Here is my publisher’s summary of the book:
After practicing business law for over 35 years, the author joined the Peace Corps. This is the incredible story of that experience. Reading this book will give you a new perspective on the world and your place in it. If you or anyone you know is considering living, working, or volunteering abroad, the author sheds sunshine on what it’s truly like with a full chapter on culture burnout. For adventure travel lovers, the book unearths hidden gems that will whet your desire to explore further. For policymakers, significant ideas are proposed for improving the efficacy of aid workers and the experience of volunteers. Easily implemented recommendations for constructive change are suggested. Although it reads like fiction, it’s not! You won’t want to skip this real-life journey!
Here is an excerpt from the book:
As we did frequently, after a light lunch one day, Jackie and I headed to the Latina University to work with a handful of Ety’s students who lived in and around Santiago and whose goal was to enter American universities. To do so they needed to pass the TOEFL exam. We planned to do a practice TOEFL exam (four hours). We chose to work at the Latina because we needed to do the test online to simulate the way it was administered, and the Normal had still not acquired online capability. We were scheduled to start the exam at 4 p.m. and told everyone to assemble at 3:30.
One student showed up at 3, so we started working with her. She had been given but did not remember the sign-on password for the exercise. We called Ety in Panama City. She blew her stack because it was apparently difficult to set up these practice exams, and she did not want to miss the opportunity.
Luckily some people from the Embassy were around and able to assist. Using one of their phones with access to call overseas, we made a call to the states and got help. The testing center’s customer service representative emailed new passwords. We were finally able to get logged on. Had we not done so, the practice exams would not have been available.
It was remarkable how unfriendly the TOEFL process was, especially since it was geared to people that did not speak English as a native language. Even for me and the Embassy folks, it took a long time to figure out how to get the sample test going.
Another problem: The log on process required the students to give their postal address. Panama does not have postal service, so they have no street address. When registering they used Ety’s mail drop address in Panama City—where people use private mailboxes to get mail—but the students did not know Ety’s address by heart. This required us getting the customer service representative to help us again, as Ety was not answering her phone. But the representative was understandably suspicious because he thought if we did not know our own address, how could we possibly be who we said we were.
I imagine that there were many countries where the concept of an address was meaningless and where people still wanted to come to the US to study. In order to do this, the TOEFL exam was required to prove English proficiency. It makes no sense for the TOEFL exam to require having an address as a prerequisite for entry into the US. Sometimes I just cannot believe how culturally inept Americans can be! And because of learned helplessness, the TOEFL students had not acquired problem-solving skills that would have enabled them to troubleshoot the issues with the TOEFL test without my assistance or that of the Embassy folks. Good thing we happened to both be there! What the Embassy needed to figure out was how to teach English while at the same time teaching skills to overcome learned helplessness. That would be helpful!