Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James Archambeault, March 21, 2006

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Childhood, family, and influences / Peace Corps application / Language training in Hawaii

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Partial Transcript: Tape one, Peace Corps Oral History Project interview, March 15th, 2006 with Jim Archambeault, interviewer Jack Wilson. Okay Jim, if you would please, uh, give me your full name and where and when you were, uh, born.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault about his family background. Archambeault details where he was born, where he grew up, where he went to college, and mentions his siblings. Wilson asks Archambeault if he thinks there were any family influences that led to his interest in the Peace Corps. Archambeault discusses how his early interest in traveling began while in Catholic school when he thought about becoming a missionary priest in Alabama. Archambeault explains that, after his interest in the priesthood was discouraged by his mother, he also came to the conclusion that he did not want to become a priest. Wilson asks Archambeault about the process of applying to the Peace Corps. Archambeault replies that his parents were not thrilled at the idea of him joining the Peace Corps, but he was drawn to the idea of adventure and the idealistic vision that he could contribute to wherever he was sent. Archambeault adds that his mother ended up being just as excited as he was when he got accepted into the Peace Corps. Wilson asks Archambeault if he applied to go to a certain country and asks where he ended up being sent. Archambeault responds that he didn't ask for any particular country and ended up being sent to the Philippines. Wilson asks Archambeault to talk a bit about the Peace Corps training he went through in Hawaii before traveling to the Philippines. Archambeault discusses the training he went through at a site in the village of Pepeekeo organized by the University of Hawaii. He mentions that he had language training in both Tagalog and Bikol.

Keywords: Bicol Peninsula; Bikol; Bikol language; Catholic schools; Childhood; Duquesne University; Family; Filipino dialects; Filipino languages; Influences; Languages; Peace Corps; Peace Corps application; Peace Corps training; Pepeekeo (Hawaii); Philippines; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Priesthood recruitment; Tagalog; Tagalog language; University of Hawai'i; University of Hawaii

Subjects: Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Bicol (Philippines : Region); Language transfer (Language learning); Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Philippines; University of Hawaii at Hilo

00:17:24 - Mission goals / Navigating local politics / Selection process

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what was the--the program thrust? What were you going to do and was that a part of the training--

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault what the Peace Corps' missions and goals were as well as what Archambeault did while in the Philippines. Archambeault explains that the program was divided into different sections with some volunteers becoming teachers and others, like himself, worked on community development projects. He adds that one of the main issues in the Philippines at the time, and still today, was rice production and how some of the Peace Corps' efforts were directed in the research of rice production. Archambeault discusses how he was put into the Bicol region to coordinate regional and economic development among the provinces in the region. Archambeault mentions that the provinces were considered what we would consider in the U.S. to be states, but were more on the scale of what we would consider counties so, it was not a large area that he was assigned to. Wilson asks Archambeault if there was any kind of training in planning prior to his assignment to the Philippines. Archambeault replies that there wasn't and that volunteers were kind of just thrown into the situation they were placed in. Archambeault discusses the office that he and other volunteers worked out of in a provincial capital and how it was a base that they traveled to and from to other provincial capitals. Archambeault mentions that he and the other volunteers had good relationships with the provincial governors, but that a lot of this relationship was due to politics. However, working and networking with these powerful officials allowed the volunteers to conduct a lot of work. Wilson remarks that he finds what Archambeault said about the political aspect of the Peace Corps interesting because the organization was supposed to be of an apolitical nature and asks him how he avoided, or didn't, getting involved in the local politics of the region. Archambeault responds that the volunteers tried to avoid getting caught up in local politics, but made sure to be aware of them and the potential consequences to their mission and local organizations that getting involved in them could bring. Wilson asks Archambeault if any of the training the Peace Corps conducted helped to sensitize volunteers to this reality. Archambeault replies that this was mostly done through the cultural and social training that the Peace Corps conducted where they sensitized volunteers to the local cultures and customs that they would be working in. He adds that everyone made their mistakes occasionally, but that he believes the Peace Corps did a good job preparing volunteers for the situation they'd be working in. Wilson refers back to the Peace Corps training process and asks Archambeault if he remembers anything about how the selection process worked when he was a volunteer. Archambeault answers that he has no idea how the selection process works nowadays, but that it consisted of two parts, the evaluation by training staff and peer evaluation, when he was a volunteer. Archambeault explains that the training staff included all of the teachers, Filipino or American, right up to the director of the training site and that they evaluated each volunteer. Archambeault states that the peer evaluation consisted of a written form that each volunteer filled out about the performance of other members of their groups. Archambeault says that they were mostly about the psychological makeup of a volunteer, and how suitable they were to working and living in Philippine culture. He explains that, after each form about a volunteer was tallied with the others, the volunteer would meet with a psychologist where the volunteer would hear and react to what their peers said about them. Wilson asks Archambeault if everyone freely participated in the evaluation process. Archambeault answers that they did and discusses the difficulty the volunteers faced in having the power to determine if their peers would be able to go overseas or not, denying them the opportunity of the Peace Corps experience. Out of the around eighty-five volunteers who started training in Hawaii, Archambeault thinks that around sixty or sixty-five were selected to participate after the training concluded.

