Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Megan McDonell, August 3, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - McDonell's motivation for joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Good afternoon. My name is Madeline Kellner. This is August 3, 2020. Um, I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer evacuated from Peru, 2020. And I also served in Guatemala from 2016 to 2018. And I'm here today interviewing Megan McDonell who was a Y.I.D. specialist in Morocco and she served 7 months in Morocco and was evacuated on March 18, uh, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: McDonell was born in Texas and grew up in Germany. McDonell was used to living in another culture and developed wanderlust from her parents. McDonell was interested in international work. McDonell minored in communications and French and obtained a degree in international relations from the University of San Diego. McDonell had done mission trips through her church before she applied to the Peace Corps. The summer before her senior year at university, McDonell went to France to improve her French and did a month's volunteer work in an orphanage in Rabat. McDonell wanted to enlarge her comfort zone by involvement in a long-term, sustainable international development project. McDonell liked the idea that much of the Peace Corps staff in-country are local natives. The Peace Corps training to help the Volunteers integrate into the local community also appealed to McDonell. McDonell had an interest in the Middle East and North Africa region. Accordingly, McDonell applied to become a Volunteer in Morocco.

Keywords: College majors; Comfort zones; Commitments; Communication; French (Language); Interests; Local people; Locals; Peace Corps staff; Rabat (Morocco); Study abroad; Sustainability; Texas; Traveling; Undergraduate education; University of San Diego; Voluntarism; Youth development

Subjects: Acculturation; Europe; Evacuation; France; Germany; International travel; Middle East; Morocco; North Africa; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Student activities; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Texas
Map Coordinates: 31.4757, -99.3312
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 43.806735, -12.9925444
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Germany
Map Coordinates: 51, 9
GPS: University of San Diego
Map Coordinates: 32.771111, -117.1875
GPS: France
Map Coordinates: 47, 2
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.20882, -6.84165
GPS: Middle East
Map Coordinates: 25.8994965, 25.7478138
GPS: North Africa
Map Coordinates: 19.5494497, -7.740409
00:05:54 - Medical clearance

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Partial Transcript: What preparation did you have to do to get ready to go?

Segment Synopsis: Several months before she was due to depart for Morocco, McDonell's application was denied on medical grounds. On appeal, Peace Corps reversed this decision. She briefly mentions her staging and departure for Morocco.

Keywords: Changes; Medical clearance; Philadelphia (Pa.); Staging; Traveling; Uncertainty; Waiting periods

Subjects: Emotions; International travel; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
00:08:48 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Um, what kind of training did you get to start your assignment?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell's cohort had community based training. After an initial orientation, McDonell's cohort was divided into groups of about 6 trainees. All the language culture facilitators were native Moroccans. The trainees stayed with host families. Technical training involved teaching life skills and English at the local youth center.

Keywords: Challenging; Cultural training; Host families; Language training; Norms; Orientation; Rabat (Morocco); Skills; Teaching English as a foreign language; Technical training; Youth centers

Subjects: Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
00:12:49 - Language training

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Partial Transcript: Um, you were learning Arabic?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell describes the various languages used in Morocco.

Keywords: Dialects; French (Language); Rural areas

Subjects: Language and languages; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:14:52 - Location of McDonell's work site

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Partial Transcript: So, then you transitioned out to your site. Tell me a little bit what that was like and where--what site, what, what was it like? How big it was. Was it in one of these indigenous communities?

Segment Synopsis: There were roughly 300 Volunteers in Morocco. McDonell's cohort had 113 Volunteers. McDonell was one of 4 Volunteers assigned to a region new to Peace Corps in the southernmost part of Morocco. The closest other Volunteer was about an hour away from McDonell's work site.

Keywords: Cohorts

Subjects: Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:17:50 - McDonell's work site

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Partial Transcript: And, tell me about--a little bit about your--the work there and how, how did you, how did you get yourself established, you know, with your family and your work? And because, you were a, a ground breaker.

