Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with David Park, August 19, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - Personal background / College career

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Partial Transcript: Today is August 19, 2020. This is Randolph Adams, who served in the Dominican Republic from 1966-1969.

Segment Synopsis: Park was born and raised in South Korea. He shares that his family was very political, as his grandfather was a politician. He explains that he naturally developed an interest in Korean and East Asian politics. Even after moving to the United States when he was 12, Park continued to stay updated on politics abroad. Park attended the College of William & Mary and majored in government. He was interested in learning more about international politics, and a friend recommended that he join the Peace Corps. Park shares that while he was at William and Mary, he joined an organization called College Partnership for Kids. With CPK, Park taught several classes to middle and elementary school students.

Keywords: Bachelor's degrees; China; College of William & Mary; Domestic politics; East Asian politics; Extracurricular organizations; Extracurriculars; Government; History; International politics; International relations; Politicians; Politics; South Korea; Undergraduate studies

Subjects: Childhood; College of William and Mary; Community; Education; Families; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Traveling; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:07:09 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: I'd like to ask you a little about the, uh, application process.

Segment Synopsis: Park shares that he had always planned to take a year off after college, to relax and travel. Once he had graduated in mid-May, Park began the application process in June, writing personal statements and asking for letters of recommendation. Park explains that he submitted his application relatively late, around the end of September. He interviewed in October and received his acceptance in November. Park explains that he chose China, along with two alternative destinations, all focused on education. He chose China as his top choice, as he was interested in working with college students and the other two destinations involved working with younger students. Park shares that the application process was smooth, but the training that came afterwards was very long. He explains that the medical process was the most difficult; many of his friends were disqualified on the basis of their mental health.

Keywords: Alternatives; Application processes; Applications; China; College of William & Mary; Destinations; Essays; Extracurriculars; Interviews; Medical process; Mental health; Mental illnesses; Personal statements; Trainings; Undergraduate studies

Subjects: College of William and Mary; English teachers; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Students; Teaching; Travel; Volunteer workers in education

00:14:36 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: I'd like to move into the pre-service training now.

Segment Synopsis: Park describes his experiences in the pre-service training process in the Peace Corps in China. He shares that the recruits began in one hotel, where they were taught basics and informed on mainly logistical matters. From there, the recruits were split into groups and placed in universities. While at the university, Park describes discussing a multitude of different things, ranging from politics to family matters. He explains that they focused heavily on teaching English as a second language, and tailoring their classrooms to the subject. Park shares that the recruits participated in a practicum period, in which they had a trial run to teach students English. He shares that while the pre-service training was very helpful, the length of the period was too long, and could have been shortened. Park also explains that the teachers training the recruits were a mix of Chinese and American members of the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Activities; Americans; Assignments; Chengdu; Class dynamics; Classrooms; Headquarters; Hotels; Language learning; Language skills; Logistics; Placements; Practicum; Processes; Recruits; Scams; Sichuan Normal University; Skills; Strengths; Survival skills; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL); Trial period; Universities

Subjects: Chengdu (China); Chinese language; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; English teachers; Language and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Students; Teachers; Teaching; Training

00:29:31 - Peace Corps assignment

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Partial Transcript: We'll move on to your assi--assignment now.

Segment Synopsis: Park shares that he was posted at Chongqing Jiaotong University, describing it as a very urban placement, with a population of about 8 million living in the city. Park explains that while his posting was close to the city's center, he would not describe it as "shiny," and was located in a more suburban part of town. Park had requested an urban area in his interview, explaining that his placement met his expectations. He wanted to teach not only English, but also American and world culture. Park shares that looking back on his placement, he was very pleased to be able to have the freedom to discuss various cultural and literary aspects. In his posting, Park explains that he did not have to ask permission to discuss different cultures with his classes. The university he was posted in had ties to the Peace Corps and the department was quite relaxed in what he could teach. He and his students enjoyed great freedom in their ability to discuss foreign politics and Park believes the department was pleased that the students were learning about different cultures. He explains that not all of his colleagues had the same freedom in their experience; some that were placed in higher level postings faced censorship. In his posting, Park was provided an apartment by the school. He describes it as a humble, two bedroom apartment. Through the Peace Corps, Park was introduced to a family who would maintain ties and act as a support system during their posting. He shares that while the family he was in contact with was very involved, not all of his colleagues had the same experience.

Keywords: American culture; Apartments; Chongqing Jiaotong University; Cities; Foreign culture; Host families; Interviews; Lesson plans; Living abroad; Living conditions; Posting; Public transportation; Suburban areas; Support systems; Training; Urban areas; Urban placements; World culture

Subjects: Censorship; Chinese students; Chongqing (China); English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Intellectual freedom; Language and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Students; Teachers; Teaching

00:39:16 - Typical work day / Social relations

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Partial Transcript: Can you describe a little, sort of, what your typical work day would be like?

