Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Richard Pyle, September 9, 2020

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


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00:00:01 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: This is September 8, 2020. This Randolph Adams who served in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1969, and I am interviewing Richard Pyle, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica from June 1966 to June 1968.

Segment Synopsis: An introduction to the interview with Richard Pyle by Randolph Adams.

Keywords: Jamaica

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18,14, -77,30
00:00:30 - Life before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Uh, let's start off the interview by asking you a little about what was your life like before Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: Pyle grew up in several small Midwestern communities where his parents lived. His father served as a pastor. Both his father and mother were very involved in their communities and in service work. During this period, he was also influenced and inspired by John F. Kennedy's "Call to Service." His undergraduate major was in history with a minor in Spanish at William Jewell College. This was followed up with a master's degree in counseling and guidance at Illinois State University. He was then employed at the high school level as a director of counseling and guidance and this was followed with work on the Student Affairs and coaching staffs at DePauw University.

Keywords: DePauw University; Education; Illinois State University; Influences; John F. Kennedy; Master's degrees; Motivation; Parents; Rural background; San Diego State College; Undergraduate education; William Jewell College

Subjects: Childhood; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Voluntarism

GPS: Illinois
Map Coordinates: 39.739182, -89.451439
GPS: William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri
Map Coordinates: 39.247601, -94.411413
GPS: Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
Map Coordinates: 40.512283, -88.99467
00:03:19 - Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: Um, let's start with the application process. You said it just took a few months.

Segment Synopsis: Pyle's application process took about two (2) months and was uneventful. His parents were very receptive to his interest in joining the Peace Corps, while his wife's parents were more concerned but eventually became supportive. He and his wife received their training at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). Training was both impressive and, in some ways, disturbing. Positive because of the classes and training in such areas as cross cultural issues, impact of Communism in the world, American studies, basic skills such as carpentry and physical fitness. Disturbing because of the psychological aspect of training. For example, some volunteers were not immediately informed as to their acceptance as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. Essentially, the training staff was trying to determine whether the volunteers could handle "the stress of not knowing."

Keywords: Application process; Applications; Family reaction; Guidance and counseling; Illinois; Peace Corps couples; Psychological assessment; San Diego State College; San Diego State College (University); Teacher training; Training; Training experience

Subjects: Communication and culture; Culture; Culture shock; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica

GPS: San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Map Coordinates: 32.7749529111789, -117.072522640228
00:15:36 - Location of home base / Work site, community activities, and leisure

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Partial Transcript: Uh, moving on to the assignment. Where were you actually, uh, based?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle was based in Lucea, a community in Hanover Parish located in northwest Jamaica, near Montego Bay, a tourist destination. As a result, there was a dichotomy between the wealthy tourist area and the surrounding native population which was poor. Pyle was pleased that he had an opportunity to serve in an impoverished area because it provided him a chance to have a greater impact on the lives of the native population. Pyle thought that community work, in his case, was as important, if not more important, than his actual assignment in the teacher training area. His community activities included playing sports with youngsters, teaching literacy, as well as growth and development classes, and participating in various church activities because churches had a lot to do with the community.

Keywords: Adult education; Basic education training; Community; Corporal punishment; Counseling and guidance; Education; Growth and development; Hanover Parish; Home stay; In country training; Isolation; Literacy; Loneliness; Lucea; Netball; Personal activities; Poverty; Primary schools; Secondary schools; Small business; Sports; Student government; Teachers; Teaching

Subjects: Culture; Friendship; Manners and customs; Non-governmental organizations; Nonprofit organizations; Occupations; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Poverty; School management and organization; Student activities; Tutoring and tutoring

GPS: Lucea, Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.45095, -78.17356
GPS: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.476223, -77.893890
GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.109581, -77.297508
00:21:57 - Introduction to the work site and work assignment

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Partial Transcript: Uh, curious about how you first arrived at your site.

Segment Synopsis: Upon arrival in Jamaica, Pyle and his wife attended in-country training, including acculturation classes at the University of West Indies in Kingston. They also met their supervisors and then were taken to their work site in Lucea. Here they met the faculty and staff at the secondary and primary schools in the province. Pyle's assignment included going to different primary schools where he taught counseling and guidance techniques and methodologies to the teachers. At the high school, he set up a guidance department and helped to establish a student council. He also performed typical counseling activities, including assisting students with a variety of day to day issues and, in some instances, dealt with student behavioral problems.

