2010-02-04 / Schools

Helmetta man teaching in Republic of Georgia

BY JANE MEGGITT Staff Writer

Miles Vidreiro has a picture taken with students in his English class in the Republic of Georgia, where he is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Miles Vidreiro has a picture taken with students in his English class in the Republic of Georgia, where he is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. HELMETTA — A borough native has found himself, at the age of 22, teaching English in what may seem like an unlikely place … the Republic of Georgia.

Having graduated Monmouth University last year with a degree in political science, Miles Vidreiro decided to serve his country and expand his horizons by joining the Peace Corps. Now seven months into his 27-month commitment, Vidreiro is teaching English in a small village in the Eurasian country.

Though he is among 28 Peace Corps volunteers in Georgia, Vidreiro is the only one in his location. In addition to his regular teaching duties, he also hosts after-school clubs and lessons on weekends. He works seven days a week.

“I don’t have much free time, but I don’t mind because it keeps me from being homesick,” he said.

He joined the Peace Corps for the unique opportunity of seeing a different part of the world while doing something worthwhile with his life. While a lot of people romanticize the idea of a Peace Corps lifestyle, Vidreiro’s experience has not been easy.

“It’s a struggle. Running water is erratic, and sometimes I’ll go days without it,” Vidreiro said. “It’s a challenge, but I knew it would be when I applied for it. It certainly changes your perspective of the world we live in.”

He did not know much about Georgia before receiving his official invitation. He was aware that Georgia had a brief war with Russia in the summer of 2008, during which all Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated.

“I’m part of the first group of volunteers, originally 30, now 28, returning to the country,” Vidreiro said.

Vidreiro had no idea about the Georgians’ incredibly unique language and alphabet, which is nothing like Russian, despite the two countries’ ties.

“Some of my friends didn’t know Georgia was a country, and I had to convince them that I am nowhere near Atlanta,” he joked.

Life in the Georgian village is very different from that of, say, Helmetta, where Vidreiro has been a lifelong resident. It’s very slowpaced, with a lot of work in the fields. This fall, he spent time splitting firewood to prepare for winter. With winter here, there isn’t as much to do, so in his free time he has been reading a lot, and generally trying to stay warm.

Vidreiro also has to answer a lot of questions from curious Georgians.

“I’ve heard just about every question you can imagine, from how much money Americansmake, to if I’ve ever had dinner with Brad Pitt,” he recalled. “A lot of Georgians have the idea that every American not only knows, but also socializes with Brad Pitt and other film stars. It’s quite entertaining.”

Vidreiro admitted he misses a lot about home, especially his mom’s cooking, and the banter with his friends.

“We [our group of friends] can be very harsh on each other, but it’s always in good fun, and it definitely keeps me humble,” he said.

It’s always tough to be away from home during the holidays, but this year he celebrated with his new Georgian friends on Jan. 7, the traditional date in the Orthodox Christian calendar. He enjoyed the traditional Georgian holiday food gozinaki, pieces of walnut fried in honey.

Though he’s been welcomed into the village and he’s helping to make a difference in the world, Vidreiro has learned that being away from home gives one a new, true definition of “home.”

“I spent the first 21 years of my life in Helmetta, constantly looking for a way out, but the idea that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ doesn’t always hold true,” he said. No longer a teenager, he said he has developed a great appreciation for the hometown.

“While I am enjoying what I’m doing, I’m really looking forward to going back home. Whether it’s the old snuff mill factory where I would spend entire summers playing baseball, or the general familiarity of a small town, Helmetta will always have a special place in my heart.”

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