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Those of you reading this probably already know more about me then you care to know. Thus, I will keep it short.
My name is Eric Schempp. I am a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Lodeynoye Pole, Russia. I am 23 years old. I was born in Boulder, Colorado. I graduated from the University of Wyoming in May of 1999 with a degree in Marketing and on August 28th I left America for my two years of service. I will not return to the United States until July of 2001.
I arrived in Russia on August 29th and lived in a city just outside of Moscow called Zelenograd. I spent two months learning Russian and the role of business in the Russian economy. On November 4th, I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps volunteer by the United States ambassador to Russia in his house, the Spasso House. I was then sent to Lodeynoye Pole to start my two years of service.
Lodeynoye Pole is a city of about 25,000 people. It is located 3 hours north of St. Petersburg. It is quaint little place where very little happens. When covered in a blanket of snow, it is beautiful. In the winter it is cold and dark. A day of more than six hours of sunlight is rare. The sun may rise at 10 am and set at 3 PM. In the summer the opposite is true. There sun sets (around 3 AM) but the light lingers illuminating the sky and giving the sense that darkness does not exist. It is called, "White nights."
I lived in a one bedroom apartment, with a small kitchen and bathroom. I had no hot water, but a furnace in which I could burn wood to heat the water when a shower was in order.
I spent one year in Lodeynoye Pole teaching English to the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th form (grade) students. I held English clubs for both children and adults and occasionally offered assistance to the local business center. Three times a week I boarded an old, rickety, and run down bus and rode 30 minute out to an orphanage in the nearby village of Svir Stroi. I taught English and tried to develop business projects in an attempt to help the orphanage become self-sustaining and less dependent upon the Russian government.
While working at the orphanage, I came in contact with Miramed, an organization whose main goal was to help orphans. They offered me a chance to make working at an orphanage my primary project in the city Uglich. I approached Peace Corps and they agreed to move me to Uglich. I moved to Uglich, Russia in August of 2001 to complete my second year.
Uglich is a city of about 40,000 people but feels much smaller. By Russian standards it is a village. It is located about 60 kilometers north of Moscow and is situated on the Volga River about 30 minutes from Yaraslovl. Like Lodeynoye Pole, it is a little place where very little happens. However, contrary to Lodynoye Pole, the orphanage is located smack dab in the middle of the city instead of the outskirts of a village.
My main objective, while working at the orphanage was to establish a small business in the field of Agriculture. Again, it was an attempt to help the orphanage earn some steady income and become less dependent upon the government. The project was a pig farm and was designed to be self-sustained. The business plan I developed for the project and other details are laid out in a web page which can be found at http://uglichfarm.tripod.com
In Uglich, I lived in a two bedroom apartment. Hot water was a bit more frequent than in the Lodeynoye Pole. I had it once or twice a week. But it varied. In the winter, the average temperature of my apartment was 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit). I sleep in a turtle-neck and sweats.
The reason for joining Peace Corps were
many and mostly indefinable. When Americans asked me why I
was there, I said:
I want to have an impact, if just a small one (and hopefully a positive one), on a few people of Russia. I have always wanted to travel. I want to push my own personal envelope in terms of challenges. I wanted to learn a foreign language, and I wanted to see the world. I am intrigued by culture and those that do not operate in the same fashion as I do. I often look at Russia and ask, "where's the common sense," but then turn around and am thoroughly amazed at how they conquer and overcome seemingly impossible day to day problems.
I hate and love Russia. I have experienced culture shock at its finest. Every week, Every day. It results from struggling through and carrying out everyday responsibilities. It results from struggling with the language and communicating. It's laughing and drinking vodka with the locals. It's trying to argue that vodka is not the best cure for a hangover nor the number one medical antidote. It is getting yelled at by Babushkas (grandmas) because you forgot to put on your scarf in the morning. It's watching Russians try to learn a foreign language and understand a foreign world. It's answering the question given by Russians, "Why in God's name would you want to come to this country?" It's listening to their dreams of living in America or elsewhere. It's struggling to explain that, "No, America is not necessarily a better place. It has it's advantages, but it has it also has its disadvantages too." It's watching Russians make fun of Yeltsin, Putin, and even Clinton and Bush. It's having them inform you of American politics before you know it. It is explaining the political and election systems in America and wishing they cared just as much about Russian politics.
Culture shock is a roller coaster and never ending. It's trying to buy train tickets. It's trying to figure out the Russian system and failing at business. It's getting laughed at at the outdoor market. It is wiping the snow off of a sweater to see if it something you might like to buy. It's getting taken care of by the locals. It's wondering when the heat is going to be turned on by the administration. It's eating ridiculous amounts of food at random houses where people don't care who you are, they just want you to eat and be happy. It's having people take you by the arm to help you across the ice. It's falling when there's no one there to help you across the ice. It's seeing people survive through the worst of conditions. It's getting used to minimal amounts of sunlight in Winter, and trying to sleep when it is still light out at 3:00 in the morning in Summer. It is the indescribable general attitude of the Russians. An attitude of constant indifference while at the same time a love for life. It's many things.
I want to experience a different environment and perception of the world. I want to understand this country. And even though I know I never will, I want to understand the people.
That is why I joined Peace Corps.
On July 3rd, 2001, my service ended. A fear that I once had about entering the unknown has been replaced by a new fear. My fear is no longer derived from not understanding the unknown world. I have lived there, called it home, and still don't understand it. But it doesn't bother me. My fear is no longer about communication and a language barrier. I struggled, became frustrated, and eventually learned that I do have it in me to overcome it. My fear is no longer about finding the means and resources to get daily tasks done. I learned how seek out help, and trust and rely on people I don't even know. I learned that if you put faith in a stranger, they won't fail you. And my fear is no longer about failing or succeeding. I did both of those many times on a daily basis. My fear now is a pretty simple one: Will I be able to put my experiences into words?