Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Janice "JJ" Johnson, August 24, 2020

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

 

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00:00:00 - Personal background and decision to join Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: I'll try my best.

Segment Synopsis: Janice "JJ" Johnson is introduced. She talks about her childhood and family background and how she became aware of Peace Corps. She talks about applying, her invitation, and how she was assigned to Fiji. She talks about her international travels before Peace Corps.

Keywords: 1971; Applying; Attitudes; Chemistry laboratories; Chicago (Ill.); Choices; Colleges; Europe; Family; Fiji; Graduate schools; Helping; International travel; Invitations; John F. Kennedy; Joining; Overseas; Speeches; Switzerland

Subjects: Childhood; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Conduct of life.; Education, Higher; Families.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Travel; Universities and colleges.; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Chicago (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.881944, -87.627778
GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
GPS: Switzerland
Map Coordinates: 46.833333, 8.333333
00:03:06 - Family's reactions to her joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So did you know anything about Fiji when you got this invitation?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about her family's reaction to her joining Peace Corps by talking about her parents helping her learn more about Fiji before she left. She talks about the conversation with her father when he found out she was joining Peace Corps. She talks about her brother's support of her decision.

Keywords: Awareness; Brothers; Decisions; Essays; Family; Fathers; Fiji; Goodbyes; John F. Kennedy; Knowledge; Learning; Mothers; Parents; Reactions; Support

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

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
00:06:23 - Travel to Fiji

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Partial Transcript: So, um, so then you head off to Fiji.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about leaving from San Jose, the inoculations she received, and their flight to Fiji. She talks about her cohort of other teachers.

Keywords: Airplanes; Arrival; Cohorts; Experience; Fun; Inoculations; Leaving; Nadi (Fiji); San Jose (Calif.); Science; Shots; Suva (Fiji); Teachers; Teaching; Vaccinations

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

GPS: San Jose (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.333333, -121.9
GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
GPS: Nadi (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -17.8, 177.416667
GPS: Suva (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.1416, 178.4419
00:09:33 - Training in Fiji

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Partial Transcript: So then, uh, tell me about training in Suva.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about their training in Nausori, Fiji. She talks about the difficulty she had with language, but luckily the school she taught at used mostly English. She talks about experiencing seasickness when traveling between islands. She talks about teacher training and the Peace Corps staff at that time.

Keywords: Boats; Chris Poole; Cindy Meadows Grant; Dan Cantor; Dick Wheeler; English (Language); Fijian (Language); Gau (Fiji); Gau Island (Fiji); Homestays; Islands; Language skills; Language training; Living allowance; Nausori (Fiji); Negatives; On-site training; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Schools; Seasickness; Students; Suva (Fiji); Teacher training; Training; Villages

Subjects: Communication and culture.; Fiji; Intercultural communication.; Language and culture.; Language and languages.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Nausori (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.024444, 178.545428
GPS: Suva (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.1416, 178.4419
GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:16:36 - Teaching assignment in Gau, Fiji

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, then you completed training and you went off to your teaching assignment.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about being assigned to a boarding school compound in Gau, Fiji to teach science, though she also ended up teaching English literature and mathematics. She talks about life on the compound, which was self-sufficient. She talks about creating clubs for the students and the attitudes and norms of the students.

Keywords: Age range; Arithmetic; Assignments; Boarding schools; Cane; Chores; Classes; Clubs; Dormitories; Dorms; English literature; Gau (Fiji); Gau Island (Fiji); General science; Grocery stores; Knife; Knives; Mathematics; Music; Plays; Practice; School compounds

Subjects: Culture.; Fiji; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:21:01 - Mail, recreation, and isolation in Gau, Fiji

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, while, while we're doing this I've mentioned something about my mother and sending things.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about receiving packages from her mother with supplies for the school children. She talks about some of the things she did for recreation. She talks about the lack of supplies for teaching science. She talks about their isolation on the island of Gau and how they communicated with the main island in emergency situations.

Keywords: Airlift; Appendicitis; Care packages; Chemistry; Children; Chores; Communication; Distillation; Gau (Fiji); Gau Island (Fiji); Guitars; Hurricane Bebe; Isolation; Lack of communication; Letters; Mail; Mothers; Outer islands; Radios; Recreation; Resources; Running water; Science; Students; Supplies; Typewriters; Women

Subjects: Culture.; Fiji; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:26:51 - Locals' opinions of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Peace Corps was about four years old in Fiji at that time. Um, what was, what was, uh, the, uh, the general, uh, feeling about Peace Corps among the locals?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about how she and her fellow volunteers were treated as members of the Peace Corps by the local people in Fiji.

Keywords: Attitudes; Feelings; Gau (Fiji); Gau Island (Fiji); Highly regarded; Local people; Locals; Opinions; Outer islands; Positive; Revered; White privilege

Subjects: Culture.; Fiji; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:28:29 - Hurricane Bebe

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Partial Transcript: So we had--and then of course that year ended up with, uh, Bebe, Hurricane Bebe.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes her actions at the school compound during Hurricane Bebe. She talks about the destruction caused by the hurricane and how their lives changed after the destruction of much of their school.

