Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Annabelle Vanderwerf, August 5, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - Background

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Partial Transcript: Hello, today is August 5, 2020. My name is Jay Sztuk, I'm an RPCV that served in Fiji in 1974.

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf double majored in Latin American studies and Spanish in college. While in college, she participated in an organization that modeled American states, introducing her to diplomacy. Vanderwerf interned in Washington, D.C. with an organization that creates a forum for ambassadors and ministers to come and speak. She first learned about Peace Corps through ambassadors and ministers who participated in the program. Vanderwerf shares that she prefers social interaction over school and the Peace Corps seemed far more appealing than graduate school. She explains that Peace Corps presented an opportunity to travel to Latin America to do meaningful work and meet like-minded people. Vanderwerf was denied her first choice (Latin America) and decided to re-apply without choosing a country of preference. She received an invitation to work in Lesotho and was excited despite not having much knowledge of the region.

Keywords: Ambassadors; Applications; Background; COVID crisis; College majors; Colleges; Diplomacy; Evacuation; Foreign service officers; Graduate schools; High schools; Human interactions; International relations; Internships; Invitations; Latin American studies; Ministers; Model organizations; Organizations; RPCV; Spanish majors

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Education, Secondary; Internship programs; Latin America; Lesotho; National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Peace Corps (U.S.); Traveling; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
GPS: Washington, D.C.
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
00:06:34 - Reactions of family and friends

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Partial Transcript: So how, how did your, uh, your family and friends, uh, react when you told them you were going into the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf shares that while her father was very encouraging, her mother was quite concerned about Vanderwerf traveling so far from home. When she first applied to Latin America, her mother was scared of her traveling to that specific region. After Vanderwerf's application to Latin America was denied and she was assigned to Lesotho, her mother then wanted her to go to Latin America rather than to such an unknown region. Her friends from college were very excited for her. Vanderwerf shares that her childhood friends were more apprehensive, as they still saw her as a more timid person.

Keywords: Applications; College friends; Friends; Home friends; Invitations; Reactions; Support systems; Traveling abroad

Subjects: Families; Latin America; Lesotho; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Traveling; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
00:08:30 - Arrival in Lesotho

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your, your first impressions of the country when you arrived there.

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf shares her initial impression upon arriving in Lesotho. She explains that she is a resilient person and quickly acclimated to her new environment. Vanderwerf recalls taking everything in rather than looking for differences. She did a bit of research prior to traveling Lesotho but made an effort not to look into any stereotypes about the people there. Their first night in the country, all of the volunteers stayed in a hotel. The next day they moved into their training village and they were introduced to their training host family. Upon their arrival in the village, the locals performed a ceremony for them. Vanderwerf was shocked to see her host mother carrying her one hundred pound suitcase on her head. The training village was named Cana and the locals there spoke Sesotho.

Keywords: Airports; Bathing; Baths; Bus rides; Cana; Ceremonies; Environments; Experiences; Host families; Host mom; Host mothers; Hotels; Language barriers; Local traditions; Luggage; Preconceived notions; Research; Stereotypes; Training; Villages

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Culture shock; Living conditions; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Traveling; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
00:13:38 - Living with a host family

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the living situation there, with the--with your host family.

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf describes her living conditions in the training village of Cana. While her host family had electricity in their rooms, Peace Corps wanted to ensure that volunteers were not given electricity in their own rooms. Vanderwerf developed a strong connection with her training mom, and though there was a language barrier, they were able to communicate very well. She shares that she had bed bugs for about two months and still didn't want to switch host families. Vanderwerf ended up sleeping on a mat in the dining room for about two weeks while they got rid of the bed bugs. She shares that there were about fifty volunteers, with half of them focused on education and the other half focused on health.

