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“The toughest job you’ll ever love” – interview with Natalie Montanaro, U.S.Peace Corps

de (18-7-2010)
2 ecouri

Natalie Montanaro, a licensed city tour guide and former research assistant from the College of Charleston, South Carolina, volunteered for the U.S. Peace Corps and moved to Romania in May 2009. I invited Natalie to share with us some information regarding Peace Corps, the projects of this organization in Romania, and last but not least, her life experiences in the last year.

CD: What can you tell us about Peace Corps?

NM: Peace Corps was officially established on March 1, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to promote world peace and friendship by providing American Volunteers to contribute to the social, economic and human development of the host countries in which they serve. Since then, nearly 200,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries.

CD: In how many countries are Peace Corps serving?

NM: Peace Corps Volunteers serve in 77 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

CD: When did Peace Corps come to Romania? Which areas are they working on?

NM: Since 1991, Peace Corps Romania has shared America’s most precious resource – its people. Collaborating with local community members, Volunteers work in areas like education, youth outreach and community development, the environment, and information technology. Peace Corps Romania has created more than 1,000 successful partnerships between American volunteers and partnering Romanian service providers.

CD: How long do Volunteers stay in Romania? What is their full term of service?

NM: Volunteers receive extensive language training and provide two years of technical assistance to Romanian organizations, schools and local governments, while sharing in the daily life of their communities.

CD: Tell us something about yourself. When did you become a Volunteer with U.S. Peace Corps?

NM: As a child, I would listen intently to the ideals of the Peace Corps as promoted by President John F. Kennedy.  For the past forty-five years, I have wanted to fulfill this promise:  that I would go abroad and serve as an ambassador of culture and understanding for my country.  Now, in my early fifties, as a grandmother who has had several interesting careers over time (including volunteer firefighting and rescue, health club management, and work as an airline gate and ticket agent) educated in languages and culture, I believed that this would be the optimal moment to undertake the lifelong ambition to join the Peace Corps. I was born in Providence, RI, and now have lived in Charleston, SC, since 1997, where I worked as a licensed city tour guide in the historical district and at the College of Charleston as a part-time contract researcher in the School of Education.  I enjoy writing and photography as well as poetry, art, theatre, opera and music.  I wasn’t necessarily an “outdoorsy-type”, but early on I learned how to garden and to appreciate nature, animals and the unspoiled spaces during the outings that I took to the mountains and countryside with my parents in the summers.

Charleston, SC Memories

CD: For the past 12 months, you have been teaching English in Brusturoasa, Bacau. Share with us some of your most fulfilling moments and experiences you have lived in this beautiful corner of Romania.

NM: There are so very many memories, and having taken over 9,000 photos, I can tell you that each moment with the children and my new neighbors has been such a blessing and so unexpected, really. I will treasure each of those photos for all time.  In answer to your question, I have learned very much from all of the citizens of Brusturoasa in the ways that they have been instrumental in developing my sense of belonging there.  I will tell you that my first day of school was absolutely joyful and my students have showed me that they have great talent each week there and outside of school I see their love for their homeland, and definitely, tucked inside each of them is whole lot of sweetness.  Fulfillment comes most every day, even in the smallest of ways.  For instance:  when one of my first graders came up to the blackboard and asked about the spelling and pronunciation of a word that was clearly fourth grader material.  That’s amazing.  And when the children cheered and applauded when I came to a school the second week and then the fifth and even the tenth and twentieth, I was floored.  Overwhelming, things envelope my heart each time I am either teaching, visiting, or just spending time alone by the river watching the animals as they graze by the banks under the trees.  To see my special moments which are too much to list, I have a blog which links to the stories of my life here at http://myromanianholiday.blogspot.com.  As the song says, “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

Our Language Artwork Incorporating Nature

CD: Recently, the river Trotus overflowed its banks during nine days of rain in Brusturoasa, causing a flood which compromised the house where you lived in, and its safety.  You had to evacuate and now you are not sure if you will return to teach English to Brusturoasa. What plans do you have for the rest of the summer and the new school year?

NM: For now, I am looking forward to going back to teach in Brusturoasa.  There will be time to see if there is a family that I might stay with or a home there before September.  The community is supporting the efforts of the Peace Corps and my work there and so I am hopeful that there will be a return there.  Patience is key in these situations.  This summer, I had planned to visit other cities and towns in Romania and I am doing that.  Bucharest, Targoviste, Oradea, Suceava, Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca, Sighisoara, the towns in between, and so many other places around the country.  I hope to be able to get to Budapest and Sofia if there is time.  But there is always next summer for that, too.  I feel that it’s more important that I see all of Romania that I can first, as my students, some of whom have never been there themselves yet, would love to hear about it.  For the new school year, we will continue our good work together-reading, writing, and speaking in English about all of our experiences and with the help of a gift of more new books that were just delivered and the training that I have undertaken to prepare to be a teacher here, well, I hope that we have a year that is just as successful and rich in knowledge, humor, and growing together.

Talking About the New Garden with the International Cooking in English Class

CD: “The toughest job you’ll ever love”, says one of the slogans of the Peace Corps. Do you feel this way?

NM: In some ways – Yes.  The Peace Corps is not for everyone.  Even if you do have all the amenities that you need, there can always be the unexpected occurrences.  Being far from my home state was very hard when my best friend passed away from cancer last fall, just three months into my service.  Like a brother to me, he was my most staunch supporter.  He loved life and always had a kind word or gesture for me.  Being across the ocean at the time, this was truly a heartbreak.  And certainly, there are times that one does not share with their family and friends.  Holidays, festivals, birthdays, everyday things—all are long-distance ventures.  And that distance can be bridged with email, Skype, telephone, and other technological tools, but it is not the same.  Some of the other things that make it tough are of course pushing your own limits.  Like climbing a mountain after more than a few years of office work, or getting used to the routines of the country, like managing treks in the snow, or learning about how meat comes to the table when you are a vegetarian.   That’s trying.  But it’s all necessary and valuable in its own right.  As to the love…there is a bunch of that.  Around every corner, each day, each month.  So, agreed.  It is the toughest job you’ll ever love.  I like one of the other Peace Corps slogans very much, too.  “Life is Calling, How Far Will You Go?”  This is one that means a great deal to me.  I am 52 now and I can see that there is a whole lot of life ahead of me still.  I was willing to take the leap and go to Romania (by the way, we do not choose our destinations when we sign up for this journey) and now, I can imagine more surprises around every corner, the longer I stay here.

Derby Day Picnic Fare

CD: You published a couple of articles in our publication: “Change is good”, “Kids Rule in Romania”, “And the Cheese stands alone”, sharing with our readers “what you have done, what you have seen and how this country and its people have truly changed your life.” Please continue to write and we thank you for the difference you are making in Romanian kids life, by providing something different and valuable to them.

NM: I thank you so much, Cristina, for bringing to your readers these personal perspectives on Romania which I’ve experienced over the past year.  It is an honor to continue to serve in the U. S. Peace Corps and quite an honor to be here in Romania to share my life with all of you.

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  • Liliana: (19-7-2010 la 12:15)

    Congratulations, Natalie! I had the honour to collaborate with Natalie and what I can say about her is that she is a very warm, helpful and intelligent person. She does amazing things with the kids she teaches English to.

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  • Natalie: (22-7-2010 la 07:45)

    Dear Liliana,

    Thank you so very much for your gracious words. I do look forward to working together some more this year as well. Best of everything for a mid-summer break!

    Natalie

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