I was going to write something about the topic of “was the Peace Corps what you expected and do you think you have had an impact?” Then “Seva” called me today and we met. The experience of spending time with her today wrote this post for me:
Seva is 18 and attends her second year at a prestigious public university in the capital city of Baku. She grew up in my town and I lived with her family for about 6 months. Her mother wanted me to live there while Seva was in the second half of her last year in school so that her English would improve and she would do well on the entrance exam. As in many countries, university tuition is free for those scoring well on the exam. Those who score very high qualify for more prestigious universities—those who don’t do well normally don’t attend university.
We spoke English for about 30 minutes each day, and usually spent the time talking about her future, her interests and current events. The family was nice and I spent a lot of time talking with her mother about family, traditions and her daily life in Azerbaijani. Seva rarely left the house other than to go to lessons and had no friends. She studied many hours each day for the entrance exam. Her mother wanted her to be engaged soon and married while she was still in university.
Seva wanted to go to Baku to study if she qualified and eventually spend a year studying abroad, but her family is conservative and she was not able to express her desires confidently. We worked on that and talked about what some of her options would be if she were able to go to Baku to study. Meanwhile, I could see that her English was progressing rapidly.
She did well on the English portion of her exam and on the overall exam and decided to major in English. When she was accepted into the university, her parents were very proud and supportive, even allowing her to live with roommates in Baku. When I have gone to Baku, we have gone to a restaurant where a lot of English speakers go and we had American food. She loved the place and was amazed to see it.
Now she is a very confident girl, who is active in various English-related organizations in Baku, excited about life, reads books for fun, has made new friends and has told her mother that none of the girls in the second course (our sophomore year) in Baku are engaged or married and she wants to wait too. She feels that she is getting a good education and that she has a bright future. She is now looking into study abroad programs.
We met today in my town and we promised to see each other in Baku before I leave. She told me that I was her first American friend and once she knew me, the doors opened for her to a new world.