Keywords: Bed bugs; Bug bites; Dwelling; Fumigations; Home; Host families; Host mom; Host mothers; Housing; Language barriers; Living conditions; Running water; Sleepovers; Training

Subjects: Communication and culture; Electricity; Interpersonal communication; Language and languages; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:18:13 - Typical day of training

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Partial Transcript: Uh, te--well, yeah, so, uh, what was your typical day, uh, like, uh, while you were in training?

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf shares that a typical training day would begin with her host mom waking her up to bathe and clean. Vanderwerf would sit and eat breakfast with her and then would walk with other volunteers to the training hub. They studied language and other things during the day; she remembered learning several traditional Lesotho songs. Vanderwerf shares that there was no running water in the house she was staying at during training. Peace Corps did not want volunteers to fetch their own water so her host brothers and dad would go and collect water for the whole family. Peace Corps also provided host families with a list of what Americans like to eat and Vanderwerf's host mother strictly cooked meals based on that list. She remembered eating scrambled eggs and steamed bread for breakfast.

Keywords: Bathing; Breakfasts; Daily routines; Host families; Host mom; Host mothers; Living conditions; Local culture; Local languages; Local practices; Locals; Meals; National anthems; Running water; Schedules; Songs; Traditional songs; Traditions; Training; Villages

Subjects: Culture; Language and languages; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Singing; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
00:24:26 - Technical training

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Partial Transcript: Did they do any teacher training in addition to the language?

Segment Synopsis: In addition to language training, Vanderwerf underwent technical training as well. She learned about the Lesotho school system and how to operate under its guidelines. They focused on positive behavior systems. The Lesotho system would typically use corporal punishment on its students so they worked to find other ways to keep students interested in the lessons. Vanderwerf explains that she is naturally good with kids and was not concerned about teaching entire classes.

Keywords: Assignments; Class engagement; Classrooms; Corporal punishment; Curriculum; Motivating; Positive behavior systems; Reprimands; School guidelines; Teacher training; Technical training; Training

Subjects: Children; Language and languages; Lesotho; Students; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:26:05 - Assignment in Nqechane

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, after, after you completed training and you went out to, you went to a different village for your assignment, no? Where was that?

Segment Synopsis: After her training, Vanderwerf was assigned to a different village to teach in. Vanderwerf worked at an English Medium school, so they were higher in English proficiency than the typical school. The school she volunteered in was the smallest of any of the other volunteers. Vanderwerf shares that working in such a small school allowed her to form closer connections with her students. The village was very small as well and she felt safe living with the village chief. Vanderwerf stayed in her own hut on the chief's property. There were about 500 people in her village and living with the chief allowed her to meet more people. She shares one story of being chased by one of the villagers and almost 20 people came to help her. Vanderwerf developed a close relationship with her host mom and felt safe with both her and the chief.

Keywords: Assignments; English; Host families; Host moms; Host mothers; Huts; Living conditions; Nqechane; Rondavels; Schools; Small schools; Small villages; Students; Teachers; Villages

Subjects: Communication and culture; Families; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and languages; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Nqechane, Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -28.7833, 28.1333
00:36:07 - Typical day of teaching

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your typical day at school. How, how did that go?

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf stayed at the top of the mountain and she would "collect" students as she walked down to school. The school day began with morning assembly, where they would gather in a classroom and sing and read bible scriptures. After assembly, students would go to their classes and Vanderwerf would teach. She shares some details of her teaching schedule, explaining that she would teach grades one through seven on a rotating basis. Several of the other teachers did not like Vanderwerf bringing her own lunch to school and thought that she should eat more. Vanderwerf explains that in Lesotho culture, it is important for the women to be bigger, which is why they would encourage her to eat more.

Keywords: Assemblies; Bible scriptures; Bibles; Christian schools; Classrooms; Daily routine; Daily schedule; Grades; Host families; Rotations; Schedules; Schools; Spanish; Typical days

Subjects: Culture; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Students; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:38:23 - Community engagement

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Partial Transcript: So, let's see, you, you arrived in the country in September and then had to leave in March, so you didn't have too much time in the school then.