Segment Synopsis: Park describes a typical work day, explaining that the classes he taught were concentrated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On those two days, he would teach from 8:20 to around 4:30 or even as late as 7:00. Park explains that he had the longest commute among the other volunteers. The campus was split into two sections, and he lived on one side and had to commute to his classes on the other side of campus. Park explains that he would teach the same class to three different classes. He only had to lesson plan twice a week, focusing on English reading and writing, while incorporating aspects of American culture. His students had a mid to high level understanding of English, most of them capable of speaking and debating in English. On Thursdays. Park also taught night class for creative writing to non-English majors, getting home around 10 pm. He was surprised at his students' knowledge of American culture. Park describes becoming friends with many of the other faculty members. Many of the faculty had experience living and studying abroad, and had the chance to experience American and British culture. He learned that beyond the surface level, they were not so different from each other.

Keywords: Campuses; Class schedules; Commute; Creative writing; Current events; Daily routines; English degrees; English majors; English reading and writing; English teachers; Foreign language experience; Lesson plans; Night classes; Public transportation; Students; University students; Work schedules

Subjects: American culture; College campuses; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Hours of labor; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Schedules (School); Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:50:20 - Accomplishments / Worries and expectations

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Partial Transcript: Looking back on your tour of service, I know it was quite short, maybe what, 7 months, 8 months?

Segment Synopsis: Park explains that, aside from providing general instruction, he was most proud of his ability to provide his students with emotional support. He shares that one of his students reached out to him about not feeling equal to her colleagues. Some of the adults the student had reached out to simply encouraged her to try harder and study more. Park was happy to provide an alternative voice. This interaction prompted Park to start a class on mental health among American college students, and how American universities are addressing these issues. Park explains that he had certain stereotypes going into his assignment, mainly about how he would be treated by people in China and how their values would differ. At the end of his experience, he found his expectations to be shattered. People there were much more open and willing to engage with him than he was expecting. He went into his assignment worried about how he would protect his identity as an American, as he looks less like the typical American on television and similar to people in China. He was worried that people wouldn't see him as an American because of the way he looked, and would see him as more Korean.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Alternative perspectives; American Universities; American colleges; American culture; Chinese professors; Coping methods; Depression in the United States; Emotional support; Mental depression; Mental health among college students; Native languages; Practical skills; Statistics; Students

Subjects: English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

01:01:58 - COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: I think in terms of the, uh, initial, uh, interview framework, we've, we've sort of closed the chapter on, on Peace Corps, except you have a unique, uh, addition, with respect to--with respect to evacuation.

Segment Synopsis: Park describes first seeing coronavirus in the news and being evacuated almost immediately after an in-service training. At the training, Park was told that the virus wouldn't be much of a problem and that it would be contained in Wuhan. Park initially didn't think coronavirus would affect him; he thought it would be a regional issue that would be contained in the city. When it began to spread and cases increased exponentially, he grew more worried. Park expected the coronavirus to be similar to past pandemics, like the swine flu.

Keywords: Borders; Contagious cases; Coronavirus; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Evacuations; Hubei China; Hubei Province; In-service training; Medical staff; News; Pandemics; Travel plans; Virus

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Chongqing (China); Evacuation of civilians; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Travel; Volunteer workers in education; Wuhan (China)

01:05:57 - Evacuation

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Partial Transcript: Now there was a, there was another potentially confounding factor, in that, uh, there was a U.S. senator that was pushing for, uh, Peace Corps to leave China.

Segment Synopsis: Park explains that Peace Corps evacuating from China was a combination of both the United States senator pushing for them to leave and the threat of coronavirus. Peace Corps China was due to be canceled in 2021; Park's cohort was the last one scheduled to go. Park shares that the official position of Peace Corps was that budgetary cuts had to be made as the organization was expanding its operations into Eastern Europe. Headquarters had sent a representative to explain the situation but he was unable to share anything more than the official position. Park shares that many of the volunteers were left feeling abandoned and betrayed. The volunteers learned of the program's cancellation through a tweet, before any of the staff were able to inform them. Park recalls getting an email with the news of evacuation while out with a friend, and they returned and packed some of their things. They were uncertain of whether they would be returning and said a tentative goodbye to the staff they worked with there. During the evacuation, Park recalls several issues they experienced, including a delayed flight. Park shares that he is able to maintain contact with a few of his old students and faculty.

Keywords: Budgetary cuts; Cohorts; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Country director; Director of Peace Corps; Eastern Europe; Evacuations; In service training (IST); Masks; Peace Corps Headquarters; Plane tickets; Positive cases; Program cancellation; Representatives; Tweets; Twitter; U.S. Senators

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Chongqing (China); Evacuation of civilians; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Social Media; Thailand; Travel; Volunteers; Volunteers in education

01:14:21 - Effect of coronavirus on classes

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Partial Transcript: Since most people were already self-isolating, how did that affect the classes?

