Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Katie McAndrew, July 28, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - Personal background / Introduction to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Morning. Today is July 28, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Katie McAndrew is from Richmond, Virginia. She attended VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University), studying biology with aspiration to be a veterinarian. She took an ecology class and her interest changed to the environment. One day she saw a sign for a Peace Corps interest meeting and attended. It was a lucky chance. She had never heard of Peace Corps or AmeriCorps before. After the meeting, Peace Corps became her goal and she began the application process. She had been involved in local environmental organizing groups. She had traveled to Australia, Canada, and the tropics with family prior to Peace Corps. These were fast and tailored trips. She was always interested in traveling and liked the idea of staying long-term in one place. A campus recruiter sponsored the Peace Corps interest meeting. The recruiter said Peace Corps is not just your job, it's your life. She said that you work all the time in Peace Corps but you can integrate working with your life. Adapting to a foreign culture and making it her own appealed to her.

Keywords: College majors; Home; Peace Corps recruiters; Travel; Volunteering

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in environmental education; Volunteers

00:05:52 - Parents' reaction to her joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, so when you made this decision and you came, came home and told your parents and told your family about it, how, how did your, uh, [family] react?

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew was the first in her family to attend college and the first to travel in this way. Her grandmother was a single parent and had been poor. Her grandmother couldn't understand why she chose to not be paid for two years and to go to a developing country devoid of conveniences. She to this day says she wishes her granddaughter had not done that. Her father wished she had stayed closer to home and maybe joined AmeriCorps. Her mother was supportive but no one was thrilled about her decision. As a result, it took her a while before she told her family about her invite letter. Her parents were worried but her friends were encouraging.

Keywords: Family; Friends; Grandmothers; Parents

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

00:08:26 - Preferences upon application / Staging in USA

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Partial Transcript: Now, um, when you applied, did you specify a preference for, for what country you wanted to serve in or were you open to going anywhere?

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew specified agriculture or environment as her subject matter preferences, but not the country upon application. She was going to Senegal initially but a health issue arose and she then had to reapply. The focus became Zambia. She was very excited to integrate there when she received the invite. Other than the health glitch, things went smoothly and staff was helpful. Their one-day staging was in Philadelphia.

Keywords: Invitations; Medical clearance; Peace Corps staff; Senegal; Staging; Zambia

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in environmental education; Volunteers

00:12:18 - First impressions of Zambia

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Partial Transcript: And then you got on the plane.

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew says that the volunteers were excited and things were high energy when the plane landed in the capital city, Lusaka. It was summer and the weather was hot and humid. The plants were unfamiliar. They went to a lodge outside the capital and spent 4 days there.

Keywords: Emotions; Excited; Lusaka, Zambia; Weather

Subjects: Acculturation; Lusaka (Zambia); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Zambia; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Zambia

GPS: Lusaka (Zambia)
Map Coordinates: -15.416667, 28.283333
00:13:53 - Training in Central Province / Housing

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, did you do your training there in Lusaka or did you go out to some other training site?

Segment Synopsis: Training was in Central Province. McAndrew was in Chipembi, a village near an agricultural college. Her housing was homestay guest housing on the agricultural college campus. She had electricity and running water there and a room to herself, so it was comparatively luxurious, but she was isolated. Her host father was the president of the university and her host mother was deputy head of a school, so it was a very different experience from the usual.

Keywords: Central Province, Zambia; Chipembi, Zambia; Host fathers; Host mothers; Housing; Isolation; Running water; Training

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

GPS: Central Province (Zambia)
Map Coordinates: -14, 29
GPS: Chipembi (Zambia)
Map Coordinates: -14.9333321,28.5658234
00:17:57 - Typical training day / Typical food

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Partial Transcript: So, um, tell--walk me through a typical training day.

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew would bike to her language and cultural facilitator (LCF) in the morning. The official language of Zambia is English but seven native languages are spoken there. McAndrew studied Mambwe. In the afternoon there were subject matter training sessions at the college or other designated site. There has been a Peace Corps program in Zambia since the nineties so the citizenry is used to Americans. A typical meal is maize-based with relishes and vegetables.

Keywords: Culture; Food; Language training; Technical training; Training; Training centers

Subjects: Food habits; Language and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:23:49 - Memorable experiences in training

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, any really memorable experiences while you were in training?

