The Courier spoke with Zachary Bernknopf over the phone Wednesday. Bernknopf, a native of Marietta, will be going to Kosovo to work as a Peace Corps volunteer on a community development project.
He will be among the first group of volunteers to take on overseas projects since 2020, when the Peace Corps evacuated nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
Asked about his background, Bernknopf said he attended Marietta High School, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Georgia, and is now working as a public school teacher in Chicago.
“I originally chose the community and economic development position in Moldova,” he said. “But the war in Ukraine has obviously made Moldova not feasible,”
When the Courier mentioned that most Americans of the boomer generation know of Kosovo mainlty due to the 1998 war, Bernknopf said that the country had made a lot of progress since the Balkan wars.
Asked where in Kosovo he would be assigned, he said, “For the first three months we’ll be in the capital, Pristina.”
“After that you get your assignment,” Bernknof said. “It’s a fairly small country. So I don’t know whether I’ll be in the north or the south. I’m kind of open to anything.”
Bernknopf then spoke about the project he would be working on.
“It’s community and organizational development,” he said. “I think I’ll be working with municipal, city or village government to improve economic participation of youth, which the Peace Corps defines as 18 to 25 year olds.”
He said that the project will probably focus on the economic participation of women and youth, but he wouldn’t be given the specific details of the project until he’s in the country.
Peace Corps volunteers undergo three months of training when they arrive in their destination country, and after that they are matched with a specific location and a project based on the needs of that community.
The Courier asked Bernknopf what led him to join the Peace Corps.
“It’s a really great way to not just see the world but actually live in a place outside the US, not just visit,” he said. “That always appealed to me.”
The Courier asked how Bernknopf would navigate the language barrier, since Albanian is the majority language there.
“My understanding is the mornings are language, pretty intensive,” he said. “And then afternoons are cultural stuff.”
“So I think the first 11 weeks … you’re doing pretty intensive language learning,” he said.
Bernknopf said he is very excited about making the trip.
About the Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is actively recruiting volunteers.
A spokesperson for the organization sent the following information to the Courier in an email:
We are actively returning volunteers overseas with dozens of volunteer openings active at this time. To view those openings visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/volunteer-openings/. There is no upper age limit to volunteer with the Peace Corps, so this is an exciting opportunity for anyone over 18-years-old who is interested international service.
Upcoming events during September in the Atlanta area …:
These events are great opportunities to connect with a recruiter to learn more about the Peace Corps and how to apply.