Shull, left, Schofield and Collins at WSU. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services)
PULLMAN, Wash. – Fresh out of college, horticulture degree in hand, Wayne Shull was “gung-ho, and wanted to solve the world’s food problems.” Gary Collins found himself “energized” by John F. Kennedy’s call to action: “ ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Shull and Collins recently joined fellow WSU employees Sara Schofield and Doug Young to share their Peace Corps experiences with about a dozen prospective WSU student volunteers.
After watching a video and learning some facts about the Peace Corps – it is 50 years old this year, the average age of volunteers is 28, more than 200,000 people have served; there are 42 WSU volunteers serving – the audience listened and asked questions about the real life experiences of the WSU staff and faculty panelists.
A gain, not a loss
Don’t think of the experience as “two years that will be lost out of your life,” cautioned Collins, who served in Lome, the capital city of Togo, 1966-68. Instead, “Look at the time as a stepping stone to the rest of your life.”
These sentiments were echoed by Young, who served in Kenya 1968-1970. He said the experience is “the start of the rest of your life. It makes your life richer.”
Young and his wife Lillian at their wedding
in Bergen, Norway.
It certainly was a life enriching experience for Young, who met his future wife on a blind date on a street corner in Nairobi. She was serving with the Norwegian Volunteer Service in Kenya.
Adjusting to a slower pace
What does it take to be a successful Peace Corps volunteer? Literature handed out at the meeting used terms such as flexibility, adaptability, patience and resourcefulness – to handle scenarios such as: two years of showering in cold water in the Andes, living without a hair dryer, using yardsticks and buckets to do science experiments, and setting up for a 10 a.m. meeting and not having anyone show up until noon.
Wanting to help people grow and eat better food, Shull worked with large seed manufacturers in the United States to acquire seeds and also got lentils from the Palouse. The Colombian farmers enthusiastically grew the fruits and vegetables and sold them at the market, but continued to eat a diet of beans and rice.
Shull had to temper his gung-ho attitude, learning to be “tranquilo,” patient, about what he could realistically accomplish.
Young, front left, at work in the Peace Corps
in Keyna in 1969.
Getting used to a different concept of productivity and time meant that there was a lot of “unbusy” time. Volunteers used that time to read, often by lantern or candlelight, and reflect on their lives. Each had periods of adjustment from the fast-paced life in America to the slower rural pace of their host countries.
Schofield stopped wearing a watch during her service in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, in 2002-2004. She laughed as she spoke of the fact that they were on GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which she and other volunteers dubbed “Gambia Mean Time.”
Modern communication eases isolation
Communication for the volunteers serving in the 1960s and 70s differed greatly from Schofield’s. The major form of communication for the earlier volunteers was letter writing, which meant about a month turnaround from writing the letter to receiving a reply. Often there was only one phone in the village and calls were very expensive.
Schofield was able to communicate daily via text messages so she did not have to be out of touch with people at home or other volunteers in-country.
Re-entry to the United States was a “reverse culture shock” for the older volunteers. They experienced anti-war protests, seeing TV again, and driving a car after two years of not doing so. It was like learning to drive all over again, said Shull.
Able to relate to international students
When asked what impact the experience had on their careers at WSU, the common theme was improved ability to relate to international students and their challenges in a country where they are non-native speakers in a different culture. Because of the number of international students at WSU, this understanding has especially helped Schofield, who works in the Athletic Department and Health and Wellness Services, and Young, who has mentored many of these students during his career.
Collins returned to the U.S. energized to enter graduate school. Schofield said her supervisor, Dennis Garcia, told her that her Peace Corps experience got her the interview for her job.
She was coming from New York, and the search committee did not believe she would move to Pullman. Garcia convinced the committee that if she could survive in West Africa for two years, she could handle Pullman.
Shull was able to take advantage of the non-competitive status the Peace Corps service afforded him for government jobs, landing a position with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture on campus.
Young, who worked on a United Nations Kenya government livestock survey project, got an opportunity to spend 18 months in Brazil because of his Peace Corps experience. After that stint, he came to WSU and said his experience as a minority in another culture helped him to be a more effective faculty advisor to international students.
Encouraging today’s volunteers
The consensus of these Peace Corps volunteers is that their lives are better for having served for two years in a different country. Shull gives talks to Peace Corps volunteers who are about to leave for their assignments and is considering returning to South America when he retires from WSU. No longer the gung-ho 20-something he was in 1978, he is looking forward to the slower pace of life – tranquilo.