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf shares that her first three months in Lesotho were spent on "lockdown" in the village, this time allowed her to get to know the community. She spent a lot of time with her host family and she shares stories of going for a beer with the village chief. Vanderwerf explains that while she was there, she started a modified volleyball team for some of the girls in the local high school. Though she was unable to stay for the full time, Vanderwerf shares that she felt she was able to successfully integrate into the community. Before she was evacuated, Vanderwerf was beginning to teach Spanish and had started instruction on geography as well. She says that many in Lesotho have a narrow world view, and are unfamiliar with foreign countries and their locations. She recalls that many in Lesotho had an overall positive view of the United States and she worked to explain American values in realistic terms.

Keywords: Community engagement; Compounds; Environment; Host families; Living conditions; Local community; Locals; School years; Training; Villages; Volleyball

Subjects: Acculturation; Communities; Interpersonal communication and culture; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:52:45 - Evacuation due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the evacuation. Um, ha--did you hear anything about COVID-19 before this happened?

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf recalls talking with a friend about COVID-19 before news of it reached Lesotho. She was able to watch the news via television at the capital and learn more about it. Peace Corps volunteers began discussing the possibility of evacuation if COVID-19 spread to South Africa. The volunteers were initially informed that evacuation would not be an option. Vanderwerf shares that three days after this announcement, the volunteers were told to pack their things and get to the capital for evacuation. Volunteers had about four days of staying in a hotel in the capital before they were able to charter a plane. Vanderwerf mentions that she and the other Lesotho volunteers were not able to bring their luggage and still do not know if they will ever get their bags.

Keywords: Airports; Announcements; Buses; COVID cases; Capital; Cases; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Diseases; Evacuation; Flights; Friends; Headquarters; Hotels; Luggage; News; Packing; Pandemics; Positive cases; Private planes; Rumors; TV; Television

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Families; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Traveling; Voluntarism

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
01:00:25 - Returning to the United States

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, since you've been back home, uh, what have you been doing?

Segment Synopsis: Upon her return to the United States, Vanderwerf quarantined for two weeks in an apartment. She is now living with her godmother, working as a nanny for her kids. Vanderwerf explains that when she was forced to return unexpectedly, she panicked as she did not have a job lined up for the summer. She has decided to continue with service and would like to try Peace Corps again. Her plan is to work in international relations and travel abroad. Vanderwerf is not interested in graduate school or getting a job, as the idea of staying in one place for so long is unappealing to her.

Keywords: Apartments; Arrivals; COVID cases; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Diseases; Foreign service; Graduate school; International relations; International travel; Isolation; Job search; Jobs; Living situation; Planning; Plans; Resources; Schooling; State departments

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Careers; Children; Education; Nannies; Peace Corps (U.S.); Quarantine; Travel; Traveling; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Ithaca, New York
Map Coordinates: 42.443333, -76.5
01:04:00 - Reflecting on her service

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Partial Transcript: So, um, do you have any other, uh, any other reflections on your service?

Segment Synopsis: Vanderwerf explains that though she was in Lesotho for such a short period of time, she was able to learn a lot about herself and develop more personal strength. She did her best to support her co-teachers and help them to feel confident. Vanderwerf shares that Peace Corps Lesotho did a great job in evacuating their volunteers and making sure they felt safe. She shares that her mother is happy to have her back in the United States, but her dad still encourages her to travel abroad. After her experience, Vanderwerf would encourage prospective volunteers to limit their expectations. Rather than entering the experience with preconceived notions about living conditions or plans for community engagement, Vanderwerf found success in simply adapting to the environment she found herself in.

Keywords: Borders; Confidence; Curriculums; Evacuating; Evacuations; Expectations; Experiences; Friends; Friendships; Lessons; Luggage; Parents; Personal strength; Reimbursements; Self-growth

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Culture shock; Families; Interpersonal communication and culture; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers