Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Charles McKinney, August 17, 2020

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

 

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00:00:00 - Personal history and Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: Hi Charles. Today is August 17, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: McKinney served 2 years in North Macedonia as a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) Volunteer, and 6 months as a Response Volunteer in Rwanda. After Peace Corps, he taught English in the Middle East. McKinney heard about Peace Corps at the end of graduate school while teaching in Thailand, while thinking about his future. He watched a YouTube video that mentioned Peace Corps, and the person intrigued him. As a result, he participated in a webinar about it, and felt an immediate connection with its mission. McKinney said that his family wasn't surprised at this decision; they understood that teaching was his purpose in life. They were elated that he was applying. He chose Macedonia as his country; the application process was long. Macedonia was one country where there were education positions available. Macedonia was unusual to McKinney, and the departure date fit his schedule. He lived with his family in Delaware while waiting for his acceptance; he had 9 months until departure.

Keywords: Family members' reactions; Family's reaction; Graduate school in Thailand; Peace Corps Response Volunteers; Quirky mention of Peace Corps in a video; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL); YouTube videos

Subjects: Families.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Thailand
Map Coordinates: 15, 101
GPS: Delaware
Map Coordinates: 38.9896, -75.505
00:10:13 - Pre-service training, placement, and host families

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Partial Transcript: So what was training like for you?

Segment Synopsis: McKinney's group staged in Washington, D.C. He was both excited and anxious at the prospect of being away from home for 27 months. He enjoyed meeting his cohort; during his wait until departure, he read about Macedonia and started to learn the language, especially basic survival vocabulary and phrases. The blogs on the Peace Corps website were especially helpful. Among his first impressions of North Macedonia were admiring the beauty of the country, feeling embraced by the staff, and being "on cloud nine," living his dream. Training was intense; his first week of it was in Tetovo, hanging out with his cohort of about 45 Volunteers, in the initial orientation to the country. Once the group had separated into sector groups, McKinney was placed in Negotino, a small town centrally located in the country, where he lived with an extended host family with 2 dogs. He loved the home-cooked meals prepared by the grandmother. The fact that only 1 family member spoke English meant he was forced to learn the language. At the end of training, he passed the elementary level of language proficiency. Weekly, he met in Skopje with the others of his cohort. His technical training taught him a lot, particularly the role plays, and the advice from the country director. She said that "Peace Corps Volunteers are the best American ambassadors," and McKinney felt privileged to be one. He was placed in a small rural village in the southern part of the country near Vitala, Novosti, where he lived with a second host family. His host brother from pre-service training drove him to his new family. In his new location, he lived in a separate bungalow house. McKinney opted to eat with the family for the first month or so. Then, he began cooking for himself and lived there for the duration of his service. The Macedonian teacher in his school tutored him for about 6 months as he gained proficiency in the language.

Keywords: Host family; Housing; Language learning; Pre-departure staging; Pre-service training; Staging

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tetovo (North Macedonia)
Map Coordinates: 42, 20.966667
GPS: Negotino (North Macedonia)
Map Coordinates: 41.483333, 22.1
00:29:27 - McKinney's placement

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Partial Transcript: And, and [tell] me about your job.

Segment Synopsis: McKinney worked as a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) Volunteer in a school, starting the week that he arrived. He worked with a co-teacher teaching middle school grades, and, in a network of satellite schools, he taught small groups of students who lived in remote areas of the municipality. Those students wouldn't ordinarily be taught by a native speaker; this lasted about 2 months due to the inconvenience of getting him there and back. McKinney was also involved in the American Corner in Vitala. He volunteered there as a book club coordinator for the competitive college program for kids who wanted to attend college in the U.S. He also coordinated conversation clubs, and facilitated coffee with the American ambassador who visited. McKinney immersed himself in several secondary projects, including preparing students for the spelling bee contest, and planning the Macedonia English Essay Competition in which he served as a judge and, eventually, coordinating the event the next year, which he willingly did. During his second year, Peace Corps launched a diversity training program and support, and McKinney became a part of that group.

Keywords: American Corner; Co-teaching; Macedonian English Essay Competition; Middle school grades; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)

Subjects: Language and languages; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Race relations; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:39:51 - Being an African American in North Macedonia

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Partial Transcript: What was it like for you as an African American in Macedonia?

Segment Synopsis: In Macedonia, McKinney said that he didn't experience difficulty, despite the challenges. At that time, he wore his hair in dreadlocks and people wanted to touch them as they weren't used to seeing people with them. His students were very curious about him; one night in Skopje, kids used the N-word in front of him, but his friend talked with him about it and they let it go. He was the only African American male in his cohort, which was difficult in that there was no one to talk to about this. He's glad to see that Peace Corps is becoming more inclusive over the years.

