By Stephanie Wonchala
“I learned many invaluable lessons in Istanbul,” says author, teacher, and former Peace Corps volunteer Robert Rosenberg, “One of which was ‘rich kids have problems too.’”
Reclined casually in the Consortium Library’s CAFÉ meeting room, a gently-spoken Rosenberg met with UAA students to discuss his first novel and UAA/APU Book of the Year, This is Not Civilization. He shared with Community-Engaged Student Assistants (CESAs) and students enrolled in Introduction to Civic Engagement his civically-engaged experiences both in and out of the country. From Peace Corps volunteer to English teacher on an Apache reservation, Rosenberg drew from his own experiences to craft his book.
An eager educator, Rosenberg was one of four original teachers to start a high school in Apache territory, and also founded an English as a second language after-school program in Kyrgyzstan. His unique experiences as an instructor and Peace Corps volunteer domestically and internationally lent themselves to his writing. While not autobiographical, Rosenberg did draw from the knowledge he gained while traveling to bring his book to life. Having gained a knack for Istanbul school children’s vernacular, jokes, and culture, Rosenberg felt well-equipped to write from their perspectives.
This is Not Civilization is a multi-faceted novel based on service. Selected as a UAA/APU Book of the Year to highlight the importance of humanitarian efforts, it touches on the effects of an individual’s responsibility to society.
From Rosenberg’s point of view, benefiting society does not always have to happen through dramatic events or large amounts of people. “I want to emphasize that when I felt successful, it was on a very one-on-one level,” he said. “My great joy as an educator is in considering the changes I made in the lives of students.” Rosenberg also stated that in building a small amount of people with broad minds, it affects many more.
His insight was valuable to UAA CESAs in attendance, some of whom were considering joining the Peace Corps themselves. Convinced that the Peace Corps is one thing most people can agree is “America at its best,” Rosenberg supported students’ notions to join. “When you hold a Peace Corps volunteer pamphlet in your hands, if you’re meant for it, there’s a surge,” said Rosenberg. Although the application and acceptance process is intentionally difficult, admittance leads to intensive training in language, job duties, and cultural sensitivity.
Rosenberg also read from his book that evening in the UAA Arts Building recital hall to a full auditorium of enraptured listeners. His novel, deemed “A sensitive story about the cost of trying to do good… a wonderful work,” by Library Journal, is available at a 20% discount if purchased from the UAA Bookstore.