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew talks about being with a fellow volunteer who also lived on campus and interacting with the children in that volunteer's household. She said her most positive memorable experience was meeting people on her own and trying to communicate.

Keywords: Children; Communication

Subjects: Communication and culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:25:45 - Training as preparation

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Partial Transcript: Do you feel like your, your training, uh, did a lot to prepare you for, for your ultimate job and living situation?

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew says her language training prepared her, but her technical training was too broad and rudimentary. As a result, she didn't have the respect of the farmers. She said she struggled with the language. She could manage everyday situations and some agricultural terms. Many Zambians spoke English.

Keywords: Criticism; English (Language); Preparation; Struggles; Training

Subjects: Communication and culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:30:25 - Site placement in Mbala, Northern Zambia--Housing, transportation, and communication

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Partial Transcript: And then, uh, okay so you completed training and went out to your, uh, your, uh, site of, uh, assignment--

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew was placed in the northern part of Zambia, in Mbala District. She said there was a mission there and that the district is interesting historically for its World War I connections. Her village was rural and about 2 kilometers from town. There were 75-100 households in her village. The roads were poor. Volunteers had their own houses. The houses were square, and made of mud bricks with tin roofs. There were separate cook houses. She used charcoal for cooking on a brazier. There was a pit latrine and a cranking well. She did not have electricity. She could charge her phone with a solar light and make in-country calls. In order to use the internet, she had to bike to town. She used What's App to communicate with her family. A second volunteer came during her second year, until then she was by herself.

Keywords: Cell phones; History; Houses; Living conditions; Mbala, Zambia; Population; Site mates; Sites

Subjects: Acculturation; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Mbala (Zambia); Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Mbala (Zambia)
Map Coordinates: -8.833333, 31.383333
00:38:42 - First attempt to post and initial reception by villagers

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Partial Transcript: What was your rec--reception like when you first came--

Segment Synopsis: The initial reaction of the villagers to her was mixed. It was dark and a funeral day so few people were there to greet her. The previous volunteer had gotten into a fist fight and that had left a bad taste. There had been an issue with his counterpart over a project. That happened a month before she came. She failed to post initially. The previous volunteer had left the house "in a state" and it had to be fixed before she could move in. So she decided to remove herself and go to the provincial house so she could start on a clean footing after the house was fixed. That took 9 days. Another volunteer failed to post because her house was not finished and also went to stay at the provincial house. They supported one another. She spent her time at the provincial house studying the language and her technical materials.

Keywords: Acceptance; Adjustment; Arrangements; Conflicts; Posts; Provincial houses

Subjects: Acculturation; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:47:32 - Second attempt to post in village / Host families

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so then on your second attempt--

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew's second attempt at her placement in the village went better and was joyous. People were there to greet her. She had two host families. One was located on the compound where her house was. This family was picked by Peace Corps and the village. The second family was a close neighbor. She had attended an earlier host family workshop with this family.

Keywords: Host families; Housing; Villages; Workshops

Subjects: Acculturation; Families; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:50:07 - Life in the village

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Partial Transcript: And eventually you adapted to living there in the village.

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew says she "fought" with the charcoal brazier until she finally conquered it. Up until that time she ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She adjusted quickly. She liked the pit latrine because there was no bathroom to clean. Temperatures ranged from 40-70 degrees. It was often windy. Outdoor bathing could be cold as a result. Isolation from familiar American culture forced her to get out.

Keywords: Adjustment; Isolation; Living conditions; Living situation

Subjects: Acculturation; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:54:15 - Job assignment

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Partial Transcript: In your job, uh, did you have a local counterpart?

Segment Synopsis: Her second host family was a couple and their two sons. Douglas was one of the sons and he was equivalent to a local farmer counterpart. Her health clinic counterpart was in the town. All volunteers were required to work on HIV and malaria prevention. One can do more sustainable work when it's funneled through a community member, she said. The first year she worked on sustainable agriculture and food security, involving mushrooms and sweet potatoes. The second year she did tree nursery work. She worked with a women's group and a Japanese NGO (non-governmental organization) regarding rice production. Environment/agriculture was the least structured program. Training didn't prepare her for the challenges presented. She said one must find the intersection of what one is good at, what one is interested in, and what the village wants and needs. Her target audience was older male farmers. She also worked with women's' groups at the school in town, where she made a good friend, and at the clinic in town where she worked on nutrition.