Keywords: Bicol Peninsula; Bicol region; Community development; Community development projects; Cultural customs; Cultural training; Economic development; Filipino politics; Local politics; Peace Corps; Peace Corps evaluation process; Peace Corps goals; Peace Corps missions; Peace Corps selection process; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Peer evaluations; Pepeekeo (Hawaii); Philippines; Planning; Planning training; Politics; Regional development; Rice production; Social training; Teacher evaluations; University of Hawai'i; University of Hawaii

Subjects: Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Bicol (Philippines : Region); Community development.; Economic development.; Evaluation.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Philippines; University of Hawaii at Hilo

00:32:17 - Filipino community development projects / Living conditions / Non-ethnocentric perspectives

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Partial Transcript: Okay--(coughs)--I took you back, uh, from where you were talking about the--the, uh, job, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault what kind of development projects he worked on in the Bicol region. Archambeault replies that he worked on just about anything to do with economic development in the region, including increasing rice and banana production, the export of rice and bananas, rice storage, transportation of produce from one area to another, and things like the improvement of airports, railways, and highways. Wilson asks Archambeault where the funding for this development came from. Archambeault responds that the local provincial governments contributed a very small amount of funds to keep the regional development office and its staff running while the volunteers didn't get paid almost anything since they were volunteers. Archambeault explains that the larger programs that the volunteers were working on had to be funded by large agencies such as national government agencies, the UN, or U.S. agencies. He adds that USAID was heavily involved in the Philippines at the time and probably still is. Archambeault explains that it wasn't just the volunteers that came up with the programs they worked on, but it was a group effort with the local population to help them institute things that they wanted. Wilson asks Archambeault if the volunteers primarily worked with Filipinos and if most of the project ideas came from them. Archambeault replies that, other than with each other, volunteers worked mostly with Filipinos and that it was the Filipinos, while including some of the ideas the volunteers proposed, who came up with most of the project ideas. He mentions that many ideas were proposed by provincial governors and that the volunteers often agreed to working on their proposed projects since they were often for the best and since the governors had the power to get the projects moving. Archambeault believes that there weren't a lot of selfish officials and that most of them had their local people's interests at heart. Wilson asks Archambeault to talk about his living conditions in the Philippines. Archambeault responds that he initially lived in a room underneath the house of a well-off family in the provincial capital with a fellow volunteer for four or five months before they both decided that they had different living condition expectations. Archambeault states that he moved out to a fishing village outside of the provincial capital to a wooden house without electricity or running water, staying there the rest of the time he spent in the Philippines. Wilson asks Archambeault what made him want to live there instead of his previous living space which had accommodations like electricity and running water. Archambeault answers that he wanted a different experience and got the best of both worlds, both country life and city life, since he lived in the fishing village at nights and worked in the provincial capital during the day. Wilson asks Archambeault to tell him about what kinds of things he ate and what his life was like in the fishing village. Archambeault replies that most of what he ate in the fishing village was very simple and that he mostly ate in the provincial capital since his house had no cooking facilities. However, he adds that he did sometimes eat with local families in the village and had mostly fish and rice with an occasional vegetable like a sweet potato. Archambeault expresses that the seafood he had was amazing and you wouldn't be able to find a restaurant with the same quality of food in somewhere like Louisville or Cincinnati. He mentions that Chinese and Malaysian food was popular in the Philippines so he also ate those foods, very rarely eating any American food because the local food was so delicious. Wilson asks Archambeault if there were any water safety issues. Archambeault responds that water was a huge issue and that many of the volunteers got sick with dysentery-like intestinal problems. He adds that he was very lucky because, although the volunteers were told to boil water before they drank it, he never did and experienced no issues. Archambeault acknowledges that he mostly had soft drinks, but explains that you couldn't avoid contact with the water because most things had ice cubes. He says that he decided not to worry about the water, though, and it worked out that he never got sick from it. Wilson asks Archambeault if there were other health issues present and if he ever took malaria pills. Archambeault explains that volunteers were provided with a pill from the Peace Corps that they took once a week and it prevented symptoms of malaria if you happened to get bit by a malarial mosquito. However, he adds, there was a warning that once you stopped taking the medication when you arrived back in the U.S., you could experience malarial symptoms if you had contracted it. Archambeault states that he never had any symptoms or contracted malaria. Wilson asks Archambeault how he first became acclimated to his environment in the Philippines. Archambeault answers that the most difficult thing he experienced was homesickness when he first began training because he had never been away from home before. Wilson asks Archambeault if volunteers got to return home from training before they left on their missions. Archambeault replies that they didn't and that, the deal was, you left Hawaii and went straight to your assignment. Archambeault states that he never once returned to the U.S. for the duration of his three year assignment. Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks he was best prepared for before he left for the Philippines. Archambeault replies that he was best prepared as a U.S. culture representative because he made many Filipino friends and never thought of their culture as inferior. He adds that he almost exclusively socialized with Filipinos, only rarely socializing with fellow volunteers. Archambeault mentions that he thinks his personality was already suited for this and that the best training can do is make you aware of cultural aspects so that you can modify your behavior. Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks he got out of this experience. Archambeault answers that he realized that the U.S. is not always right or necessarily the best country in the world and that it didn't have the answers to all the world's questions.

