the Peace Corps, an aspiration statement must be written. I was given a specific format and objectives to address in the statement. For whatever it's worth, I have included this statement below.

Aspiration Statement
Frank McGowan
Guinea, Africa
July 2006

Guinea. The word rolls around in my mind, surfacing from time to time, bringing a smile to my face and excitement through my core. The dream of the Peace Corps has lied dormant within me for 15 years and is finally coming to fruition. I am ecstatic over the opportunity to spend the next 27 months of my life living, working and developing bonds in a culture and community completely different from the United States / Western Europe. It seems impossible to boil down my thoughts and feelings into a short essay but the following is my attempt to verbalize expectations, strategies for adapting to a new way of life, and personal and professional goals.

In my teaching over the past several years, I have challenged students to look inward at themselves and their culture. Not content with what is on the surface, I want them to dig down into the depths of their being. Ask themselves who they truly are. Have them demand to know what makes them who they are and to wonder at what pushes them in new directions. Peace Corps – Guinea is the next step for me to look deep into life and culture. I hope to both learn more about my true being and culture while embracing the lifestyle and values of different people. During this process, I expect to be challenged daily, resulting in both my greatest rewards and difficulties. I also expect to become an integral part of a new community where we celebrate our differences and grow together in our similarities.

Strategies for adapting to a new culture
I picture myself entering my new community, fresh from training and ready to embark upon the next two years. Upon arrival, reality sets in that I do not know a single person and my sudden appearance in the town or village has created a scene due to my apparent differences. Children, out of curiosity and maybe fear, will chance furtive glances in my direction. Adults may expect a different American, one gleaned from snapshots of a life that I have never lived. This will be my home and I must overcome obstacles to live smoothly. At first laughter and patience will be my guide. Laughter because I will make mistakes and because it is universal. It breaks down barriers. As a teacher, I know that my classes will be successful once I have laughed with students. Patience because learning will be slow and the inherent quality of life different than my sometimes chaotic and jam-packed experience. Visibility and respect are other strategies that I will call upon. I will be an oddity. An American dropped into Africa to live. Getting out and meeting people while exploring the local terrain will help me break down barriers to communication and understanding. Like other places I have moved to, life becomes better once friends are made and a feeling of community is established. Respect occupies at least two dimensions. First, my position in the community is as a guest with skills and talents that will hopefully support the community. The community has been there and will continue to exist long after my departure. I must respect local ways and customs as I integrate into their lives. Along with teaching about myself and working in the school, I will earn the community’s respect by working with its members inside their framework of life.

Personal and Professional Goals
Three years ago I transitioned from the engineering profession to become a teacher. On one hand this change was critical because I am a teacher at my core. My passions lie in teaching and questions of worth never rise. On the other hand, the wide range of opportunities available to a teacher is amazing. Personally, I want to experience as much of life as possible. For me, this involves entering new and potentially stressful situations to exit with more clarity and understanding. The Peace Corps is a challenge that allows me to grow personally while also continuing doing what I love.
At a growing rate, schools in the United States are filling with students with backgrounds different than my own Western European upbringing. Teachers in this country are predominately Caucasian and may or may not have an experience that allows them to understand the challenges of students from other countries and cultures. Being a member of a community where my culture is not the majority is essential for my personal and professional growth. I can read about challenges students face but until I understand these barriers through my experiences, I do not think that I grasp a fraction of what is happening. As a teacher, my primary goal is to provide quality lessons to all students. Teaching in Guinea will stretch me even farther as I have to plan and teach in a different language. It is my aim to become proficient in French and local dialects as quickly as possible so that I can better relate with people in my community.

The writing of this aspiration statement took place on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River, a might lifeline that has carved a spectacular path through the Pacific Northwest. In several months, I will be in Guinea, the headwaters of several major river systems in Africa. Water is one of life’s major connectors and I will leave the United States knowing that life requires water and at the core of humanity there are many more similarities than differences.