article with pictures:
San Diego Retiree to Ukraine
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
His interest in the Peace Corps started a few years before
"The Peace Corps was something I always wanted to
do but never got to because of this and that," he
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
"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
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
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.