Tag Archives: Correspondence

Adjusting to New Worlds

When browsing the collections of the Peace Corps Community Archive it is difficult to miss material that demonstrates excitement, fatigue, curiosity, or frustration surrounding issues of adjustment to life in a foreign country.

Often, volunteers expressed these sentiments through letters, diary entries, and artwork. In some cases, notation of adjustment can even be found in the official Peace Corps paperwork.

In this post, we’ll explore the materials of three new collections to illustrate how volunteers adapted: Gabe Skinner (Chile, 1964 – 1966), Susan Shepler (Sierra Leone, 1987 – 1989), and Bobbe Seibert (Honduras, 2000).

Gabe Skinner, an anthropologist by training, joined the Peace Corps in 1964. As one of the first groups of Peace Corps volunteers, Skinner used his time in Chile to teach Mapuche Indians the practice of beekeeping. But he was unaccustomed to the long hours spent traveling by foot around rural Chile, so Skinner inquired about horses for sale in nearby towns.


Sunday, February 14, 1964, Skinner wrote about walking four hours “back into the hills” to see a horse “offered for sale.” PCCA.

Skinner purchased a horse in late April 1964. To document the event, he glued this picture drawn by his little brother Greg into his journal.


This drawing by Greg of Skinner’s horse appears in Skinner’s personal journal. PCCA.

In an earlier entry, dated January 13th, 1964, Skinner journals about how difficult it could be for volunteers to acclimate to their housing. As seen on the page below, he bemoans the uncomfortable living conditions in his first home in Chile:

“There are chickens and cats in the kitchen. They are flea-ridden. They defecate on the floors. There are flies in the kitchen.”


Wednesday, January 13th, 1964, Skinner described his housing situation in rural Chile.  PCCA.

Susan Shepler, who taught mathematics in Sierra Leone in the late 1980s, offers little in her notes about discomfort. In fact, a survey she filled out in the April 1989 issue of Di News De, a local newsletter produced by the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, reveals Shepler’s openness to the new cuisine and customs.


This is the second page of a “Volunteer Survey” filled in by Susan Shepler from the April 1989 issue of Di News De. PCCA.

In this same issue of Di News De, however, researchers will encounter comics, short stories, and other creative expressions that indicate some of the challenges many volunteers faced. Two examples include a bus ride gone awry and a recipe to recreate familiar food.









April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.


April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.

Unlike Shepler, Bobbe Seibert described distaste for some local foods and created her own recipes abroad. Seibert, who joined the Peace Corps later in her adult life, detailed her cooking practices in a letter to her father and stepmother, Jean.

On October 17, 2000, Seibert wrote to her parents to explain how she used corn to make a “wonderfully hot, smooth, and comforting” cream soup because she was “not particularly fond of” the homemade tortillas.


Letter from Seibert to her father and stepmother on October 17, 2000. PCCA.

In the same letter, Seibert  enclosed a photograph of her house. On the back of the image she cautions her parents about visiting, noting “Honduras is not a comfortable country.


Photograph from a letter to Seibert’s father and stepmother dated October 17, 2000. PCCA.

Seibert served on an agricultural team in Honduras in 2000 until a family emergency brought her back home to Alaska. Yet, her time as a volunteer is well chronicled in her journals, artwork, and correspondence.

In a letter to her husband John, for example, Seibert expresses excitement regarding her new host family and housing:

“My family is perfect.”

“Dona Marlen is a housekeer – not a maid, and they have two wonderful kids, Marleny – she’s eight years old and we go everywhere together and Edward who is two years old and mostly just smiles all the time.”

“The roof is corrugated but of very good quality it sounds wonderful when it rains as it did last night – quite hard.”


This letter from Seibert to John on February 6, 2000, offers a positive reaction to a new housing arrangement. PCCA.

Celebrating or overcoming adjustments is part of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. By carefully studying the collections in the Peace Corps Community Archive, researchers can build an enriched understanding of a volunteer’s daily life, including the joys and struggles associated with adjusting to a new world.