Segment Synopsis: Park explains that the university shut down the day before he evacuated. The shut down occurred during winter break so there were no classes going on at that time. The campus kept a list of visitors who had to sign in and have their temperatures checked each day. Park did not have an opportunity to say goodbye in person to the people he met there, but was able to send them a text. He shares that he has tried to keep up with a few of his students and some of the faculty he worked with. Park has come to learn that many of his students have similar interests as his own. He deleted his Chinese apps when he returned to America and he shares that it has made it more difficult to keep in touch without them.

Keywords: Art; Campus grounds; Chinese apps; Classes; Contact tracing; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Coworkers; Faculty; Interests; Movies; Music; Preventative measures; Students; Teaching abroad; Winter break

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Communication and culture; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

01:16:38 - Arrival in the United States

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Partial Transcript: What happened when you got back to the U.S.?

Segment Synopsis: Park remembers being extremely cold upon his return to the United States. During evacuation to Thailand, the volunteers were unsure of if they would be allowed to return to China, so many of them only packed clothes appropriate for Thailand's climate. Park felt lucky to have a family and a house to return to, as well as a savings account that could keep him sustained for a few months. Some of the volunteers he worked with were not as lucky. Park returned to the United States in February and, as this was before the United States had any positive cases, there were no restrictions put in place to keep him in isolation. Park shares that since he has been back in the United States, he has been focused on finding a job. He plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2021, preparing to take the GRE exam.

Keywords: COVID-19 preventative measures; COVID-19 restrictions; Climate; Coronavirus; Coronavirus cases; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); Graduate schools; Housing; Job markets; Pandemics; Quarantine; Savings account; Self-isolating; Support system; Travel restrictions; Unemployment

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Family; Finance, Personal; Job hunting; Korea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Thailand; Travel; Traveling; Volunteers

01:21:04 - RPCV group / Advocating for the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: You've mentioned being in contact with some of the portals, but what about some of the, uh, the, uh, Peace Corps RPCV groups?

Segment Synopsis: Park shares that he got acquainted with the Northern Virginia RPCV group during an advocacy trip to Capitol Hill. At this point, Park does not see himself returning to Peace Corps, describing it as "untimely." Even though he only had 8 months of his program, Park thinks Peace Corps taught him a lot about interacting with others. He feels he has become a better person since participating in Peace Corps and he is happy with the impact he has made on his students there. In terms of Peace Corps' benefits to the United States, Park believes it is beneficial to invest in better relations with as many countries as possible. The experience humanizes those in other countries and allows for better understanding and communicating with other cultures.

Keywords: Adversaries; Advocacy; Advocates; Allies; Benefits; Capitol Hill; Daily lives; Global conflicts; Impacts; Life goals; Negotiations; Peace Corps; Plans; Programs; RPCV groups; Schedule

Subjects: Communication and culture; Culture; International relations; National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Travel; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

01:26:56 - Diversity component of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Thank you, we still have time left for this session so I would like to now, uh, move into the diversity component.

Segment Synopsis: Park shares that his background, at least on the surface level, allowed him to blend in better during his Peace Corps assignment. He explains that his colleagues would receive added attention, especially while walking on the street. He describes this as both a blessing and a curse, as he didn't feel exhausted by the attention but also made the process of integrating more difficult, as they didn't believe he would need extra help. When working with staff, they knew he was American, and provided him with additional support. Park explains some differences between Korean and Chinese culture, emphasizing the differences in social interactions, food, and customs. He also shares his initial concerns that his Korean background would impede upon his ability to share American culture. Park recalls his Korean identity helping him in learning how to speak Chinese, as several Korean words are based on Chinese characters. He explains that both Korean and Chinese cultures share the same Confucian and Buddhist roots, so they have shared holidays and traditions.

Keywords: Advantages; Americans; Attention; Background; Colleagues; Faculty; Interactions; Racial background; Racial identity; Routines; Service; Staff; Training

Subjects: Community; Culture; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Language and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Travel; Volunteer workers in education

01:37:54 - Personal identity / Discrimination

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Partial Transcript: Thinking of your perception of yourself prior to Peace Corps, how did service in your, uh, community, or, or, um, in China in particular, shift or shape your identity today?

Segment Synopsis: Park explains that the emphasis he places on his identity as a Korean American has shifted due to his Peace Corps experience. He shares that in order to stand out in the United States, he would accentuate the Korean aspect of his identity, to make himself different from other Americans. During his assignment in China, Park enjoyed showing off his "American-ness," and his knowledge of American history and politics. He was able to talk more on his perception as an American in China, as it was a more unique perspective there. Though relationships are strained between Korea and China, Park did not experience any negative effects of this during his time in China. Due to rumors and allegations regarding the origins of COVID-19, Park shares there were hate crimes committed against Koreans in China. He considers himself lucky that he was evacuated before those began. Aside from getting a few glances while out in public, Park did not experience discrimination in China.

Keywords: American history; American politics; Background; Biases; Cohorts; Common identity; Faculty; Grievances; Identity; Korean Americans; Perceptions; Personal growth; Perspectives; Relationships; Service; Students

Subjects: American culture; COVID-19 (Disease); Community; Culture; International relations; Peace Corps (U.S.)--China; Volunteer workers in education