Emma Bourgeois ’13: Peace-ful Teaching in Moldova
By Bill Wells
In some aspects, Emma Bourgeois ’13 hasn’t changed too much since graduating from Wilbraham & Monson Academy — she still loves to soak in an array of international cultures, and she still loves a challenge.
Emma, a 2017 Brown University graduate with a degree in Slavic Studies, is in the middle of a 27-month Peace Corps tour in Moldova.
She had other postcollegiate, resume-building options, such as a Fulbright Scholarship to Belarus. However, the former WMA Global Scholar felt her time as a member of the Peace Corps would provide her with a broader scope of life in a Slavic nation. And, frankly, her unselfish efforts would yield a greater impact in Europe’s second-poorest country.
“I knew Moldova would be challenging, but I chose Moldova because I also felt
it would offer the most opportunity for personal growth,” said Ms. Bourgeois, 24, who has five family members who have also served in the Peace Corps.
Drawn to the Slavic culture since her sophomore year at WMA, Ms. Bourgeois studied abroad for a semester in college in Yaroslavl, Russia, before interning at the U.S. Embassy
in Moscow the summer prior to her senior year. She also participated in an intensive Russian immersion program at Middlebury College in Vermont, tutored Russian in multiple roles at Brown and volunteered at a Russian language school in Providence, Rhode Island.
“I first became interested in Russia when I read a biography on the last czar, Nicholas II, for a project in Mrs. (Sue) Dziura’s English class,” Ms. Bourgeois recalled. “It was my first exposure to imperial Russia. I loved reading about Imperial Russian history, the Romanovs and the nomadic tribes that lived on the steppe.
“Once I got to college, I knew I wanted to study another language, in addition to French, so I decided to try Russian and fell in love with the language. Eventually, I became more interested in contemporary Russian politics.”
Ms. Bourgeois left her hometown of Wilbraham in June 2018, endured three months of Peace Corps training and began her service in a town north of the country’s capital of Chisinau.
“I knew the isolation, the immersion and the 27-month requirement would be difficult, but I also knew that working with Moldovan youth, living in a small Moldovan town with a Moldovan family and engaging in a partnership with community members, would provide me with the teaching experience, the language experience and the collaborative learning experience I wanted,” she said.
Teaching — ah, yes — that’s where WMA comes back into play, and where she has proven to make a profound difference in the lives of families in Moldova.
“My fond memories of going to school at WMA and of interacting with my teachers contributed to my decision to apply to serve in the education sector in the Peace Corps,” said Ms. Bourgeois, who lives with a host family, which includes a mother, father, two girls, two dogs, a cat and a parrot.
“Working at my school in Moldova, I’ve realized how approachable WMA teachers were and how invested they were in their students’ success. I try to follow their example by remaining approachable and committed to helping my students where I can.”
Working with students in Grades 4–12, Emma teaches English to Russian-speaking children. She also collaborates with the classroom’s lead teacher to “introduce sustainable yet innovative teaching methods in the classroom.”
Ms. Bourgeois disclosed how old-school teaching tactics are still the norm in Moldova, such as lecturing, memorizing and, to some degree, intimidating. Calling upon her lessons at the Academy, she has implemented what teachers and students at WMA would consider normal: group work, student-led classes, in-class debates, the use of rubrics for grading and incorporating basic technology, such as PowerPoints and projectors.
And then there are issues on a more profound scale she’s delicately addressing, partly in her class and partly through her multiple after-school clubs: gender equity, critical thinking skills and innovative learning techniques.
“I think the biggest challenge that I’ve encountered has been reconciling myself with the Moldovan educational system,” she admitted. “Moldovan schools’ approach to learning not only differs greatly from any I’ve experienced in the past but also has few systems in place to encourage discipline, accountability and creativity. The system strongly resembles the Soviet educational system.”
In a male-driven culture, Ms. Bourgeois tackles the disproportionate gender issue subtly, such as making sure an equal number of males and females are called upon in class, or go get water from the well. She also discusses human rights, women’s rights, refugees’ rights, domestic violence and building healthy habits — no easy feat in a small Eastern European nation.
Her Peace Corps’ duties are challenging, inside and outside of the classroom. It’s an ongoing grind. Small town Moldova is neither cozy Wilbraham nor the Ivy League confines of Brown. Even in the summer, when school wasn’t in session, she had multiple Peace Corps duties, primarily teaching the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). She was also tasked with writing a grant for the town to build a Youth Development Center.
Despite the repeated obstacles and roadblocks, not to mention being a young American female in a region where the United States isn’t always thought of too fondly, Ms. Bourgeois experiences those irreplaceable moments — big and small — often only felt in teaching.
“So far, I’ve really enjoyed working with my students,” said Ms. Bourgeois, who quickly learned Romanian upon her arrival in Moldova. “I was initially apprehensive about working with younger students, but my students have fascinating things to say and experiences to share. They can be incredibly insightful or hilariously silly. I’ve also enjoyed learning the many intricacies of Moldovan culture, cuisine and languages.
“My favorite things about service are having late night tea with my host mom, my ever-present students’ heavily accented yells of ‘Hello, Ms. Emma’ when I’m walking around town, and the moments in class or in English club when I can tell students are enthusiastic about learning.”
Spoken like a true teacher.
Awards at WMA
· Global Scholar 2011
· Departmental Award for Honors English - 2010 Departmental Award for Honors French 3 - 2011
· Departmental Award for Advanced Placement United States History - 2013
· Catherine Ingraham Award for Excellence in French - 2013 Member of Cum Laude Society – 2013
· France, 2010, 2011, 2014
· Cambodia, 2013
· Russia, 2015, 2017
· Moldova, 2018
· U.S. House of Representatives, Washington D.C. - 2013
· U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C. - 2016
· U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Russia - 2017
· German Marshall Fund, Washington D.C. - 2018