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu


Peter Cooey in Honduras

Peter Cooey

Country of Service: Honduras
Service Type: Community Development
Place in Service: Orocuina
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Orocuina, CARE, Community Development

Accession Date: February 10, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear inch

Document Types

  • Biographical Information on Peter Cooey (resume, articles)
  • Photographs (Paper and Digital)
  • Maps
  • Correspondence
  • Notebooks
  • Newspaper articles

Charlotte Daigle-Berney in Uganda

Charlotte Daigle-Berney

Country of Service: Uganda
Place of Service: Masaka, Mbale
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Masaka, Mbale, Sebei College

Accession Date: December 22, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Collection of African superstitions
  • Training materials
  • CD of photographs from RPCVs submitted to the New Mexico Peace Corps Association commemorating the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary

Anita P. Turner in Kenya

Anita P. Turner

Country of Service: Kenya
Service Type: Small Towns and Community Development (USAID)
Dates in Service: 1982-1984
Keywords: Business, Community Development

Accession Date: June 23, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Reports
  • Training materials
  • Memoir

From AU’s Collections: Friends of Nigeria

The Friends of Nigeria Archive is another resource for learning about Peace Corps in Africa.   Founded in 1996, the organization seeks to educate the public about Nigeria and promote continual service to the Nigerian people.  As the national network for Nigeria Peace Corps alumni, Friends of Nigeria includes returned volunteers and staff, as well as members of other organizations who served in the country.

In 2010, Friends of Nigeria–an affiliate group of the National Peace Corps Association–established their Archive at American University.  Friends of Nigeria Archive includes organizational records consisting of by-laws, annual reports, newsletters, financial records, and membership directories.  However, the archive also includes  many collections donated by members of group.  Items of interest include audio recordings, memoirs, photographs, and correspondence.

Several of the collections included in the Peace Corps Community Archives are from the Friends of Nigeria Archive.  Be sure to browse the Catalog for specific collections with materials from volunteers’ training and service in Nigeria.

“Welcome Friends of Nigeria,” http://www.friendsofnigeria.org/
“Special Collections,” AU Library, (2014)    http://www.american.edu/library/archives/collections.cfm
Sarah Kana, “Friends of Nigeria Supports WE CARE Solar,” National Peace Corps Association (2014) http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2012/05/friends-of-nigeria-supports-we-care-solar/

Ed and Karen DeAntoni in Turkey

Ed and Karen Thode DeAntoni

Country of Service: Turkey IV
Place of Service: Unye and Ankara
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1964-1966
Keywords: Education

Accession Date: March 6, 2014; May 15, 2014
Access: Authors must be credited in subsequent uses
Collection Size: 1.75 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Biographical sketches of Turkey 4-A
  • Peace Corps training materials including Turkish language manuals and notes
  • Peace Corps publications relating to serving and living overseas
  • Turkish Tourism Materials
  • Training materials of Turkey 12, Summer 1966 at Occidental College, CA
  • Map of Ed and Karen Thode DeAntoni’s travels in Turkey, 1965-1966, for slide presentations at Occidental
  • CD of photographs from training at the School for International Living in Putney, VT

Peggy Gleeson Wyllie in Colombia

Peggy Gleeson Wyllie

Country of Service: Colombia
Place of Service: Fusagasuga and Guapi
Service Type: Nursing and Nursing Education
Dates in Service: 1963-1965
Keywords: Education, Health, Nursing

Accession Date: February 2011; Friends of Colombia Archive
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 3 folders

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Slides

David Wessel in Colombia

David Wessel

Country of Service: Colombia
Place of Service: Rivere, Huila and Antioguia
Service Project Title: CARE Program
Dates in Service: 1962-1964
Keywords: Education, Health, Nutrition, Sanitation

Accession Date: July 2000; Friends of Colombia Archive
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.75 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications

Terry Kennedy in Colombia

Terry Kennedy

Country of Service: Colombia
Place of Service: Tangua, Narino
Service Project Title: Educational TV Project (ETV)
Dates in Service: 1964-1966
Keywords: Education, Information Technology, Youth

Accession Date: June 1999; Friends of Colombia Archive
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear foot

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Notebooks
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Slides