February 1, 2012

AmeriCorps expands senior's horizons

Volunteer who speaks 4 languages assigned to agency staff

PLATTSBURGH — God dag. Bonjour. Kon nichi wa. Good day.

Marita Boulos's facility with languages — Swedish, French, Japanese and English — has been her ticket to employment since the 1970s.

Fresh out of Loyola College in Montreal and a young wife, she worked for a year as a full-time Berlitz language instructor.

"In the '70s, it was more popular, like the Rosetta Stone they push now," said Marita, who is an AmeriCorps volunteer at Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County.

"It was a new concept to have language taught through repetition, the way a child learns it, rather than grammar. Now, this is 40 years later."

Before relocating back to the North Country in 2008, she and her late husband, Ken, had operated a business in Rouses Point. She attends the Three Steeples United Church, where she met tutors who introduced her to Literacy Volunteers. She tutored a couple of years before being asked to become a board member.

"I like to work with people," Marita said.

"I mostly have experience teaching English as a second language. In Japan, I taught many years. Even as a high-school student, I taught conversational English."


The daughter of Swedish parents/Protestant missionaries, she was born in then-Peking, China. Her parents, Helge and Gertrud Jansson, studied English in the United States before embarking on their journey to China right after World War II.

"They didn't get very far. They got there in '47. While they were studying, the conflict before the nationalists and the communists was going on. In 1948, the communist troops gained control over the city. I was born in May 1948," Marita said.

When Peking fell to communist control, nationalist troops came to their compound. All foreigners had to leave in 24 hours.

"I was a baby, and I had an older sister, Neta. We were refugees. My parents grabbed what they had. They had to go on a freight train. They made it out safely on the last train. Later, the other people came out on foot and donkey because the bridge was blown out."

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