Makal Monday: A horse that says ‘I won’t walk’

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

At baspaim degen jerin ming basat

Ат басрайм деген жерин миң басат

“A horse that says, ‘I won’t walk,’ will walk that route a thousand times”

Two months after graduating college I found myself alone in a small, tatami mat room sleeping on the floor. I had travelled 6,000 kilometers to teach English in Japan, and wondered as I drenched my sleeping pad with the sweat of a Shizuoka summer what teaching would be like.

I had been a camp counselor on occasion and loved it. I had worked with youth in a number of capacities and had even taken a TEFL class to gain a few skills for potentially teaching abroad. But I had no formal classroom experience and wasn’t sure how teaching English to classrooms full of kids who didn’t really need it would go. It turned out to be similar to teaching math to kids in America; most were there only because it was a required course, weren’t going to be using the subject at any point in their life, and frankly didn’t like it.

There were a few students who made some of the days worth it and of course life outside of school certainly made up for the time with its share of excitement and so I stayed two years. After returning home I knew I wanted to live abroad again. I just wasn’t going to be doing any more of that teaching English business.

Here I am, four years of teaching English under my belt and another on its way. This horse is being spurred on over ground it said it would never travel.

Never say never.


Continuing in the vein of full disclosure, I was disappointed when I received my Peace Corps assignment as a TEFL trainer. Why couldn’t I have gotten something more exciting, like digging wells or something? Ah—because other than teaching, I have no skills.

(If you’re a future potential job employer reading these words, please go back and forget that last sentence. Also, please stop reading.)

I really don’t. I’ve never dug a well, I barely eat any green plant life grown from the ground much less know how to grow it, my only quasi-entrepreneurial experience ended in a sad summer climbing ladders for CollegePro Painters and the sight of blood outside of someone’s body or any medical abnormality for that matter makes me pass out. So teaching English it was.

There really couldn’t be a more tame profession. But add Peace Corps to the mix and the seemingly benign is suddenly pushed smack against the threshold of survival. Every day poses fascinating challenges to overcome: schedule changes, freezing temperatures in classrooms, teachers eating the chalk and kids out harvesting potatoes. Even the Peace Corps Volunteer teachers find themselves in incredibly exciting, albeit harrowing, situations.

And there are kids here who want to learn, even if it’s a smallish handful. Not every single person is going to appreciate having you around, but even so, you’ll reach celebrity status with at least a few of them. And how could you not love the groupies? The ones who, for a single club lesson will chatter at their parents for a week, so excited to have learned a phrase of English from a real live American! (Ok, so maybe it is just the celebrity that keeps me going.)

After saying I’d never do it again, in the end I come back because I love it. I really can’t think of anything easier to do and I suppose that should be a sign that I’m meant to do it. Being in front of a classroom of kids is fun and simple. Or maybe I shouldn’t say simple—I’ve had to learn a lot, read a bunch, practice a ton and train others to figure out what I’m doing. But in the midst of it all, there’s a relaxing ease which makes it enjoyable, interesting and rewarding.

That’s the great thing about teaching English in the Peace Corps. TEFLers do get to see more immediate results and benefits of their work: kids winning spots in international exchange programs, going on to compete in national competitions, getting into good programs at universities and simply progressing on to conversational fluency. And the skills kids gain from having a mentor and teacher who invests his or her life are immeasurable and beyond the scope of quantifying. Being an English Education volunteer is a lucky post.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing in the future. I’m not sure I will go into education once I’m back in the states. Based on experience though, this horse of course, better not say never.

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