Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Lee Colten, January 27, 2006

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Personal upbringing and early influences / Peace Corps recruitment, application, and assignment

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Partial Transcript: Peace Corps Oral History Project interview with Lee Colten, January 27th, 2006. Interviewed by Jack Wilson. Lee, if you would, uh, start by just giving me your full name and where and when you were born.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten to talk about his family background and upbringing. Colten states that he grew up in Minden, Louisiana and that his parents were both originally from the Midwest. Colten describes the activities of his father and how his father's way of doing things and his world views influenced his own perspectives. He mentions the role his father played as a mayor in support of civil rights in Minden. Colten states that he went to Oklahoma State University after graduating from high school in Minden and got a degree in biology. He explains that he first met a Peace Corps recruiter while at the university and that his brother probably helped pique his interest in the Peace Corps as he was always looking for ways to travel for free. Wilson asks Colten to talk about the Peace Corps application process. Colten says that the amount of paperwork he went through for the application was mind boggling and recounts a story about obtaining reference letters for his application. Wilson asks Colten if he indicated a preference for where he would be assigned in his application. Colten answers that he stated a preference for Latin America in his application because he was interested in learning Spanish and his older siblings had traveled some in the region. Wilson asks Colten what place he was ultimately assigned to. Colten responds that he was assigned to Ecuador and that he found out he would be doing his Peace Corps training in Ecuador.

Keywords: Civil Rights; Ecuador; Family influences; Family life; Minden (La.); Newspapers; Oklahoma State University (OSU); Peace Corps; Peace Corps application; Peace Corps assignment; Peace Corps recruitment; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal upbringing; Political families

Subjects: Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Ecuador; Minden (La.); Oklahoma State University; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador

00:10:00 - Peace Corps selection process / Meeting his future spouse

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Partial Transcript: And did you--was there a staging of some sort or something?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten about the staging that occurred before he left for training. Colten replies that he went through a selection process that he thinks the Peace Corps only practiced for a couple of years in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Colten expresses that it felt that like the volunteers were under a psychologist's microscope because they were followed around and had notes taken on their behaviors. Colten adds that there were a lot of simulation games and role playing sessions during the selection process. Colten describes in great detail the circumstances in which he met and got to know his future wife during the Peace Corps selection process. He mentions that he was in the agriculture extension group while she was in the special education group so their training sites were in different locations. Colten goes into greater detail about the interactions he had with his future wife during an overlap in their training and when he visited her at her site in Ecuador for Christmas and proposed to her.

Keywords: Costa Rica; Ecuador; Harper's Ferry (W. Va.); Harpers Ferry (W. Va.); Peace Corps; Peace Corps anecdotes; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps selection; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal Peace Corps impacts; Psychological evaluations; Role playing games; Simulation games; Social connections; Spouses

Subjects: Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Costa Rica; Ecuador; Harpers Ferry (W. Va.); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Spouses.

00:21:20 - Peace Corps training in Costa Rica and Ecuador--Agriculture, language, and culture

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Partial Transcript: Okay, let's go back to the, to the point of, of, of the Peace Corps training.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson returns to the subject of Peace Corps training and asks Colten what his training was like. Colten states that he had no agricultural background before becoming part of the agriculture extension group, but the Peace Corps did a good job in preparing him. Colten explains that the training consisted of three parts: culture, language, and area of expertise. Colten remarks that the language training was outstanding because he went in almost knowing nothing about Spanish to coming out of it with a conversational knowledge of it. Colten mentions that the language instructor changed every so often and volunteers had to get used to the new accents that came with new instructors. Colten talks about an exercise involving him living with a family and practicing his language skills. Wilson asks Colten to elaborate on what the cultural training consisted of. Colten responds that most of the cultural training volunteers received while on site in Costa Rica was not about Ecuador but general cultural sensitivity. He adds that volunteers got a month of Ecuadorian cultural training when arriving in Ecuador. Colten describes what the agricultural training he received consisted of. Colten discusses learning how to take care of certain tools, pick seeds, and butcher animals. Wilson asks Colten how long the Costa Rican portion of his training was. Colten replies that the training in Costa Rica lasted for two months followed by a month of training in Quito, Ecuador. Wilson asks Colten if there were any more selection processes at either of the training sites. Colten answers that there wasn't really any after the one in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. He explains that the rest of the people who left (three) were due to their own reasons and he talks about the people who ended up leaving of their own accord.

Keywords: Agricultural training; Agriculture extension group; Agriculture training; Costa Rica; Cultural training; Ecuador; Language learning; Language training; Peace Corps; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Spanish language

Subjects: Agriculture.; Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Costa Rica; Ecuador; Language transfer (Language learning); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Spanish language.; Training.

