Oct. 9, 2006

DC teacher spends time volunteering in Peace Corps

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Brian Benson is now the FOCUS coordinator at the Dassel Cokato High School, but before that, he spent two years in the Peace Corps.

FOCUS, or Focusing On Challenges with Unconditional Support, is a program which works with high school students toward a successful academic future, according to Benson. As FOCUS coordinator, Benson serves as an advocate for the FOCUS students, he said.

This gives Benson the opportunity to share his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer and by doing so, he hopes to influence others to see the world as a global society, he said.

From October 2003 to December 2005, Benson was stationed with the Peace Corps in the Ukraine.

Benson worked as a teacher trainer for the continuing education of teachers of English as a foreign language.

All volunteers go through a several-step process before being stationed in one of the Peace Corps countries, he said.

First, a person must apply with the corp, receive a personal interview, and be “invited” to serve.

If the volunteer accepts the invitation, they are on their way to training for four to six months.

Benson had considered volunteerism after finishing his undergraduate studies, but found out “It wasn’t the right time, he said.

“I felt strongly about an opportunity to volunteer my skills and time,” he said.

Later, Benson decided to pursue the idea. He investigated the Peace Corps and found it was the right organization for him.

What he liked most about the Peace Corps was that it is a well established volunteer organization and has been placing volunteers since 1961.

Also, if Benson were to serve, he wanted to volunteer for a long period of time, which most organizations didn’t offer.

A longer period of time, such as the two years offered by the Peace Corps, would allow Benson enough time in a country to get to know the people, and therefore be more effective meeting the expectations and the needs of the country. “And myself as a volunteer,” he added.

Benson left the US three years ago intending to make the Ukraine his home.

“The Ukraine has become my home,” he said.

“It’s exciting having a home at two sides of the world,” Benson said.

Although he missed his family and friends back in the US, he now misses his host family, friends and colleagues in Vinnystia, Ukraine.

“I had an exceptional experience,” he said.

“It was everything I had hoped it would be and much more,” Benson commented about his volunteer experience and life in the Ukraine.

He learned enough Ukrainian and Russian, but is not fluent in either.

“I learned what I needed to learn,” he said.

This is partly due to the fact that much of his work was teaching English and therefore spoke the language for the majority of his day, Benson explained.

With Ukraine being a developing country, he found a diverse culture “that shares an incredible history of independence,” he said.

For many years, the Ukraine had struggled for independence and was conquered by several groups.

“They have now established what I believe, will be long-term independence,” he said.

“The Ukrainians are very proud people for that,” he added.

While there, Benson witnessed a nonviolent political revolution.

It began with a small group of university students who felt their vote for a new president was representative of the people.

“There was strong public opinion the vote was manipulated,” Benson said.

After a ruling by the supreme court, the first president was ousted from office and replaced with the current president, according to Benson.

“It was amazing to be an observer as it all evolved,” Benson said.

Benson clarified “observer” because the Peace Corps does not represent any political views.

“It connects with people in a nonpolitical way,” he said.

He understands the Peace Corps is not for everyone, but he would recommend this organization for anyone wanting to volunteer their time outside of the US.

Benson is looking forward to going back to the Ukraine this summer.

“I really miss the Ukraine,” he said, but is happy to be home as well.

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