Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Athanasios "Tommy" Kolovos, July 27, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Kolovos' activities before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Good morning. Today is July 27, 2020. My name is Jay Sztuk and I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer that served in the Fiji Islands.

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. As an undergraduate, Kolovos majored in anthropology and sociology. Kolovos went on many volunteer expeditions. On one trip to Panama, Kolovos worked with Peace Corps Volunteers. Kolovos was impressed by the meaningful relationships that these Volunteers had with the indigenous people. Kolovos also had one professor who was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. These factors increased Kolovos' interest in the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Chicago (Ill.); College majors; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Influences; Local people; Locals; Professors; Relationships; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Traveling; Undergraduate education; Volunteering

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Evacuation; International travel; Panama; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Madagascar; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama

GPS: Chicago (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.881944, -87.627778
GPS: Panama
Map Coordinates: 9, -80
00:02:58 - Application to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, then you applied and, uh, you said you'd volunteered in, uh, Central America. Did you, did you choose Madagascar or was it--did you have a preference or was that assigned to you or? What happened?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos stated no preference for assignment. Peace Corps first offered Kolovos a position in Tonga but he was still undecided about Peace Corps and the offer lapsed. Later, on a volunteer trip to Portugal, Kolovos met another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who re-kindled Kolovos' interest. Kolovos re-applied to the Peace Corps and was offered a position in Madagascar which Kolovos accepted. During the application process, Kolovos found the Peace Corps staff understanding of his being young and indecisive.

Keywords: Application process; Decisions; Peace Corps staff; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Support; Teaching English as a foreign language; Understanding; Volunteering

Subjects: Central America; Emotions; Madagascar; Peace Corps (U.S.); Portugal; Tonga; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Central America
Map Coordinates: 11.8507658, -93.770265
GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
GPS: Tonga
Map Coordinates: -20, -175
GPS: Portugal
Map Coordinates: 38.7, -9.183333
00:05:16 - Reactions to Kolovos' joining the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Now, uh, your family--reaction of your friends and family, uh, to you joining Peace Corps. I guess your previous volunteer service might have paved the way a little bit.

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos' family knew he was adventuresome and supported his decision to join Peace Corps.

Keywords: Family; Support

Subjects: Families; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism

00:06:26 - Orientation and pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So then, uh, did you have any, any orientation in the States before you left for Madagascar or did you just head straight there?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos' cohort of 40 trainees first met in Philadelphia for a 1-day orientation. Then, they were bused to JFK airport for the 12-hour flight to South Africa and the 3-hour flight to Antananarivo. After resting in the capital for a day, they went to their training site, Mantasoa. Cohorts of 60 to 70 health or agriculture Volunteers came to the site each spring. Education cohorts used it in the fall. After 2 days in dormitories, the trainees were placed with host families. Kolovos' housing had no running water but his room did have electricity. Kolovos had a rocky experience with his home stay because of the language barrier. Also, Kolovos was used to having his individual privacy which conflicted with the collective nature of the local culture.

Keywords: Amenities; Antananarivo (Madagascar); Anxious; Buses; Cohorts; Cultural differences; Dialects; Difficult; Host families; Housing; John F. Kennedy Airport; Language barriers; Language training; Philadelphia (Pa.); Running water; Technical training; Training centers; Transportation; Traveling

Subjects: Air travel; Culture; Culture shock; Emotions; International travel; Language and languages; Madagascar; Peace Corps (U.S.); South Africa; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteer workers in horticulture

GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: John F. Kennedy International Airport
Map Coordinates: 40.639722, -73.778889
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
GPS: Antananarivo (Madagascar)
Map Coordinates: -18.933333, 47.516667
GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
GPS: Mantasoa (Madagascar)
Map Coordinates: -19.016667, 47.833333
00:14:51 - Kolovos' assignment

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Partial Transcript: And then, um--okay, so, you completed your, your training and, um, you went off to another location for your, your, uh, assignment?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos felt lucky to be assigned to Fianarantsoa, a large town and educational center. It was cosmopolitan and located in a beautiful area famous for wine. Kolovos preferred being in an urban area. Kolovos lived alone on the third floor of his high school. The school principal and another teacher also lived on the same floor. He had running water and a flush toilet. Kolovos was the first Volunteer assigned to the high school. The local people were not familiar with Americans. There were more French tourists in town. Kolovos does not speak French, which is used at the school for technical and official documents.

Keywords: Age ranges; Amenities; Fianarantsoa (Madagascar); Foreigners; French (Language); High schools; Living alone; Living situation; Pre-service training; Running water; School systems; Second Goal; Students; Tourism; Tourists; Towns; Translation; Villages

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Stress (Psychology); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Fianarantsoa (Madagascar)
Map Coordinates: -21.453611, 47.085833
00:21:22 - Daily routine

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your, your, uh, your classes there and your typical day at work.

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos' students were required to study English as well as at least one other foreign language. Kolovos had no experience teaching English before joining Peace Corps. Kolovos bonded with the 5 other native teachers of English at his school. Kolovos became best friends with the only other Volunteer in the town who was in health education. On weekends, other Volunteers who worked within a couple hours' trip would come into town and socialize.

