Macedonian Adventures

25

Robson Talks Peace Corps

“I love North Macedonia and I love the Peace Corps,” related Patrice Robson to roughly 25 people at her “Peace Corps Adventures in Macedonia” presentation at the Fort Myers Beach Library on February 11. “I did three Peace Corps missions, with the first in North Macedonia from 2006 to 2009, then returned a second time, and served in the country of Georgia as well. As for North Macedonia, I am in love with this country and could go on and on about it for hours!”

Patrice related, “I was in Public Relations and Marketing, as well as in Development for the Library System in Tampa, but I was over 50 years old and sorting out my life. To me, life begins at the end of your comfort zone and I have always been a risk taker and competitive, so I decided to take two years to figure out my life and the Peace Corps rose to the top of what I wanted to do, as I felt a strong desire to touch the faces of the people I would help, so I left behind my house and family and close friends and dog! While I initially never set out to join the Peace Corps, it ended up being a perfect match for me, and it turned out that every job I ever had in my life prepared me for the Peace Corps, making the experience a real joy.”

The Peace Corps

“President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, with his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, its first Director,” said Patrice. “When I first considered the Peace Corps, I assumed over a million total people served, but it is actually just over 240,000 in 142 countries. When I joined at over the age of 50, there were just 450 to 500 of us in that age group. Currently, there are approximately 7,300 people in 65 nations all around the world, with 99% single, 65% female, and 93% with a college degree. The average Peace Corps volunteer age is 26, with minorities comprising 34% and those over 50 being 3.2%. The largest group of volunteers by far is for Education at 42%, but I served in Community & Economic Development, as that fit my business background. While roughly 5% of Peace Corps volunteers are in the part of the world that includes North Macedonia, the vast majority overall are in Africa with 42%.”

Patrice stated that “the United States President appoints the Peace Corps Director and that person changes every two years, though you must be a former Peace Corps volunteer to qualify for the post, as they understand what we go through, so that is nice. The Peace Corps Director is free to change as much of the organizational structure as they want, but because of their previous experience, it tends to stay strong. The Peace Corps commitment is to promoting world peace and friendship through the pursuit of three goals: to help people in the participating countries to meet their needs for trained men and women; to promote a better understanding of Americans in those nations; and to help promote a better understanding of other peoples by Americans.”

Once you join the Peace Corps, you must serve at least two years, Patrice said, “following a three-month in-country training. We serve without pay but receive a monthly living allowance similar to the people who live in your Peace Corps community, along with dental and medical care during your service. While you must be at least 18 years old to join, there is no upper age limit, as long as you are healthy, so there are people in their 80s and 90s in the Peace Corps. The highest priority for the Peace Corps to us volunteers are our health, safety and security.”

North Macedonia

“There are currently 140 Peace Corps volunteers there, and to date, a total of 850,” Patrice related. “North Macedonia is landlocked, and that is always a difficult situation. It is a remnant of the former Yugoslavia that declared its independence in 1991 as the Republic of Macedonia. It is mostly a rural country of 2.1 million people, though I lived in a city with 91,000 residents, with another 2 million overseas, with many in the American Midwest. It is an ancient land that prizes ancient ideas and traditions, so it is very interesting, and it looks quite a bit like Tuscany, though teeny-tiny! Macedonians make up 64% of the population, with Albanians 25%, and Macedonian is the language. People who know anything about North Macedonia think it is a Muslim country but that is just 25% of the citizens, with 65% being Eastern Orthodox Christian.”

Before any Peace Corps volunteers go to a foreign nation, that country must make an official request. “Even then,” Patrice offered, “that government may not know the exact needs of its own frontline people, and those at the neighborhood level who you live and work with may never actually speak to a government official, so it is a strange situation.”

Volunteers receive their training in-country, Patrice offered, “with a local host family you never met before, to learn the basic language and culture, with the first three words being ‘Eat, Go and Sit,’ so you feel just like a dog! If you decide, however, it is not for you, then you can leave at any time, as you are a volunteer. In Macedonia in 2006, most people were villagers and farmers, with a decent life. My host family was known as ‘The Rockefellers of the Village’ because of their 1950s home, but while they had a modern kitchen, we did all our cooking outside on a woodburning stove, with chopped wood everywhere, making everything from scratch; my Mom had nine children and baked from scratch, but I never saw her work as hard as these people. There was no heat in the house, not even in the winter, so often you were like a deer in headlights or a little kid on the first day of school, just trying to survive!”

Following her in-country training, Patrice went to Bitola, “that is one of the greatest cities I ever lived in and I enjoyed a dream life, with great relationships. Because I was older, so were my family and friends, so many of them could afford to visit me, and when you overheard someone else speaking English, you almost become a stalker to talk to them! My proudest moment was to help a friend open a Bed & Breakfast, where you can still go and stay there. Everything is so beautiful, with music, wine and food everywhere, and it became my happiest place on Earth!”

The Nation of Georgia

Patrice returns to the Fort Myers Beach Public Library to discuss her Peace Corps experience in Nation of Georgia in the 3rd Floor Community Room on Wednesday, March 4, at 10:30 a.m. Her presentation is free with no reservations necessary. The Beach Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard. Visit www.fmb.lib.fl.us or call 239-765-8162 for additional information. To contact Patrice, call 813-719-0769 or see patricekoerper@gmail.com. For the Peace Corps information, telephone 855-855-1961 or go to peacecorps.gov.