Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Claire Gracia, August 17, 2020

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


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00:00:00 - Gracia's life before joining the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Today is August 17, 2020. This is Randolph Adams who served in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1969.

Segment Synopsis: Gracia grew up in Providence, Rhode Island where she attended Bryant University. Gracia majored in Global Studies and Spanish. Gracia had a long-term interest in the Peace Corps. This interest was supported by Gracia's mother. Gracia's father is from Colombia. Gracia's father was less enthusiastic about Gracia joining the Peace Corps. Gracia's mother grew up in the U.S. but has traveled overseas widely. When Gracia was in high school, she went to Peru for 6 months to accompany her mother who was there on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Keywords: Bryant University; College majors; Coronavirus disease 2019; Evacuations; High schools; Provident (R.I.); Spanish (Language); Study abroad; Support; Travel; Traveling; Youth development

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Colombia; Emigration and immigration; Immigrants; International travel; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Peru

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
GPS: Providence (R.I.)
Map Coordinates: 41.823611, -71.422222
GPS: Bryant University
Map Coordinates: 41.92545, -71.53241
GPS: Colombia
Map Coordinates: 4, -72
00:03:07 - Applying

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Partial Transcript: I'm going to ask you some questions about the application process.

Segment Synopsis: Having studied Spanish, Gracia was interested in serving in Central or South America. Gracia also had interest and experience in youth and community development which she wanted to continue in the Peace Corps. Gracia was excited when she was accepted. Gracia had previously been offered a posting in Sierra Leone which she had declined.

Keywords: Applications; Choices; Community development; Emails; Excited; Interests; Peace Corps interviews; Posts; Spanish (Language); Youth development

Subjects: Central America; Emotions; Peru; Sierra Leone; South America

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
GPS: Central America
Map Coordinates: 11.8507658, -93.770265
GPS: South America
Map Coordinates: -15.6071989, -100.9777614
00:06:18 - Reaction of Gracia's family to her joining the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Um, what was the reaction of your parents and your sister?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia's mother and sister were excited for her. Gracia's father, being an immigrant to the U.S., had trouble understanding why Gracia wanted to leave the U.S. for some rural community.

Keywords: Excited; Family; Rural areas

Subjects: Emigration and immigration; Emotions; Immigrants; Parents

00:07:14 - Preparations

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Partial Transcript: Were you able to do any preparation in terms of getting ready to go to Peru?

Segment Synopsis: In preparation for her assignment, Gracia did some packing and continued to practice Spanish. Gracia did not grow up bilingual.

Keywords: Spanish (Language)

Subjects: Finance; Peru

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
00:08:31 - Gracia's pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Let's move now to your pre-service training.

Segment Synopsis: Gracia's pre-service training was in-country and lasted 3 months. The first half was in Junin and was field based training. This was followed by a week of classroom training. Then, the Volunteers got their assignments and went to their work sites for 2 weeks. For the last month, they returned to the training center outside of Lima where they stayed with host families. Gracia liked to spend time with her host sister who was about the same age as Gracia. During training, there were different presentations about youth and education, safety and security, and health. Mostly, there was language training. The technical training of Gracia's cohort was adversely affected by the firing of their youth development training facilitator halfway through the pre-service training. The training staff was all Peruvian. After training, the youth development Volunteers were directed to first complete a community diagnostic of their work sites. After 6 months, there was further training for the Volunteers. Gracia feels that because the pre-service technical training was inadequate, this caused the youth development Volunteers in her cohort to struggle more for their first year.