Keywords: Activities; Community involvement; Friends; Friendship; Host brothers; Host fathers; Local people; Locals; Partnerships; Socializing; Women

Subjects: Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Non-governmental organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in environmental education; Volunteers

01:00:09 - Memorable moments from her assignment

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Partial Transcript: Any memorable stories or adventures--

Segment Synopsis: The interviewee related incidents involving her friend Violet, who headed a women's group, and her second host family. For example, the mother in her second host family died and the family fell behind in the maize harvest during mourning. The interviewee stepped in to help with the harvest. One day the men killed a poisonous adder while harvesting. She picked it up and chased the men with it. They ran away. Zambians fear snakes as well as lizards and chameleons. She took the snake back to her house and dissected it, teaching about 40 people who had gathered about snakes. They didn't want to eat it so it was given to a dog. She called the event beautiful and fun. She also was able to convince a boy in her first host family to hold a bearded dragon lizard. She says there is no line between work and socialization.

Keywords: Culture; Friends; Friendships; Host families; Socializing; Teaching

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Families; Friendship; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:08:41 - Changing houses midway through service

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Partial Transcript: So it sounds like you were really well-accepted, uh, there.

Segment Synopsis: Midway through her service, McAndrew moved to another house in her village due to a building dispute with her first host family. Things were tense and there was talk in the village. Peace Corps was involved. She very much wanted to stay in the village due to the relationships she had formed. She ended up moving across the village. She said this incident was the hardest part of her service. She had thought she might leave. Her strong community relationships got her through. She kept visiting her first host family. She told the community she needed to give the host family their space back. The second house was more comfortable (the first house experienced flooding) and she was very happy there.

Keywords: Conflicts; Difficult; Host family; Houses; Quitting; Relationships

Subjects: Acculturation; Conflict management; Families; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:14:44 - Evacuation due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: So, um, at, at that point, um, you're, you're kind of on the downhill side of your service.

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew felt she had good relationships at her post. She was working well with the second volunteer in the village and she believes they could have made good progress had she stayed for a third year. However, her father was ill so an extension wasn't possible. She heard about the coronavirus in January 2020. Two weeks before evacuation she moved to the provincial town for safety due to civil unrest in Zambia. She had planned to end her service in May and travel, but Peace Corps issued orders to go home due to the virus. She only had 6 weeks to go when she was evacuated. She was able to say goodbye to most of her friends in the village. It was rainy and muddy the day she left the village but the taxi was able to get her out to the provincial capital. They then were bused to the provincial capital. She keeps in touch with those in town who have smart phones and they relay messages to the villagers.

Keywords: Cell phone; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Evacuations; Extensions; Family; Friends; Friendships; Regional conflict; Safety; Travel bans

Subjects: COVID-19 disease; Evacuation; Friendship; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:24:54 - Coming home

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, yeah, it must--I'm sure it must have been hard.

Segment Synopsis: When she got home, McAndrew quarantined in an RV at her parents' place. They sat in picnic chairs in the yard far apart from one another. America under COVID was not what she had been used to it being.

Keywords: America; Americans; Family; Quarantines; Transition periods

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

01:27:09 - Impact of her Peace Corps experience

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, overall, um, how do you, uh, feel about your, uh--the success of your Peace Corps experience, uh, given the three goals of Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew says that meeting the technological goal was difficult. Two years is not a long time. Her second host family friend Douglas met his personal goal of making his farming a business. He had a rabbit business. She fulfilled her role with that family. She had the opportunity to have conversations with Zambians about American culture, for example, homosexuality. She believes the third goal of teaching Americans about Zambia will be difficult because while Zambians are open-minded, Americans are not. She would return to Zambia if she could.

Keywords: Challenges; First goal; Second goal; Third goal

Subjects: Communication and culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:34:15 - Peace Corps' effect on future decisions

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Partial Transcript: Do you think your Peace Corps experience is going to have a large influence on whatever decisions you make, uh, education and--or career-wise--

Segment Synopsis: McAndrew said her Peace Corps experience, including the people she met, will affect the way she approaches opportunities. She gained confidence. She is still committed to environmental education and agriculture. She looks at things through a different cultural lens now. Regarding the current state of America, she said she is conflicted about being a representative of America. That will impact whether she serves again. She suggests that new volunteers be asked why they want to serve.

Keywords: America; Americans; Confidence; Cultural differences; Politics and government; Self-confidence; Volunteering

Subjects: Culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers; World politics