Keywords: Agricultural exports; Banana production; Bicol Peninsula; Bicol region; Community development; Community development projects; Cultural perspectives; Cultural representation; Development funding; Economic development; Electricity access; Filipino cuisine; Filipino diet; Filipino food; Health issues; Homesickness; Infrastructure; Infrastructure development; Inter-cultural dialogue; Living conditions; Malaria; Malarial medicine; Malarial pills; Peace Corps; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Philippines; Provincial governments; Regional development; Rice production; Transportation networks; Water access; Water quality; Water safety; World perspectives

Subjects: Agriculture.; Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Bicol (Philippines : Region); Community development.; Cross-cultural orientation; Economic development.; Exports; Malaria; Nutrition.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Philippines; Water Quality.

00:52:09 - Daily routines in the Philippines / Traveling and social life in the Philippines / Stories of danger

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Partial Transcript: Um, if you would, can you describe what a typical day might have been like in your--your life? Sort of from the beginning, through the day?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault what a typical day was like for him in the Philippines. Archambeault describes the surroundings of his house in the fishing village and how he took a bath in the morning. Archambeault explains how he got to work every morning and describes what he did there as well as describing how he got home in the evenings. Wilson asks Archambeault what he did for recreation. Archambeault responds that he can't really remember, but does remember occasionally taking a bus with other volunteers and Filipinos to visit another provincial capital or climb a volcano. Wilson asks Archambeault about what kind of traveling he did in the Philippines. Archambeault replies that he did a lot of traveling, mostly flying, both for recreation and business. Archambeault explains that the Philippines' air network was really the only way to travel at the time because boats were crowded and slow and most roads were in terrible condition. Wilson asks Archambeault if he ever left the Philippines while he was volunteering there. Archambeault replies that he didn't, but that some volunteers took a vacation in Japan or Hong Kong while they were there. Wilson asks Archambeault to talk a bit more about his interactions with Filipinos. Archambeault explains that he often befriended Filipino co-workers and would then be introduced to their families and extended families. He adds that these were almost always family-oriented occasions and that, if he were interested in a Filipina woman, he could only go out with her in a group of other people. Wilson asks Archambeault about his interactions with other Americans. Archambeault explains that most of the people he met that weren't volunteers came through USAID or were some sort of consultant, usually older men. He adds that many of the people he met in this way were entertaining to be around because of all the stories they had to tell. Wilson asks Archambeault if he has some memorable stories that he'd like to share. Archambeault mentions that he has many stories about harrowing incidents involving boat and plane rides and then talks about American-Filipino interactions in general. He explains that most Filipinos had positive impressions of Americans, but there were others who didn't. Archambeault details a story where a Filipino person tried to get into a fight with him and mentions that there was a time he had a gun pointed at him.