Keywords: Cohorts; Counterparts; Criticism; Doctors; Education; Host families; Host sisters; Junin (Peru); Language Proficiency Index; Language skills; Language training; Lectures; Lima (Peru); Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Problems; Struggles; Support; Technical training; Training centers; Youth development

Subjects: Health; Language and culture.; Language and languages.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru

GPS: Junin (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -11.15, -75.983333
GPS: Lima (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -12.05, -77.033333
00:16:50 - Gracia's assignment

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Partial Transcript: After training, where did you end up being assigned?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia was assigned to the town of Pedro Ruiz in Amazonas. Several highways pass through the town so it has the advantages of better transportation, better markets, and bigger schools. Gracia worked with some people in the municipal government but more with people in the town's 2 high schools and 2 elementary schools. Technically, Gracia had a counterpart in the municipal government but he wasn't directly involved in her projects. Gracia found other counterparts in the other institutions who were of more assistance. After about 6 months, another Volunteer in community economic development was assigned to Gracia's town. Gracia had 2 site visits and a chance meeting in Pedro Ruiz with her country director. After pre-service training, Gracia took a bus to the regional capital where she was met by the regional coordinator. After a few days, Gracia was met in Chachapoyas by her host family from Pedro Ruiz who returned home with Gracia.

Keywords: Advantages; Amazonas (Peru); Buses; Chachapoyas (Peru); Counterparts; Evacuations; High schools; Host family; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Pedro Ruiz (Peru); Schools; Site mates; Site visits; Support; Towns; Transportation

Subjects: Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Volunteer workers in community development

GPS: Pedro Ruiz Gallo (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -5.9440911, -77.991847
GPS: Chachapoyas (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -6.216667, -77.85
GPS: Amazonas (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -6.22 -77.85
00:21:57 - Initial reaction to her work site

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what was your initial reaction when you arrived at your site?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia was impressed by the beautiful scenery of her site. Gracia's host family was nice. Because of the size of its population, Gracia thought her work site had good prospects for her work. Gracia was bothered by sexual harassment throughout her tour but particularly in the beginning when fewer people knew her. Gracia mentioned her concerns to the Peace Corps staff but the safety and security officer had a reputation for being relatively unsupportive.

Keywords: Criticism; Host family; Safety and security managers; Sexual harassment; Unsupportive; Weather

Subjects: Acculturation.; Culture.; Emotions; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Sexism

00:24:44 - Gracia's projects

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Partial Transcript: Can you share what specifics of the job were?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia was involved at the high schools, municipality, and health centers. Her main project was working with the older high school students on career development. For this, Gracia had about 30 students weekly and worked with a team of government officials, parents, teachers, and students. Gracia worked with the municipality officials and held a session for students on bullying. Gracia gave talks to parents and students on various topics. Gracia struggled with how to divide her time as there were marked differences between the 2 high schools as far as size and degrees of cooperation with her.

Keywords: Career paths; Careers; Counterparts; Difficult; Education programs; Healthcare facilities; High schools; Lectures; Schedules; Struggles; Students; Teachers

Subjects: Education, Higher; Health; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Student activities

00:32:16 - Gracia's anticipated projects

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Partial Transcript: Like, towards the end of my time, like, I was developing a project like an environmental leadership youth group with the, um, it's like the forestry, park ranger-type positions.

Segment Synopsis: Gracia describes the projects on which she anticipated working on during her last 8 months of service. The longer Gracia was at her work site, the busier she was.

Keywords: Education programs; Future plans; High schools

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

00:34:53 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: What did you do for leisure?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia spent a lot of time with her host family - cooking, playing with the children. Gracia also enjoyed reading and hiking and tried various hobbies.

Keywords: Children; Food; Host family; Interests

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Recreation

00:35:53 - Vacation

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Partial Transcript: What about vacation?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia's family from the U.S. came to visit her. Together, they spent some time in the jungle region and in Lima. Other friends of Gracia would come and visit her for a few days.

Keywords: Family; Friends; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Recreation

GPS: Lima (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -12.05, -77.033333
00:37:03 - Gracia's host family at her work site

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Partial Transcript: Did your living arrangement--did you live with a host family the entire time you were there?

Segment Synopsis: Both of Gracia's host parents at her work site were teachers. One was a direct counterpart and worked with Gracia on the career youth preparation group. During summer vacation, Gracia's host family took her on a day trip by car to San Martin. Gracia was made to feel like a member of the family.

