William Smith alum Valerie Dolan ’06 has just completed her two-year Peace Corps assignment teaching English in Romania. Dolan was featured in her hometown paper, the Scituate Mariner.
The article notes Dolan will complete another year with the Peace Corps, then wants to pursue a career in international volunteer work.
“I really love it there and I’m really happy there and I want to continue to develop programs and resources for teachers and for other Peace Corps teachers,” Dolan is quoted in the article. “Basically I wasn’t done I had some things I needed to finish.”
Dolan earned her B.A. in international relations from William Smith College and minored in history and political science. While a student, she was a member of the golf team.
The full text of the article follows.
Scituate resident continues charity work in Romania
Kelly Anne Clinton • June 22, 2011
Valerie Dolan of Scituate hasn’t been home in two and a half years. Instead she’s been in Romania, volunteering and teaching English to students for the Peace Corps. Finished with her two-year program and arriving home to Scituate just last week, after a haircut and some family time, drinking a Starbucks coffee, she admitted she’s ready to go back over.
“I really love it there and I’m really happy there and I want to continue to develop programs and resources for teachers and for other Peace Corps teachers,” Dolan said. “Basically I wasn’t done I had some things I needed to finish.”
Valerie, a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2006, worked for a couple years after graduation before she left for Romania in May of 2009.
“I was so ready for a change and an international experience,” said Dolan. She said for about a year she thought she was going to Africa but in the end they changed her destination to Romania.
“Peace Corps is a challenging experience, they need people who are flexible and who are willing to go where they are most needed so when they told me I’d be going to Eastern Europe I was just so ready for it,” she said.
Dolan will return to continue her work with the Peace Corps for another year and after completing three and half years of Peace Corps work she hopes to continue on with a career in international volunteer work.
While in Romania Dolan and other Peace Corps members were a part of the 50th year anniversary of the Peace Corps and the 20th years anniversary of the organization in Romania. As a celebration, the Peace Corps joined forces with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in different communities, Valerie along with her mom, Janet Dolan and dad, John Dolan, who flew over to Romania for the build from Scituate, participated in building a home for a family in Romania.
The Dolan family and other volunteers built a home for a family in need who were living in unsafe conditions. Dolan said the family had never eaten at a kitchen table before and the children had never had their own room or space to sit or do their homework.
“The father went over to my dad after it was done and he had someone translate for him to say that he was so grateful for what he did for them. Especially because now his family had a place to sit and eat together, but also the kids had a place to do their homework, that’s what he was happiest about,” said Dolan. “It was a special moment for me and for my parents too.”
Pulling out her phone, Janet Dolan said her favorite picture was one of the two young boys in the family, who having never had their own room before, sat on plywood in their soon-to-be room playing a game together while others ate lunch downstairs.
Aside from building the home while in Romania, Valerie organized a number of after school programs for the students and taught them different ways to learn. She said that knowing English not only helps students with jobs opportunities in the future, but also exposure to someone like Valerie, who is from a completely different place with different beliefs, is also experiential for them.
After her two and a half years of volunteer work, Valerie admitted she learned just as much as the students did.
“The Peace Corps isn’t about going to another country and teaching people things, it’s about going into a community and being open and willing to learn about another culture, and in the end you’re usually the one who has learned the most,” she said.
Having to live and communicate and work in a completely foreign country she said has built up her confidence and also her motivation to help people.
“You have to immerse yourself in a new culture and community and when you get passed all the cultural differences and you are able to work with your colleagues there and get to know your neighbors and to become an effective teacher and to become a part of the community, it’s such a challenge, but it’s such a reward,” said Dolan.
She said there were some difficulties along the way nonetheless. Upon first arrival to Romania she said everything she pictured about the place Transylvania, Dracula, mountainous regions and communist bloc, was only partly true and the idea of being completely immersed in a new culture was a little scary at first she said. When she had to spend a night with a host family, called gazda in Romanian, alone and unable to speak the language she said she felt overwhelmed and perhaps in over her head.
“I remember thinking it was the scariest thing I’d ever done…I was alone, and I had to spend the night and I thought to myself if I can get through this one night then I can do anything…and I did,” said Dolan.
She not only got through the night, she got through the two and a half years the Peace Corps requires she also seemed to accomplish a whole lot more in connecting with students and coworkers and people in her neighborhood.
Valerie told stories of cultural differences like the idea that if one is in a house or on a bus Romanians believe that only one window should be opened at a time. If two are open then they fear ‘current’ or a wind current might travel through and make them sick.
Valerie laughed about the superstition now, saying though her friend was suspicious when she got sick one week because she had had two windows opened when she slept. Valerie said she still slept with multiple windows open and the fan on.
Reasons for being involved in such a program Valerie said came from her families’ life long involvement in community work and volunteer work-her father, John, is a Scituate firefighter and her mother, Janet, is the director of special services at Inly School.
“I grew up in a service oriented family and a community…and I learned from volunteering before that you get out of your community what you put into it,” said Valerie.
Perusing through over two years of photographs on her laptop, Valerie, and her mother jotted down on a piece of notebook paper to remember to bring over left handed scissors for a girl in her art class, and also more baseball equipment for the students she’s teaching to play the sport they’ve never played before.
She said going back to Romania to continue teaching seemed unquestionably necessary to her.
“I’ve never felt so motivated, I wake up thinking of another thing I need to do over there and what I want to develop and there’s not enough hours in the day to do all I want to do…it’s a good problem to have,” she said.
Also on her laptop were pictures of her father during the Dec. 26 nor’easter that caused firefighters to tread in cold ocean water to help rescue families from the fires on Seventh Avenue. She said she showed her class the photographs and she told her class in Romania that her father was a hero.
And though she missed her mom and dad and friends while away for so long, she said she really believed in her work she was doing while in the Peace Corps, and her mom did too.
“We’re a close family and I would love for her to be here, but I understand her mission over there…Romania is a wonderful country and we visited her there and met the people, so I know she’s in a good place,” said Janet.
“And thank god for Skype,” she added.
To donate baseball equipment or school supplies to Valerie for her next trip over to Romania please email her at: Valerie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2011 Scituate Mariner. Some rights reserved
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