Keywords: Acculturation; Culture; Diversity; Dreadlocks; Racial slurs

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:43:36 - Politics in North Macedonia

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Partial Transcript: What was the [political] situation in Macedonia like when you were there?

Segment Synopsis: When McKinney served, he learned about the political situation from the high school students and from his host family, especially the corruption within the country. Unemployment, lack of opportunity, and "brain-drain" of young people were among the issues. There was a dire need/wish to have the country build capacity for its young people.

Keywords: Unemployment; Youth

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

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:46:11 - Travel and summer camps while in service

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Partial Transcript: What--did you travel while you were in the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: While in Peace Corps, McKinney loved living in the Balkans with many countries nearby. He visited all of the bordering countries by land. He worked in 2 summer camps in Albania, 1 in Bulgaria, and hosted a travel camp in Novosti; he attended a political camp in Italy; he vacationed in Barcelona. Travel was affordable. He first used AirBnB in Greece. The summer camps maximized his productivity during the summer. He was a part of the Young Men's Leadership Program which introduced him to camping in the mountains. The American Corner sponsored a Make-A-Space Camp, a tech camp where kids designed software programs and arts and crafts. In Albania, he was a part of a camp for Roma kids, where they played games, and learned about personal hygiene and dental cleaning from an American dentist. In Bulgaria, there was a spelling camp.

Keywords: American Corner; Roma kids; Summer camps; Young Men's Leadership Program

Subjects: Culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Albania
Map Coordinates: 41, 20
GPS: Bulgaria
Map Coordinates: 42.683333, 23.316667
GPS: Greece
Map Coordinates: 39, 22
GPS: Barcelona, Spain
Map Coordinates: 41.383333, 2.183333
00:54:24 - Leaving North Macedonia and starting in Rwanda

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Partial Transcript: Your time comes to leave.

Segment Synopsis: For McKinney, leaving North Macedonia was difficult. Close of Service was held in Mavrovo; he wanted to stay in country teaching at an international school, not with Peace Corps. That didn't materialize. The final 3 months were hectic; his students knew that he was leaving. He tried to "soak it all in" while he could. He wrote a blog, as well as fiction and non-fiction stories which helped document his time in Peace Corps. Contemplating his next steps included serving as a Response Volunteer in Rwanda, where he went next. He served 6 months (in a 12-month assignment) teaching English in Rwanda.

Keywords: Blogs; International schools; Mavrovo (North Macedonia)

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Rwanda; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Mavrovo (North Macedonia)
Map Coordinates: 41.683333, 20.7
GPS: Rwanda
Map Coordinates: -1.95, 29.866667
01:06:48 - Response Volunteer in Rwanda

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Partial Transcript: Now Peace Corps Response is quite a different experience than, than Peace Corps--regular Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: In Rwanda, McKinney had an intensive experience in that the expectation is that you already have the technical skills to do your job. He had an accelerated orientation and then shipped off to his site. There were 8 in his cohort; most were educators and the rest were health and community development Volunteers. Being in Sub-Saharan Africa was a new experience for McKinney. He wondered if he could survive and cope. His site was in a semi-rural setting in the southern part of the country in Huye where he lived in a separate house adjacent to his landlord. Living on a dirt road was an adjustment, especially during the rain when there was a lot of mud. McKinney connected immediately with his students who facilitated his adjustment. McKinney was the first teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) lecturer Volunteer at the university; he had to be proactive to create his position. He co-taught with several teachers and he did substitute teaching, also. Eventually, he taught English For Academic Purposes on his own for 60-70 pharmacy students.

Keywords: English for Academic Purposes; Huye (Rwanda); Pharmacy programs; Proactive; Sub-Saharan Africa; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Rwanda; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Rwanda
Map Coordinates: -1.95, 29.866667
GPS: Huye (Rwanda)
Map Coordinates: -2.516667, 29.7
01:14:52 - Being an African American in Rwanda / His arrival and departure

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Partial Transcript: What was it like being an African American in Rwanda?

Segment Synopsis: For McKinney, being in Rwanda as an African American was different in that people thought that he was bi-racial, although he is not. People stared at him because of his light skin. The unwanted attention was difficult to handle. People also presumed that he was rich. Dispelling myths was a large part of his work. Generally, people were kind and helpful. McKinney left early because he was ready to re-enter the workforce after volunteering for nearly 3 years. He felt that he wasn't doing enough there to merit staying. He was bored being in Huye without a cohort, which is isolating and lonely. Once he had a job in the Middle East to resume full-time teaching, he set his mind to leaving Rwanda and processed out.

Keywords: Bi-racial; Unwanted attention

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Race relations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Rwanda
Map Coordinates: -1.95, 29.866667