00:29:09 - Peace Corps assignment / Health problems and assignment termination / Initial impressions of Ecuador

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Partial Transcript: So what--then, uh, you were assigned to a particular job or place? Where was that?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten about his job assignment in Ecuador. Colten states that he was assigned to a small village outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. He talks about being introduced to the community, particularly to a fascinating person who was on a UN grant to preserve traditional weaving. Colten mentions that there was a Peace Corps volunteer in the village previously and describes what they helped build. After staying with a family for a while, Colten explains that he left for Cuenca because he was stricken with some kind of illness. Colten interrupts his chronological narrative to describe a bad experience he had while living in the village. Colten discusses how his health continued to deteriorate while in Ecuador, even after being moved to a different village. Colten states that it was because of his health issues and frustrations that he ultimately decided to return home after three months in Ecuador. Wilson asks Colten to go back and talk about what it was like to initially arrive in Ecuador. Colten responds that the poverty of the area and being part of a minority group didn't strike him quite so hard because he had previously been on a trip to the Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala, and Belize. Colten states that his main first impression was the spectacular scenery of the mountain environment and that of Ecuadorian culture, both of which he enjoyed experiencing.

Keywords: Cuenca, Ecuador; Ecuador; Health; Health issues; Health problems; Host families; Initial impressions; Peace Corps; Peace Corps anecdotes; Peace Corps assignments; Peace Corps jobs; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps volunteers

Subjects: Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Ecuador; Health issues; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador

00:39:50 - Return to the U.S. / Work in environmental education

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Partial Transcript: And coming, coming back?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten what he did after returning to the U.S. Colten replies that he wallowed in self-misery for a while, living with his parents and taking part-time jobs until his father snapped him out of his stupor. Colten mentions that he took a Spanish language class and describes how this led to him finding out about an environmental education center in North Carolina where he could work. He backtracks and explains why he was interested in environmental education, connecting it to his interest in the Peace Corps. Colten describes working at Cedar Creek Learning Center in Tennessee for two years, trying to help develop the program and its curriculum. He explains that his experience in this position allowed him to satisfy some of his idealism while being closer to home at the same time. Wilson backtracks to ask Colten if the job he was given in Ecuador was well defined since this was an issue in Peace Corps during that time period. Colten states that it wasn't defined for him and that it was a source of anxiety for him that he didn't know what his role was supposed to be or what he was supposed to be doing.

Keywords: Cedar Creek Learning Center; Ecuador; Environmental education; Peace Corps; Peace Corps jobs; Peace Corps volunteers; Post-Peace Corps work; Readjustment; Reintegration

Subjects: Cedar Creek Learning Center; Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Ecuador; Environmental education--Activity programs; Environmental education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador

00:47:29 - Moving to Kentucky / Graduate school and career

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Partial Transcript: Okay. We talked a little bit about, uh, coming, coming back.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten to tell him about how he ended up in Kentucky after teaching in Tennessee. Colten talks about his wife returning from the Peace Corps and the hardships of living with her in a small community in Eastern Tennessee. He explains that he got burned out teaching the same things over and over and she got tired of dealing with residents at the institution she was working at, so they ended up moving when Colten got a scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University so that he could develop more of an expertise in environmental education. Colten discusses getting a job as a consultant after graduating and his wife going to school for a master's degree in Spanish so that she could keep her teaching certification. Wilson mentions that Colten's wife did some Peace Corps recruiting while at the University of Kentucky.

Keywords: Consulting work; Eastern Kentucky University (EKU); Ecuador; Environmental education; Environmental issues; Graduate school; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Rural towns; Social life in rural towns; State government

Subjects: Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Consultants.; Ecuador; Environmental education.; Environmental issues; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador

00:55:09 - Peace Corps' impacts on self, family, world outlook, and world / Future role of the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What was the, what was the impact of Peace Corps on you? Aside from a wife.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Colten what the impact of Peace Corps has been on him. Colten responds that his international travel interests were reinforced by his time in the Peace Corps, stating that he has continued to travel around Latin America. Colten expresses that he thinks all young adults should spend some time abroad so that they know what it's like to be in the minority and understand that humanity exists in other countries. Wilson asks Colten what the impact of Peace Corps was on his family. Colten replies that it has resulted in him taking his children abroad to several countries. He recounts how seeing young college age people talking about their experiences traveling at a hostel helped to instill the idea that traveling internationally and experiencing different things was a cool thing to do. Wilson asks Colten what other international traveling he looks forward to. Colten answers that he and his wife are trying to save up money for their kids' college education now, but he and his wife would like to travel to the Galapagos Islands in the future and to other places after he retires and the kids are in college. Wilson asks Colten what he thinks the Peace Corps' impact has been on his world outlook. Colten responds that it has changed how he regards people as neighbors, explaining that people who haven't left the country often stop their patriotism and loyalty at the U.S. border. He asks why this loyalty should expand to be international. Wilson asks Colten what he thinks the impact of the Peace Corps has been over the course of its existence and what its role should be today. Colten doesn't have much to say about the impact beyond that you hear of high up figures who had been in Peace Corps, but he still believes there is a role for Peace Corps to help open up people's perspectives and understanding for the rest of the world.

Keywords: Ecuador; Family; Family travel; Peace Corps; Peace Corps anecdotes; Peace Corps impacts; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps role; Peace Corps volunteers; World perspectives

Subjects: Colten, Lee; Colten, Lee--Interviews; Ecuador; Family life.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Perspective.; Travel.