During a speech at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on November 2, 1960, soon to be President Kennedy spoke of the need for Americans to take action to ensure friendly relations abroad. He told the audience, “Out of Moscow and Peiping and Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany are hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, studying in those institutes, prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism… being prepared to live their lives in Africa as missionaries for world communism.” Kennedy therefore proposed, that the U.S. create “a peace corps of talented young men and women, willing and able to serve their country in this fashion for 3 years as an alternative or as a supplement to peacetime selective service.” Even before the election, Kennedy had already a foundation for what would become the Peace Corps.
While serving in Africa, several Peace Corps volunteers worked alongside what one American termed “the Comrade Corps.” This organization consisted of teachers and volunteers the Soviet Union sent to developing countries, the same men and women Kennedy spoke of in his speech at the Cow Palace.
In 1965, Ray Silverstein, a Peace Corps volunteer, wrote to the Tilley Lamp, a Nigerian Peace Corps Volunteer newsletter, chronicling his encounter with these Russian volunteers. He told readers, “One has to seek them out. Once this is done, many of them will open up, eager to socialize and talk English with someone “who can correct” them…One girl that I met acknowledged the West’s superiority in twist music and rock n’roll, and mentioned that the Charleston is the rage in Russia now.”
Elizabeth Cobb Hoffman discusses Russian volunteers and PCV relations in Ghana in her 1998 work All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, “The volunteers’ attempts to be friendly towards the Russian youth would…prove the intention of the United States to wage the Cold War peacefully…The Peace Corps teachers, who shared accommodations with volunteers from other countries, reported that the Russians returned their sociability (Hoffman, 162).”
Despite Cold War tensions, Russian and American youth workers shared cultural experiences and perspectives with each other during their respective service across the world.