Keywords: Adjustment; Co-teachers; Friends; Quitting; School systems; Site mates; Socializing; Support; Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Emotions; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in health services; Volunteers

00:28:24 - Kolovos' impact

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Partial Transcript: Do you think you had some impact, uh, as far as the 3 goals of Peace Corps is concerned? To provide technical assistance and promote a better understanding of Americans?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos believes that he did have a positive impact at his assignment. In addition to his teaching, Kolovos was able to get new English books donated to the school library. Kolovos put on an English expo at school.

Keywords: Books; First Goal; Plans; Second Goal; Third Goal

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:29:55 - Kolovos' experience as an LGBTQ+ Volunteer

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Partial Transcript: Um, you had identified as, uh, LGBT on your application here. Tell me about how, um, that affected your Peace Corps experience.

Segment Synopsis: Few people in Madagascar knew of Kolovos' sexual orientation. One exception was another Volunteer assigned to a village 3 hours away who was also LGBTQ+. Kolovos spent time with her. Some local people thought they were married so the two Volunteers went along with that pretense. For a man to be gay in Madagascar was acceptable for foreigners but not for natives. However, if a native gay man were together with a foreign gay man, that gave the former higher status than before. Kolovos didn't want to get involved with that dynamic.

Keywords: Applications; Cultural differences; Foreigners; Homosexuality; Local people; Locals; Villages

Subjects: Culture; Homophobia; Lifestyles; Madagascar; Manners and customs; Marriage; Peace Corps (U.S.); Sexual orientation; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
00:32:07 - Evacuation due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, well you were just kind of getting into your, your service and getting used to the community and then one day you heard you had to leave. What--how did you get the word and, um, how much notice did you have?

Segment Synopsis: The Volunteers in Kolovos' region were at a meeting in Manakara to elect a new safety person. They were informed by email that there was a virus problem and Volunteers were offered the opportunity to go home without any negative implications, as a medical separation from Peace Corps. None of them accepted this offer. Earlier in the day, there had been a news report that the borders of Madagascar were being closed to foreigners. The next day, the Volunteers in the area returned to Kolovos' place in Fianarantsoa and spent the night. The following day, they found out that Peace Corps Volunteers were being evacuated worldwide. Just as the Volunteers were leaving Madagascar, people returning from France brought COVID into Madagascar. Kolovos feels their evacuation was necessary to ensure their safety.

Keywords: Closing borders; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Disease transmission; Emails; Foreigners; Leaving; Manakara (Madagascar); News; Peace Corps-related medical issues; Safety; Traveling

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Culture; France; International travel; Madagascar; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Manakara (Madagascar)
Map Coordinates: -22.15, 48
GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
GPS: France
Map Coordinates: 47, 2
00:35:59 - Leaving Madagascar

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Partial Transcript: Now, how did your, your co-workers, students, other folks in the community react when they heard you were leaving?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos went to the bank and closed his account. On his way back to school, Kolovos met his principal and explained that Peace Corps had ordered Kolovos to go home in 2 days because of COVID. Kolovos had an emotional breakdown. Kolovos had trouble finding his counterpart. Kolovos' students didn't want him to leave. All 140 Volunteers in Madagascar were called back to the capital and put up in a hotel which was often used by Peace Corps.

Keywords: Co-teachers; Coming home; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Counterparts; Decisions; Housing; Local people; Locals; Peace Corps directors; Returning; Students

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Culture; Emotions; Peace Corps (U.S.); Stress (Psychology); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
00:40:51 - Kolovos' current situation

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Partial Transcript: So what have you been doing since, since then?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos has a degree in sociology. Kolovos has started taking some graduate level classes. Kolovos hopes to be re-called by Peace Corps to Madagascar. Kolovos is willing to serve with the Peace Corps in any other country as well. Kolovos has not been looking for a job.

Keywords: Altruism; College majors; Jobs; Master's degrees; Re-entry

Subjects: Madagascar; Peace Corps (U.S.)

GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
00:42:50 - Effects of Peace Corps service on Kolovos

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Partial Transcript: What do you miss most about Madagascar now that--

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos misses the food he ate in Madagascar. Kolovos learned that he can get by with a lot fewer physical possessions. Kolovos learned the importance of community, and of having good people around oneself. Now, Kolovos is more patient, more inquisitive, and calmer.

Keywords: Acceptance; Community; Food; Patience

Subjects: Culture; Emotions; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Madagascar
Map Coordinates: -20, 47
00:45:41 - Kolovos' future plans

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Partial Transcript: How do you, how do you think it's going to impact, uh, your direction in life?

Segment Synopsis: Kolovos thinks he would like to become a Peace Corps country director. Kolovos would like to work for an international volunteer organization. Kolovos is not interested in merely making money. Being in the Peace Corps taught Kolovos to slow down. Kolovos feels that he matured a lot in the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Career paths; Peace Corps directors; Personal growth

Subjects: Emotions; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers