There are two Peace Corps/Russia administrative units: Russia West and Russia East. The Russia West office is located in Moscow and supervises the Volunteers located from the western borders of Russia to the oblast of Krasnoyarsk in the east. The Russia East office, located in Vladivostok, supervises Volunteers from the Irkust oblast to the eastern shoreline including Sakhalin Island. The country director is located in Moscow and a deputy director manages the Vladivostok office.
Peace Corps / Russia West
Russia is the largest country in the world measuring 6.5 million square miles. It is 1.8 times the size of the United States. After perestroika and the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1990, the Russian Government implemented a series of major reforms including the introduction of free-market policies, the elimination of most price controls, the reduction of budget subsidies to promote privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the delegation of more responsibilities to local governments. This painful political, social, and economic transformation continues today.
The Peace Corps entered Russia in 1992, bringing Volunteers to assist the development of business in Russia. The Peace Corps programs in Russia were administered out of three offices: one in Saratov, one in Moscow (which did not have Volunteers), and the third in Vladivostok—each with independent operating budgets and staff. In 1995, TEFL Volunteers came to assist university English programs. Also in 1995, the Saratov office closed, and the staff and budget for Saratov and Moscow consolidated in Moscow. There are two Peace Corps/Russia administrative units: Russia West and Russia East. The Russia West office is located in Moscow and the staff supervises the Volunteers located from the western borders of Russia to the Krasnoyarsk oblast in the east. The Russia East staff with an office located in Vladivostok supervises Volunteers from the Irkust oblast near Lake Baikal to the eastern shoreline including Sakhalin Island. The country director is located in Moscow and a deputy director manages the Vladivostok office.
After the market collapse of 1998, the value of the ruble dropped. In August 1998, the exchange rate was 6.5 rubles to the dollar. It fell to 25 rubles to the dollar in 1999. During our visit, the exchange rate averaged 30 rubles to the dollar. As the government removes subsidies to services such as transportation, increased costs are affecting Peace Corps operations in Russia.
The Russia programs were interrupted in 1998 when no Trainees entered Russia, because visas were not granted. However, the Volunteers already in country were allowed to complete their service, and the Peace Corps staff remained intact. In 1999, the governmental sponsorship of the Peace Corps moved from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Education.
Russians are highly educated; the official literacy rate is 98%. The Russian education system ranks among the best in the world. It is a highly regulated system with examinations for students and strict credentialing requirements for teachers. Education is free and compulsory until the age of seventeen.
Increasingly, Russians identify English language proficiency as an important step to regaining footholds in international trade, technology, information sharing, and study abroad. This has led to a demand for English language and business English instruction reflected in the fact that 75% of all students choose it as their first foreign language. Because of this extraordinary demand, and because Russian teachers of English have been isolated from native speakers, there is a need for assistance in teaching English. Volunteers who do not have teaching credentials or teaching experience feel at a disadvantage among their host country teaching colleagues. Russia training strains to overcome the discrepancy between the training and experience of Russian teachers of English and the training and experience of TEFL Volunteers.
Currently, 81% of the Volunteers in both Russia program assignments concentrate on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). The Russia West Volunteers are assigned to TEFL projects and business education. In the Russia East program, Volunteers are assigned to TEFL—two Volunteers remain in an environment project and two in business education. Both the business education and the environment projects in the Russia East program have had their last Volunteer input. Russia TEFL Volunteers teach at several levels of the Russian educational system. Volunteers with credentials are assigned to pedagogical institutes for teacher training, Volunteers with advanced degrees go to universities, and most Volunteers go to secondary schools or to “colleges” or technical schools. A few Volunteers work in primary schools in order to have a full teaching schedule. Most of the teacher training, university, and secondary school assignments are in urban centers, but Volunteers who teach at some secondary schools and the primary level may be assigned to more rural settings. In the Russia West program, Volunteers with a business background are assigned to teach business English at universities or at the technical colleges. Providing support is logistically difficult in Russia. In the 1998 PPA Worldwide Survey, 53% of the Russia East Volunteers and 69% of the Russia West Volunteers reported that it took 10 or more hours to travel to their Peace Corps office; 35% of Volunteers in the EMA region and 26% of Volunteers worldwide reported 10 or more hours to reach their Peace Corps offices. In some instances, communication is unavailable, difficult, or requires travel to a larger urban center. Email capabilities are available to most of the Volunteers assigned to urban or regional centers, but not to Volunteers in the smaller rural or village sites. Both posts plan to place more Volunteer in smaller cities and rural areas, so the staff must adjust the site selection and development process and Volunteer support accordingly.