Segment Synopsis: As the first Volunteer assigned to that site, McDonell felt nervous. But later, she appreciated the additional autonomy which that gave her. McDonell was passionate about doing female empowerment work. Through her interviews with the Peace Corps staff during pre-service training, McDonell feels that the work site chosen for her was ideal. McDonell had wanted a place with an active youth center with a cooperative director. In addition, McDonell wanted a safe place where she could feel free from sexual harassment. Because McDonell's community was smaller in population and more conservative, there was more personal accountability. McDonell's host family helped her integrate into the community. McDonell's household consisted of several outspoken women who took her under their wing. McDonell is still in contact with them and others in her community.

Keywords: Acclimation; Accountability; Autonomy; Dancing; Empowerment; Gender roles; Host family; Interviews; Peace Corps staff; Safety; Social media; Treatment of women; Youth centers

Subjects: Emotions; Interpersonal relations; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:24:26 - McDonell's travel

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Partial Transcript: Were you able to take any little trips while you were there--[inaudible]--to explore, or? I know your time was pretty short, but.

Segment Synopsis: McDonell went to various neighboring towns with her host family in part to visit their relatives. With other community members and Volunteers, McDonell made several trips to coastal locales such as Agadir. McDonell visited several other Volunteers at their work sites and had an in-service training session in Marrakesh. After 3 months at her work site, McDonell had to fly to Rabat for medical treatment.

Keywords: Agadir (Morocco); Host family; Host sisters; Illness; Marrakesh (Morocco); Rabat (Morocco); Sickness; Tourism; Tourists; Towns; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Agadir (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 30.433333, -9.6
GPS: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 31.63, -8.008889
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
00:30:15 - McDonell's work

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything in particular you want to share about your, your work or about your youth center experience that, that, um, you'd like to share?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell's students were divided into primary school age, middle school age, high school age, women, and men. For the kids, McDonell mostly taught English through life skills. At her work site, McDonell still had access by phone to her language and culture facilitator from pre-service training. McDonell's youth center director gave her a lot of flexibility. McDonell was able to partner with a local teacher of English who mentored several of her high school students in public speaking. The students were able to compete in a contest in a local city where they could meet university students who could become their role models.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Empowerment; Flexibility; High schools; Learning; Middle schools; Peace Corps staff; Pre-service training; School systems; Skills; Students; Teaching English as a foreign language; Telephone calls; Travel; Traveling; Uncertainty; Young people; Youth centers

Subjects: Emotions; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Student activities; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:41:24 - News of COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: When did you first hear about the coronavirus in-country?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell first heard about COVID around January through a phone call with her parents. Around February, COVID was being mentioned in McDonell's high school classes. McDonell had gone to Spain in December to attend the funeral of a friend. McDonell thought that Volunteers might be affected by travel bans in Europe but did not expect to be evacuated. In mid-March, McDonell was in Marrakesh for a week-long in-service training. On the 4th day, the country director announced that they had been ordered to go into stand-fast mode which called for the Volunteers to stay at their work sites for 14 days. So, the second half of training was canceled. McDonell left by bus the next day to start back to her village. McDonell spent the next night together with some other Volunteers who were also returning south. Throughout the day, there had been updates from Peace Corps. So, evacuation seemed more likely and the Volunteers were dreading saying goodbye to their community on the next day.

Keywords: Buses; Changes; Classes; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Disappointment; Friends; High schools; Marrakesh (Morocco); Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Social media; Special occasions; Telephone calls; Transportation; Travel bans; Villages; Wuhan (People's Republic of China)

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Europe; Evacuation; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Spain; Stress (Psychology); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Wuhan (People's Republic of China)
Map Coordinates: 30.5934, 114.3046
GPS: Spain
Map Coordinates: 40, -4
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 43.806735, -12.9925444
00:56:04 - Consolidation of volunteers due to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: You know. Around 4:00, I finally got to my village. And it wasn't until that evening around 5:00 that we officially got like not only decree, "We're leaving."