Keywords: Counseling and guidance; Cultural training; Education; Education volunteers; In-country training; Leisure; Market; Primary schools; Secondary schools; Sports; Student government; Teachers; Teaching

Subjects: Acculturation; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; School management and organization; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: University West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.0042844638701, -76.7455101013184
00:30:59 - Faculty reaction to establishment of student council and enhanced student expression

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Partial Transcript: One question about the school and--(clears throat)--starting the student council, how did the administration and, and, uh, faculty react to that?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle says that British faculty, often British-trained and expatriates, were receptive to the encouragement of student involvement and participation in activities such as student government or student council. On the other hand, Jamaican faculty, especially at the primary school level, were generally not very receptive to student involvement in student activities such as student councils and the like. Pyle says that these faculty members seemed to feel that youngsters should be "seen but not heard." As a result, student involvement was not well received. The Jamaican faculty could be very harsh with youngsters and, in some cases, corporal punishment was practiced. He discusses the possible connection between corporal punishment and the history of slavery. The corporal punishment seemed especially unusual or odd to Pyle since the native Jamaican teachers and people in general were very friendly in a social and non-school settings.

Keywords: Corporate punishment; Education; Student activities; Student council; Student government

Subjects: Culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Schools; Student activities

00:33:43 - Expectations versus reality in Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Overall, how did, uh, your expectations compare with the reality?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle's expectations were limited. In part, he applied to the Peace Corps in order to experience another culture and this expectation was met. This included his first introduction to a Black culture. While he had no interactions with Black people prior to entering the Peace Corps, his upbringing left no innate or ingrained prejudices. As result, the reality is that he encountered no significant problems or issues in either his assignment or social life while serving in Jamaica. Pyle notes that native Jamaicans who lived in predominantly tourist areas such as Kinston and Montego Bay had negative thoughts about wealthy, out-of-country tourists. Racial tensions may have increased in more recent years, he observes.

Keywords: Prejudices; Race relations; Skin color

Subjects: Culture; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Race relations; Racism

00:38:33 - Living conditions

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Partial Transcript: Um--(clears throat)--you mentioned you first had a, a host family when you first arrived but then you moved into your own home. What was the, the living condition like?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle says he and his wife initially lived with a host family for a couple weeks before moving into their own apartment where they lived for a couple months. At that point they moved into a house which had plumbing issues. As a result, they often did not have running water and had to carry water up a hill. Here they became involved in the neighborhood. This included interaction with the native families. Their neighbors included a variety of expatriates who were faculty members and professionals--generally a good cross section of friends. These various contacts/friends who held positions of influence in the community played a role when Pyle sought to start local civic clubs.

Keywords: Civic clubs; Community; Host families; Housing; Living conditions; Non-government organizations; Non-profit organizations; Professions; Social life

Subjects: Friendship; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica

00:43:27 - Vacations and out-of-country travel

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Partial Transcript: Did you take vacations while you were a volunteer?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle and his wife took three vacations to Mexico while in the Peace Corps: Yucatan Peninsula where they visited Merida, capital of the Yucatan state, and the Uxmal archaeological site; Mexico City where they took in the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon; and finally they visited Acapulco for some relaxation.

Keywords: Leisure; Subsidence allowance; Travel; Traveling; Vacations

Subjects: Culture; International travel; Mexico; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Travel

GPS: Merida, Mexico

Map Coordinates: 20.97537, -89.61696
GPS: Mexico City, Mexico
Map Coordinates: 19.4319147, -99.1338611
GPS: Acapulco, Mexico
Map Coordinates: 16.863611, -99.882500
00:44:34 - Main accomplishments and lessons learned / Regrets and disappointments / Long term personal impact

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Partial Transcript: Looking back on your service, what, what do you think, uh, were your main accomplishments?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle says his accomplishments included teaching people to read and write, developing long lasting personal relationships with people in Lucea, developing the foundations for civic groups and, most powerfully, a better understanding of himself. The most important lesson learned is that people are alike in so many ways--they have similar yearnings and desires. This was a very powerful lesson. Pyle says he has no regrets about his Peace Corps service. He would serve all over again. Indeed, it was the best two years of any two years of his life. His Peace Corps Volunteer service had a dramatic and long lasting impact of his life and career. For example, he, along with and his wife, have trained Peace Corps Volunteers in San Diego and he has worked as a psychologist at the training center in Puerto Rico, employed as a Country Director in the Eastern Caribbean, served as a volunteer on the National Peace Corps Association board and finally employed as a psychologist at the National Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. And he continues to work on Peace Corps projects today.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Careers; Civic groups; Literacy; Psychologists; Psychology; Puerto Rico; Regrets; Relationships; Self understanding; Similarity of people

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S)--National Peace Corps Association Board; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.)--National headquarters

00:55:29 - Future of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: To sum up, I guess I would just ask you: is Peace Corps still worth it or is its time come to an end?

Segment Synopsis: Pyle says that ideally there will always be a Peace Corps because of the human conditions in the world that call people to serve. Pyle thinks that if the Peace Corps does not continue to exist, a similar organization will be needed.

Keywords: Future of the Peace Corps; Human conditions; Humanitarian conditions; Volunteering

Subjects: College students--Attitudes; College students--Social conditions; International relations and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Volunteers