Keywords: Air travel; Bathing; Bathing practices; Bicol Peninsula; Bicol region; Boat travel; Cross-cultural interactions; Daily routines; Domestic traveling; Filipino families; Filipino social customs; Hostile cultural interactions; Inter-cultural dialogue; International traveling; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Philippines; Recreation; Social life; Traveling; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Work transit

Subjects: Air travel.; Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Bicol (Philippines : Region); Filipinos; Filipinos--Boats; Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Philippines; Recreation; Recreation & travel; Transportation; Travel.; United States. Agency for International Development.

01:11:48 - Departure from the Philippines / Work as a Peace Corps trainer / Arrival and work in Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So, uh--(coughs)--you mentioned earlier that--that it was three years before you came back.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault if he extended his time in the Philippines. Archambeault replies that he didn't, but did travel for about three months after his time in the Peace Corps was over. Wilson asks Archambeault to tell him a bit about the traveling he did. Archambeault discusses how he and two other volunteers traveled to Bali in Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and then back to Hawaii. Archambeault adds that he picked up a job in Hawaii as a Peace Corps trainer while he was there, traveled back to Pennsylvania to spend time with his family for two weeks, and then returned to Hawaii. Wilson asks Archambeault what he did as a trainer. Archambeault explains that he operated as a site administrator, administrating three Peace Corps training sites over the duration of holding that position. Archambeault says that they only trained volunteers who were going to the Philippines and that this was shortly before the time he almost became a regional administrator in the Philippines on the island of Mindanao. Archambeault explains that he realized that returning to the Philippines would put him on a life-altering course and decided that he wanted to experience what it was like to live and work in the U.S. instead. Wilson asks Archambeault if he had a particular job in mind in Pennsylvania at the time. Archambeault replies that he wanted to get some sort of job in planning, but was unable to get any sort of position because he didn't have formal experience or training. He describes how he came across the United Press International office on a random walk he took, how he walked in and talked to the staff in the office, and how he was offered a job there. Archambeault adds that the staff hadn't seen anything he'd written, but he had a degree in communications and had been in the Peace Corps, so they must have thought he was worth a shot. Archambeault states that he was offered two positions and chose one that was in Louisville, Kentucky. Wilson asks Archambeault if he had ever been to Louisville before being given a position there. Archambeault answers that other than for a trip to eastern Kentucky and watching the Kentucky Derby, he had no prior connections to Kentucky. However, his trip to Appalachian Kentucky always had stuck with him as a raw beautiful experience. Archambeault explains that Louisville seemed like a more romantic option than the alternative, describes being transferred to Lexington, Kentucky after working in Louisville for six months, and then states that he quit the job in Lexington after six months because he was done with the wiring business and wanted to move on to photography. Wilson asks Archambeault to say something about the evolution of his work leading up to his work in photography. Archambeault describes how he became acquainted with Fayette County Judge Robert Stevens and worked for him for a period of time and then describes how he came to work for the Kentucky Child Advocacy Council in Fayette County.

Keywords: Administrative assistants; Fayette County (Ky.); Fayette County Judges; Judge Robert Stevens; Kentucky; Kentucky Child Advocacy Council; Lexington (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Peace Corps; Peace Corps administrators; Peace Corps trainers; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Photography; Robert Stevens; United Press International (UPI); Wiring industry

Subjects: Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Fayette County (Ky.); Lexington (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; United Press International.

01:29:34 - Entry into and work in photography

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Partial Transcript: One thing led to another and I quit my job, uh, my last--well I was still self--I was always self employed, except for UPI.