Segment Synopsis: An hour after she got back to her work site by taxi, McDonell got the order to be at her consolidation point the next afternoon. McDonell recounts stories of Asian Volunteers who had members of their community shun them, throw rocks at their house, and call them names because some local people associated them with the coronavirus. This xenophobia was, in part, fueled by statements by American government officials. When returning to her village from in-service training, some locals didn't want to share a taxi with McDonell because she was a foreigner and they were concerned that she might have COVID. Their attitude changed to one of welcome when McDonell was identified as a teacher from the village where they were headed. McDonell's host sisters helped McDonell to prepare to leave and arranged for her to say some goodbyes around the village. McDonell regrets that her sudden departure made her break some promises she had made to her students.

Keywords: Arrangements; Asian Americans; Attitudes; Belongings; Changes; Commitments; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Cultural differences; Expectations; Fears; Food culture; Foreigners; Friends; Host mothers; Host sisters; Leaving; Local people; Locals; Media; Preparation; Regrets; Students; Taxis; Transportation; Villages

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Evacuation; Interpersonal relations; Mental health; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Race discrimination; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Xenophobia

01:14:17 - Evacuation

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Partial Transcript: So, you said goodbye and the next day you traveled to, uh, the capital?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell traveled back to the capital with other Volunteers using a series of taxis and a chartered bus. Public transportation in Morocco was shutting down. All the Volunteers were housed in a hotel in Rabat. There was a close of service ceremony for the cohort which had arrived in Morocco before McDonell's. But McDonell's cohort was told that they were on administrative hold. The Volunteers flew out on a chartered flight. McDonell had been feeling sick since the in-service training session. After returning to the U.S., McDonell and many Volunteers from Morocco tested positive for COVID antibodies. Peace Corps offered to pay for Volunteers who wanted to quarantine separately but McDonell opted to return to her parents' home.

Keywords: Airports; Buses; Choices; Close of Service; Cohorts; Coming home; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Criticism; Disease transmission; Friends; Housing; Illness; Quarantines; Returning; San Francisco International Airport; Sickness; Social distancing; Socializing; Taxis; Travel; Travel bans; Traveling

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Families; Mental health; Minorities; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
GPS: San Francisco International Airport
Map Coordinates: 37.618889, -122.375
01:19:49 - Re-entry to the United States

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Partial Transcript: And then how, how have you been doing?

Segment Synopsis: It took a month before McDonell was comfortable communicating with her host family and her community in Morocco. McDonell applied to various graduate schools and to be reinstated in the Peace Corps. McDonell was admitted to American University. McDonell has deferred starting graduate school because of the distance from where she's living now, because of the pandemic, and because she's still waiting to hear when Volunteers will be returning to Morocco. McDonell has been active with the Black Lives Matter movement, with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, and with efforts to reform the Peace Corps. McDonell is working as an AmeriCorps volunteer as a contact tracer. McDonell stays in contact with some members of her cohort.

Keywords: AmeriCorps; American University; Applications; Applying; Black Lives Matter; Cohorts; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Decisions; Distance; Future plans; Graduate schools; Interviews; Jobs; Master's degrees; Quarantines; Readjustment; Reforms; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Returning; Telephone calls; Transition periods; Waiting periods

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Interpersonal relations; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: American University
Map Coordinates: 38.937055, -77.086922
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
01:26:07 - Reflections on the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: As you, as you reflect now, do you think that this Peace Corps experience has really changed you?

Segment Synopsis: McDonell found Peace Corps challenging not so much because of the isolation and physical deprivation but because of the daily personal interactions with the hope that one might eventually make some positive impact. McDonell's Peace Corps experience has given her a greater degree of self-confidence and a greater acceptance of failure. Through her Peace Corps experience, McDonell has established friends and relationships which have enriched her life. McDonell has a positive mentality and rejects complacency.

Keywords: Acceptance; Dangerous; Friends; Isolation; Mentality; Personal growth; Relationships; Resilience; Self-confidence; Stereotypes; Struggles

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Stress (Psychology); Voluntarism; Volunteers