Former County Teacher Joins Peace Corps In Jordan

BERLIN – An Ocean Pines resident and former Worcester County Public Schools teacher began a new chapter in her public service career this week when she was officially sworn in as a member of the Peace Corps in the Middle East nation of Jordan, where she will help those with disabilities.

Joanne Evans-O’Neill, an Ocean Pines resident and former Berlin Middle School teacher, was officially sworn in as a member of the Peace Corps on Tuesday and officially began her two-year commitment in Jordan. A teacher for over three decades, including a 14-year stint at Berlin Middle in Worcester County, Evans-O’Neill retired at the end of last year and is following her daughter’s footsteps to the Peace Corps.

Evans-O’Neill arrived in Jordan in October and began her training and assimilation into Jordanian culture in advance of her official service. After being sworn in this week, she is ready to take the next step in her commitment to the Peace Corps. Through the miracle of the Internet, Evans-O’Neill participated in an interview about her service in the Peace Corps this week. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. How did you get involved in the Peace Corps? A Peace Corps official who told us about your story said you were motivated in part by your daughter, who is also serving.

A. I was teaching school in the state of Maryland for 33-and-a-half years. I taught in Worcester County at Berlin Middle School for 14 years and then I went to Wicomico County for the remainder of my years of teaching. I was a special education teacher and the last nine years, I had a specialty of being a teacher of the blind and visually impaired.

I retired from teaching in Wicomico County in June 2010.  I wanted to have a job after retirement so I decided in October of 2009 to begin the application process for Peace Corps. Well, one thing led to another and now I am in Jordan and about to swear in as an official Peace Corps volunteer. I decided to see if I could work in Peace Corps in large part due to my daughter’s service. I had traveled to see her in Bulgaria during Christmas of 2009. I like to travel and I like to help people. I am very healthy and decided if ever there was a time to try to go and do this that this would be the time and my daughter is very inspirational as well. She is serving in a small village in northeastern Bulgaria called Vladimirovtsi.  She is a TEFL teacher for Peace Corps, which is a teacher who teaches English language to foreign learners.

Q. What does your commitment with the Peace Corps in Jordan entail? It sounds like you are teaching.

A. As I said, I was a special education teacher. Jordan is struggling to update their services for people who are disabled. In many countries of the world other than the U.S., people with disabilities are very marginalized and kept behind closed doors. The country of Jordan is trying to get on board with updating services for people with disabilities and they have been working with Peace Corps to update special education services here. The Peace Corps recruits people who have experience in this field to help with the updating process and become role model for teachers here who work with the disabled in special education centers.

Q. What’s Jordan like? What’s it like to be a half a world away from Ocean Pines?

A. I arrived here in Jordan on Oct. 25 and we began training the next day.  The training includes being taught to speak Jordanian, or spoken Arabic, as opposed to training in the formal written Arabic. Training has also involved being schooled in Jordanian culture. Living in Jordan is a huge transition for all American Peace Corps trainees living here. It is an Arab, Moslem country. Their rules and norms and things that are socially acceptable are pretty much 180 degrees opposite from living in America.

That is a big transition and one that Peace Corps lets us know about before we decide to make the big move here to Jordan, but all in all it is exciting.  It is a beautiful country and I am excited to live here for the next two years. The service is 27 months and that includes the time that we are just concluding called Pre-Service Training.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background?

A. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. I went to the University of Maryland and graduated with a degree in special education. In the winter of 1977, I moved to Worcester County and began teaching school in Berlin. I got married and had my two daughters, who went through Worcester County schools. Bonny O’Neill is my older daughter. She graduated from SDHS in 2002, as valedictorian of her class, and my other (Peace Corps) daughter is Anna O’Neill who graduated from SDHS in 2005 and was the salutatorian of her class.  

Q. What is it you miss the most about Worcester County and America thus far?

A. Mostly I miss my daughters, but I wasn’t living with them anyway. I miss my friends and I really miss teaching. I didn’t realize how much I would miss the teaching until after school started this year and I wasn’t with the kids. I was busy preparing to leave for Jordan during the whole month of September and October and on Oct. 22, I departed the Eastern Shore and arrived in Jordan on Oct. 25.  

Q. Are you missing winter in Maryland yet? We got over a foot of snow the day after Christmas.

A. Jordan is beautiful and dry and sandy. It is a desert. The people are very friendly for the most part. During these 10 weeks of training, each trainee has been living with a host family to give us immersion into Jordanian culture and exposure to the language.  My Arabic speaking is coming along slowly, but it is coming along.  Shway in Arabic means “little.”  I speak “shway” Arabic. When asked by Jordanians, that is my reply so far. 

I lived in Ocean Pines, and after digging out three times last year from the snowstorms, believe me, I do not miss the snow at all. I love the warm temperatures here in Jordan. It was 73 degrees here on Christmas day. I was loving that as I had my beach sandals on.  

Q. What are some of the other major adjustments you’ve had to make? Would you consider re-upping at the end of your service?

A. I miss some of the American food, although the bread here in Jordan, called hubis, is the best I’ve ever eaten. The family I lived with has 14 olive trees and in December I was able to participate in the olive harvest. That was amazing and olives are a huge thing here in Jordan to the family. Pretty much all families have their own trees, and after the harvest they take their own olives to the plant for the pressing for their own olive oil.

I also miss my friends and my church. I miss my neighbors on my court in Ocean Pines. I am excited however about my new adventure in life here in Jordan in Peace Corps.  I can’t say until more time passes if I would consider re-upping at the end of the two years. That is a wait and see question.