Segment Synopsis: Archambeault explains that he had always enjoyed photography, but only considered it as a possible career path after reading books about it and studying it. Archambeault doubles back a bit to talk about how he worked with a construction company for a while in planning and development. Wilson asks Archambeault if he worked all over the state in this position. Archambeault responds that they branched out a little bit, but most of the work was in Lexington, Kentucky. He adds that it was a learning experience, but that he looks back on that period of his life and thinks he could have been something better and that it was during this time that he seriously began thinking about photography. Wilson asks Archambeault if he was selling photographs during this period. Archambeault replies that he was selling a few of them and then describes how a stroke of luck came by him after selling some of his photos at Collector's Gallery in Lexington and joining the Kentucky Guild of Arts and Crafts in Berea, Kentucky. He explains that a company from Oregon came to do a book on Kentucky and hired him to be their photographer after seeing his work at the shop in Lexington. Archambeault describes the difficulties he went through in the period after taking this job because it didn't provide an advance payment. Archambeault explains that he earned money from the royalties of the book after it was published and did some work for some other people but found that he preferred to work on his own. He sold prints directly to buyers and made a pretty good living off of it. Wilson asks Archambeault how many books he has worked on. Archambeault responds that he's worked on four and is currently working on a few others.

Keywords: Berea (Ky.); Collector's Gallery, Lexington; Construction companies; Development; Full-time photographers; Full-time photography; Kentucky Guild of Arts and Crafts; Lexington (Ky.); Photographers; Photography; Photography and books; Planning; Self-employed photographers

Subjects: Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Berea (Ky.); Construction workers; Lexington (Ky.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Photographers; Photography.

01:43:03 - Impact of his Peace Corps experience / Future of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Well that's very interesting story. Um, taking you back, if I may--

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks the impact of his work was in the Philippines or on Filipino people. Archambeault replies that he thinks that he mentioned this a bit earlier in the interviewer, but thinks that most of his impact was interpersonal between himself and the Filipino connections he made. He doesn't think that much of his development work had a lasting impact, although some of the projects that he helped start continue to the present day, and that he thinks the exchanging of ideas between himself and Filipinos maybe gave them something that they didn't have and they gave him a lot in return. Wilson asks Archambeault what impact his experience in the Peace Corps had on him personally. Archambeault responds that it's easy to say that the experience changed his life, how he looked at the world and other cultures, and how he looked at political events. He supposes that the experience impacted his life in ways he isn't even conscious of. Wilson asks Archambeault what he means when he says that the experience impacted the way he looked at the world. Archambeault explains that he had an American ethnocentric view before his experience in the Philippines and that he now realizes there are other ways to look at issues and solve them than the American way. Wilson asks Archambeault if he is still in contact with anyone from his time in the Peace Corps. Archambeault replies that he isn't, even though he has gone back to the Philippines before and met some volunteers in Kentucky, but that he doesn't keep up with returned volunteers from the Peace Corps other than in the literature he gets in the mail. Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks the impact of his experience was on his family, either his original or present family. Archambeault answers that he thinks there was very little impact on them since the individual's experience in the Peace Corps is not easily conveyed to another person. He adds that his family was interested in hearing some of his stories, but got bored with them eventually because they couldn't relate to them. Wilson asks Archambeault if he has had any international experience since the Peace Corps and where he has been since then. Archambeault responds that he has been Italy, Ireland, England, the Caribbean, Mexico, and China while traveling and plans on visiting Greece with his wife in the near future. Wilson asks Archambeault if he does any photography while he is traveling. Archambeault replies that he absolutely does and wouldn't travel anywhere without his cameras. Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks the overall impact of the Peace Corps has been. Archambeault answers that he thinks it has been a good cross-cultural experience for the volunteers and been good for the people they work with in terms of bringing new ideas and thoughts. Wilson asks Archambeault what he thinks the role of the Peace Corps should be now. Archambeault thinks that the Peace Corps is performing well and is improving itself by taking in more specialized people than they did in his day. Wilson and Archambeault discuss a few of Archambeault's stories to conclude the interview.

Keywords: Cross-cultural interactions; Cultural impacts; Impacts; Peace Corps; Peace Corps future; Peace Corps impacts; Peace Corps innovation; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal impacts; Philippines; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Archambeault, James; Archambeault, James--Interviews; Peace Corps (U.S.)--History--1960-1969.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Philippines; Philippines; Recreation; Recreation & travel; Transportation; Travel.