Lawrence Siddall Interview

Q. What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?
A. It was not a long held dream. About six months before retiring I thought that I would like to travel and do something different, to take a break. I knew very little about the Peace Corps and had no idea what to expect. But it sounded interesting. I finally decided to “Just do it” and applied.

Q. What surprised you most about the experience?
A. The difficulty of learning the Polish language. I speak German which I learned during my army duty in Germany. I knew that Polish was much different, but had no idea of the challenge it would present. It was the most difficult thing I had to deal with.

Q. What do you think are some prevalent misconceptions about working or living abroad?

A. We all tend to have certain cultural stereotypes. For example, my students in Poland were concerned about my traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg, saying it “wouldn’t be safe”. I encourage people to go abroad and discover new cultures because people have different ideas and customs. There is no better way to gain understanding than to immerse oneself in another culture.

Q. What was the most challenging part of adapting to the new culture and site?

A. The lack of language fluency was the most difficult. At first it was hard to meet people and initially I felt very isolated. At the school where I worked the only people I could talk to were the three women who taught English. This changed as I became more familiar with the language. Another challenge was dealing with the students who talked too much in class and sometimes misbehaved. Overall though, I had few problems adapting to the culture. Poland is a highly literate country and education is highly valued.

Q. What was the nicest thing you enjoyed about your volunteer experience?

A. Making friends. I still keep in touch. I liked being exposed to another culture. It was enjoyable learning about Polish customs and how they lived their everyday lives. Traveling was also high on my list.

Q. What was the hardest part of your volunteer experience?

A. Learning the language. Also, the loneliness I felt in the beginning.

Q. What advice would you give future volunteers?

A. Be prepared to feel isolated and have difficulty at first making friends. Be in good health. Flexibility is important. Be open to experience people living differently from what you are used to. Learn the language; it is a wonderful skill. Know that serving in the Peace Corps can be difficult, but also very rewarding. Be prepared to live much more simply than you are used to. Be adventuresome.

Q. What made you decide to write “Two Years in Poland and Other Stories”?
A. The primary motivation was the desire to document my experience. I kept a dairy on my laptop but didn’t look at it for three years. I like to write but had just written articles before. Writing my memoir was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. It is also satisfying to know how much readers have enjoyed it.

Q. What do you hope a reader will get from the book
A. A sense of adventure. A realization that one is not too old to venture out in the world. I would like to inspire someone in his or her retirement to do something out of the ordinary, to have the pleasure of traveling with me and sharing my experiences. I would like the reader to enjoy, as I did, the people I met, and what the culture was like.

Q. Have you been back to Poland?
A. Yes, I’ve been back twice. Once to attend the wedding of one of my students, and three years later for the wedding of a close friend. I have lost track of most of my students. I would like to go back now and talk to people about my book. It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since I began my second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Q. Do you have any future international volunteer or travel plans?
A. None at the moment. I have developed macular degeneration, so being away from medical care for an extended period has loomed as a problem. Otherwise I am in good health. I still haven’t lost the desire to travel and see new places. I’m sure that one of these days I’ll again pack my bag for a new adventure, but not one lasting two years.

Q. Thank you very much for your time.

A. You’re welcome. My pleasure.

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