Keywords: Counterparts; High schools; Host brothers; Host family; Host grandmothers; San Martin (Peru); Schools; Students; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru

GPS: San Martin (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -7.0959842, -78.8765806
00:39:22 - Gracia's accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: Looking back at your, um, tour of service, what do you think were your main accomplishments?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia believes that her work with the youth group addressed all the youth development project goals. Gracia also points to the positive interchanges she had with her host family. The youth development program was supposed to work in conjunction with life skills classes. However, Gracia felt that lack of coordination with the teachers led this portion of the project to fail. Gracia felt she needed to be flexible and give more consideration to what was requested of her on site rather than to place more emphasis on project goals set up beforehand by the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Classes; Criticism; Expectations; First Goal; Flexibility; Host family; Second Goal; Skills; Struggles; Sustainability; Teachers; Youth development

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru

00:44:49 - Gracia's future plans

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Partial Transcript: How do you see your Peace Corps experience may be influencing your plans for the future?

Segment Synopsis: In Gracia's next job, she will continue with youth development and community development. Peace Corps service helped to strengthen Gracia's interests in these fields.

Keywords: Careers; Community development; Interests; Personal growth; Youth development

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.)

00:45:48 - Involvement with Peace Corps groups

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Partial Transcript: Are you connected with any, uh, Peace Corps groups?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia is involved with the Rhode Island and Boston Peace Corps Associations.

Keywords: Boston (Mass.); Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Rhode Island

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.)

GPS: Rhode Island
Map Coordinates: 41.6762
GPS: Boston (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.358056, -71.063611
00:46:36 - Gracia's reflections on her Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: Anything else you'd like to add about your service? Anything we haven't covered that comes to mind?

Segment Synopsis: Overall, Gracia is positive about her service. Gracia felt that quitting was not an option for her. However, Gracia admits that the loneliness and anxiousness were challenging. Seven Volunteers in Peru were terminated for a drinking incident. Gracia feels that this was not done in a just way. Other Volunteers terminated for medical reasons. Morale among the remaining Volunteers in Peru was low. It was hard for Gracia to make friends at her work site as there were few natives there in her age group.

Keywords: Ages; Anxious; Challenging; Criticism; Drinking; Isolation; Locals; Lonely; Quitting

Subjects: Emotions; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
00:49:40 - Receiving news of COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: If you can recall when did you first hear about the coronavirus?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia says she probably first heard about COVID-19 in February 2020 as the disease spread in China. The initial response in Gracia's area was muted. Later, the president of Peru initiated a lock down which lasted 4 months. Later that same day, Peace Corps Volunteers in Peru were notified that they were being evacuated. The local people did not understand why Gracia had to leave. When Gracia left Peru, increased use of disinfectant was the only additional precaution she saw being employed there.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Leaving; Local people; Locals; Lockdowns; Quarantines

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); China; Evacuations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Peru

GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
00:52:25 - Gracia's evacuation

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Partial Transcript: Describe what the evacuation was like for you. How did it--when were you notified? Uh, what steps were taken?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia tried to be optimistic but after hearing the Peruvian president's speech in which a lock down was ordered and the national borders were closed, Gracia felt that Peace Corps' evacuation of Peru would happen. Two and a half hours after the president's speech, Garcia received an email announcing the Peace Corps evacuation. Gracia started to pack that night but was very stressed. The next morning, Gracia started packing in earnest. That noon, there was another email instructing Volunteers to go to their regional capital. Gracia and her site mate had to leave Pedro Ruiz by 3 PM that day and were limited to 1 suitcase each. In Chachapoyas, the Volunteers experienced some anti-foreigner sentiment as some locals blamed foreigners for bringing COVID-19 into their community. The Volunteers were defended by their counterparts, some of whom had brought them to Chachapoyas. After 5 days in a hostel in Chachapoyas, the Volunteers there were taken by bus to Lima. Because there was a travel ban in Peru, their bus was stopped by the police and military 26 times en route. Half of the Peruvian Volunteers had already left on an earlier fight from Lima. Gracia and those with her were in a hotel about 4 days waiting for the embassy to charter another flight. Lima was like a ghost town except for soldiers in the streets. Gracia and others were eventually flown to Miami.

