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PC Beckons San Diego Retiree to Ukraine

By Ruth Lepper
San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego, Calif.
July 27, 2005

For Jon Muench, retirement after 27 years with the California State Parks system didn't mean a relaxing lifestyle. He joined the Peace Corps.
His interest in the Peace Corps started a few years before he retired.
"The Peace Corps was something I always wanted to do but never got to because of this and that," he said.
After joining the Peace Corps and getting an assignment to Ukraine, he began to prepare for his new duty by attending a Ukrainian church in San Diego.
"I decided I would look up some people and find out more about Ukraine before I left," he said. "One of the requirements, I had to learn to speak Ukrainian."
When he arrived in Ukraine in February 2004, he lived with a Ukrainian family in a village.
"It's total immersion with the family," he said. "You're encouraged to live like them. You can't drive a car. You're not supposed to dress up, no jewelry. You dress like they do. ... I buy all my clothing at the bazaar. They have huge bazaars there and you can buy everything. It's very cheap."
The Peace Corps pays workers the same wages as earned by others in the country. In Ukraine, the average is between $30 and $100 a month, Muench said. He's had a variety of jobs.
"They try to put you where your skills are," he said. "I just wanted to teach English and talk to people, but since I wasn't a teacher and was a park ranger, they put me at a naturalist station as an environmentalist teaching ecology."
Muench rotates to other stations every six months. After a station director learned that Muench has a background in martial arts, Muench became a karate and self-defense teacher to boys and girls ages 15 to 17. He also started teaching English classes on weekends for teenagers and adults.
Muench is using crime novels written by Julian author Don Winslow to teach his students.
"I have a whole collection of Don's books," he said. "His books are now being read in Ukraine and being placed in the library there."
Many Ukrainians learn English by watching American TV shows. Muench said their favorite shows are "Friends," "The West Wing" and "Law & Order."
He has been asked to lecture at high schools in Ukraine.
"They have a real shortage of tourists in the city," he said. "They very rarely see outsiders . ... The teachers would get wind that there's an American in the city. One by one, I'm giving two-hour lectures at the 27 high schools. I just talk about life in America.
"It's so rewarding to get up in front of young people, 40 of the students, and talk about California and the movie stars. They actually end up thinking, because they know America from watching television over there, they think you're like a movie star. The last two lectures, every student stood in line to get my autograph and get a photo taken with me."
Muench returned to Ukraine last week and has 10 more months to serve with the Peace Corps. When he returns to the United States in May 2006, he will bring home a bride, a director of one of the Ukraine Peace Corps stations. The couple plan to wed in November.






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