Ep #021: Charles McKinney IV, Macedonia 2015-2017
“I came home from Spain to a frozen house in mid-January after Macedonia had been bombarded with copious amounts of snow… My toilet wouldn’t flush, the water didn’t run, all the pipes were frozen, and the windows were icy. It was like my entire bungalow mutated into an igloo of sorts while Macedonia was starting to resemble the likes of Siberian Russia.”
On this Episode:
- Serving as a person of color in the Peace Corps
- How Charles connected with his students as a TEFL volunteer
- Growing to appreciate nature more in Macedonia
Photos from Charles’s Story
Charles’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served as a TEFL volunteer in rural Macedonia from 2015-17. My primary assignment was co-teaching English classes with my Macedonian counterpart by emphasizing the conversational and cultural aspect of American English to students. Many extracurricular activities kept me busy when I wasn’t co-teaching. For example, coordinating the Macedonia English Essay Challenge, preparing my strongest students for the annual spelling bee competition, implementing the world map project at my school, hosting a summer traveling camp in my village, and participating in a Peace Corps-approved volunteer of color video project, to name a few. Learning the language and integrating into my community I believe were the greatest aspects of the “job description.”
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
An impromptu dinner date with two of my dearest students on what happened to be my first birthday in Macedonia stands out as a favorite memory. They knocked on my door that day wanting to play badminton across the street on the town hall lawn where we usually played. Then they asked me to dinner, I accepted, and we enjoyed a nice meal together, just the three of us, with a sweet selfie taken to commemorate the special, spontaneous occasion. They had no idea it was my birthday until after the fact, but I knew that was God smiling on me through these precious youngsters. It was a birthday to remember.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
One of my least favorite memories is when I came home from Spain to a frozen house in mid-January after Macedonia had been bombarded with copious amounts of snow during my winter vacation in beautiful Barcelona. It was dreadful. My toilet wouldn’t flush, the water didn’t run, all the pipes were frozen, and the windows were icy. It was like my entire bungalow mutated into an igloo of sorts while Macedonia was starting to resemble the likes of Siberian Russia.
What will you miss about the Peace Corps?
I will miss my frabjous students who have made this experience so rewarding for me by far. Their surprise visits to my home, our nature walks, candid talks, badminton and basketball play, YouTube video ideation and sometimes creation, peanut butter and jelly sandwich demonstration, Friday movie matinees after school and so much more. Although I only had her for three months, I miss and will continue to miss my first-ever adopted pet Matilda, a cute and homeless hybrid puppy I found at my school one day, convinced by the children to adopt her as my own. Some of them helped me to care for her whenever they visited my house. Then suddenly one day I found her missing, a whodunit petnapping mystery. Perfect scenario for a flash fiction story penned by yours truly!
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Something that I learned early on in my service that still resonates with me is the fact that I cannot/could not change the culture. My country director made this clear during PST, and it constantly rang true in my worldview. While there were behavioral norms and practices that inevitably vexed me about the country and culture, I was not there to try and radically alter the way people lived their lives. What I could do, however, was to put my best foot forward every day in leading change by setting a positive example for my students, colleagues, neighbors, host family and universal friends. Rather than judging the people and/or the culture, I sought to understand the history, language and social mores that offered insight into the present manifestation of what we know as Macedonia. As a result, cultural customs I found incredibly irksome at the beginning of my service didn’t matter so much toward the end of my service. Now that’s growth!
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
Before coming to Macedonia I remember reading the letters from currently serving volunteers at the time, and many of them spoke of how Macedonia is the land of “there is time” translated as “има време”. Having served there for two years, I certainly concur with said sentiment, all the more in a countryside milieu where the pace of life is even slower and the children still play outside, the neighbors know and visit each other and family values are paramount to the societal structure. I have used the expression quite a few times to encourage either my local or foreign friends to slow down, to relax and to go with the flow.
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