Micah Owens will join the ranks of a special group in October.
His name will appear with people such as U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker and television host Chris Matthews, all of whom are former Peace Corps volunteers.
The South Iredell graduate listened to his father, Don, who suggested that Micah travel to Europe on a limited budget after college. Six months before graduation from UNC Wilmington, Micah decided to join the Peace Corps, which was established in 1961.
Armed with a degree in anthropology and a desire to serve others, Micah embarked on a journey to promote world peace and understanding, the tenets of the Peace Corps. As he nears the end of his 27 months as a volunteer, Micah has begun to reflect upon his experience in Strazhitsa, Bulgaria.
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In an e-mail, Micah said he lived with a host family in Kyustendil for three months.
He studied the Bulgarian language, learned about his role as a youth development volunteer and assimilated into Bulgarian life. Don described Micah's initial introduction to Bulgaria as a crash course in language and culture.
Micah spends his days living, working and interacting with the villagers in Strazhitsa. He mentors and teaches young people and assists individuals who are developing or refining youth programs. He must juggle many priorities, because he works with several organizations.
“My actual role and responsibilities vary from activity to activity,” said Micah.
Based in the town's cultural center, Micah may help children at an orphanage with their English homework, teach an advanced English class, create a Web site for an organization or teach basic computer skills.
“Working in concert with the area school, one of their English teachers and I have organized a theater group through which, for the past two years, the fifth-graders and a few other students have practiced and performed plays in the local theater. I find working with this age group very rewarding and usually a lot of fun. … I spend most of my time working with youth between the ages of 15 and 18,” Micah wrote.
Often Micah interacts with teens in informal ways, such as playing sports, hiking or meeting in one of the village's many coffeehouses.
In addition to interacting with the youth, Micah teaches adult English classes. The levels of English proficiency vary, and the blended classes are challenging to teach, said Don.
During free time, Micah works on village projects and socializes with residents.
He has been invited to play a leading role in a traditional outdoor comedy and to attend village weddings.
Don related Micah's participation in a traditional custom during his first Christmas overseas. He helped villagers capture and butcher a 500-pound hog. They drank the animal's blood and ate parts of the uncooked organs.
As Micah has blended into the community and forged friendships, he has achieved a better understanding of the Bulgarian people and enhanced their understanding of American life.
“I have met so many wonderful people, many of whom have become valuable friends, who have been generous, helpful and supported me here. I miss America and my family, but leaving Bulgaria will be bittersweet. That's what stands out most in my mind, that I came here as a volunteer, but I'm leaving feeling indebted to them,” said Micah.