Keywords: Cleanup; Damages; Destruction; Dormitories; Dorms; Fears; Gau (Fiji); Gau Island (Fiji); Hurricane Bebe; Microscopes; Moving; Rebuilding; Relocating; Roofs; Salvage; Schools; Severe Tropical Cyclone Bebe; Streams; Villages

Subjects: Cyclone damage; Fiji; Hurricanes; Natural disasters.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:36:10 - Life at the school compound on Gau, Fiji

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Partial Transcript: So, um, tell about the, um, uh--about village life.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes what life was like on the school compound prior to Hurricane Bebe. She describes her house, the food she ate, and how they got their supplies since the island was fairly isolated. She talks about the culture of the school and the students' attitudes. She talks about recreation at the school. She talks about being honored with meals by the local people and their customs she observed at these meals. She talks about her living allowance and how she spent it. She briefly mentions some of the challenges she faced.

Keywords: Adaptable; Adaptation; Adjustment; Attitudes; Beds; Boarding schools; Boats; Breaks; Canned food; Challenges; Clayton Place (Radio program); Customs; Dancing; Deliveries; Difficult; Distance; Eggs; Fish heads; Gau Island (Fiji); Honored; Honors; Houses; Illnesses; Isolation; Kerosene lamps; Kitchens; Language barriers; Living allowance; Longboats; Main islands; Money; Mosquito nets; Norms; Oil embargoes; Pay; Peyton Place (Television program); Radios; Rice; Salary; School compounds; Seating; Sharing; Shoes; Stomach; Stores; Students; Supplies; Teachers' meetings; Treatment; Village life; Villages; Walking

Subjects: Communication and culture.; Culture.; Fiji; Intercultural communication.; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture.; Language and languages.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
00:50:35 - Life at the Assemblies of God High School in Suva, Fiji

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Partial Transcript: So did you stay on, on Gau just for two years?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about moving to Suva, Fiji to teach at a different school. She talks about how her living experience differed between the isolated, rural island of Gau and the urban setting of Suva. She talks about her teaching methods and the students' attitudes. She talks about her relationships with locals and other volunteers while in the city.

Keywords: American English (Language); Assemblies of God High School; Attitudes; British English (Language); Chemistry; Dinners; Discipline; Examinations; Exams; Fijian (Language); Friends; Hindi (Language); Honored; Honors; Houses; Local people; Locals; Main islands; Modern conveniences; Mosquito nets; Pronunciation; Relationships; Running water; Science; Spellings; Students; Suva (Fiji); Towns; Urban; Visitors; Visits

Subjects: Communication and culture.; Culture.; Fiji; Intercultural communication.; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture.; Language and languages.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Suva (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.1416, 178.4419
01:00:21 - Life at the University of The South Pacific in Suva, Fiji

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Partial Transcript: Uh, at the university--when I went to University of The South Pacific--

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about her plans to travel and why she decided to stay in Fiji for a third year. She talks about teaching at the University of The South Pacific in Suva, Fiji and describes her relationship with a colleague and his family. She talks about the cultural norms and attitudes of the students at the school.

Keywords: Adoption; Alone; Chemistry; Dengue fever; Dropping out; Flip-flops; Laboratories; Labs; Offices; Preliminary; Rules; Shoes; Suva (Fiji); Teaching methods; University of The South Pacific

Subjects: Culture.; Fiji; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Suva (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.1416, 178.4419
GPS: University of The South Pacific
Map Coordinates: -18.1492851, 178.4482145
01:08:15 - Contributions and impact of her Peace Corps work

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Partial Transcript: I want to ask you, since you have both experiences w--in a very, very primitive environment and then moving to town and having hot and cold running water and electricity...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about her thoughts on Peace Corps volunteers who are assigned to an urban setting who feel like they are not getting the "real Peace Corps experience" as opposed to those who are sent to more rural areas. She talks about her own attitude regarding Peace Corps service. She talks about the contributions she made through her Peace Corps service.

Keywords: Acceptance; Amenities; Americans; Attitudes; Contributions; Cultural differences; Cultural exchange; Ex-patriates; Experiences; Filling in; Gau Island (Fiji); Helping; Impact; Interactions; Learning; Modern conveniences; Relationships; Science; University of The South Pacific

Subjects: Communication and culture.; Culture.; Fiji; Intercultural communication.; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Gau Island (Fiji)
Map Coordinates: -18.066667, 179.333167
GPS: University of The South Pacific
Map Coordinates: -18.1492851, 178.4482145
01:13:42 - Impact of her Peace Corps experience on her own life

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Partial Transcript: So, um, your, um--well this is many, many years later and your email address has Fiji nine in it...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about how her life has been affected by her Peace Corps experience. She says it did not influence her career path but instead influenced how she approached her career and her mentality.

Keywords: Attitudes; Bonds; Building; Career paths; Careers; Engineering; Friendships; Impact; Mentality; Relationships; Suitcases; Thinking; Tools

Subjects: Culture.; Fiji; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Fiji; Travel; Voluntarism.; Volunteers

GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
01:17:19 - Advice for people considering joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Um, I think that pretty much exhausts my questions.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson offers her advice for anyone thinking about joining Peace Corps. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Advice; Appalachian State University; Connections; Cultural exchange; Positive; Recruiting; Recruitment; Relationships; Similarities

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

GPS: Appalachian State University
Map Coordinates: 36.213843, -81.678621