Keywords: Arrangements; Belongings; Buses; Chachapoyas (Peru); Closing borders; Coming home; Community; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Counterparts; Distance; Emails; Foreigners; Friends; Host family; Housing; Leaving; Lima (Peru); Local people; Locals; Lockdowns; Miami (Fla.); Peace Corps staff; Returning; Site mates; Social media; Transportation; Travel bans; Traveling; Uncertainty; Waiting periods

Subjects: Air travel; COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; International travel; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru; Stress (Psychology)

GPS: Chachapoyas (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -6.216667, -77.85
GPS: Lima (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -12.05, -77.033333
GPS: Miami (Fla.)
Map Coordinates: 75.775278, -80.208889
01:01:58 - Staying in touch

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Partial Transcript: Have you been able to stay in touch with any of the volunteers you served with?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia has kept in contact with a handful of Volunteers from her cohort. Several of them live in Gracia's area. Gracia has also been able to maintain contact with her host family in Pedro Ruiz using the internet. The COVID-19 situation there is getting worse. Gracia returned to her parents' home and quarantined for 2 weeks.

Keywords: Cohorts; Coming home; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Friends; Host family; Quarantines; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Returning

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Interpersonal relations and culture; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Peru

GPS: Pedro Ruiz Gallo
Map Coordinates: -5.9440911, -77.991847
01:04:52 - Transition back to the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: Uh, is there anything you think Peace Corps could have done to make the transition a little easier?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia would like for the noncompetitive eligibility period to be lengthened. Otherwise, Gracia has no suggestions on how the volunteers' transition back to the U.S. could have been improved.

Keywords: Adjustment; Noncompetitive Eligibility

Subjects: Employment; Peace Corps (U.S.)

01:05:59 - Gracia's suggestions for reforming the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Do you still feel Peace Corps is a valuable service? Would you recommend it?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia would not recommend joining the Peace Corps in the near term. Gracia feels that host country nationals on the Peace Corps staff should be consulted more by the country director. Peace Corps should provide better support to the Volunteers in the areas of mental health and sexual assault. Gracia questions the value of fielding young, inexperienced Volunteers.

Keywords: Black Lives Matter; Changes; Criticism; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Sexual assault

Subjects: Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.)

01:12:16 - Diversity in the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Uh, if at all, do you think your own culture, and background, identity shaped your view of the community around you?

Segment Synopsis: Gracia feels her Colombian heritage and international travel helped her adjustment as a Volunteer. Gracia felt insecure identifying as a Latina and she lacked confidence in her Spanish fluency. Based on her complexion, most people did not identify Garcia as Latina. Gracia grew up with an interest in other cultures and foods.

Keywords: Culture; Flexibility; Food; Hispanic Americans; Identity; Interests; Latina; Latinx; Skin color; Spanish (Language)

Subjects: Acculturation.; Culture.; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peru

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
01:16:05 - How Peace Corps service changed Gracia's self-perception

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Partial Transcript: Would you think your perception of yourself prior to Peace Corps, um, changed in any way having had this experience in Peru?

Segment Synopsis: Peace Corps service pushed Gracia to expand her comfort zone. It taught Gracia to be more flexible and more comfortable with herself. Because she was perceived of as white in Peru, Gracia faced different challenges than those in other racial groups. Gracia says she is unaware of any diversity issues involving members of her cohort. Gracia says that training of subsequent cohorts included more attention to sexual identity.

Keywords: Appearance; Assumptions; Cohorts; Comfort zones; Flexibility; People of color; Personal growth; Rural areas

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peru; Sexual orientation

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76