Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Katharine Kimball, September 29, 2020

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

 

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00:00:00 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: Today is September 29, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Before joining Peace Corps, Kimball describes choosing to study Spanish in middle school at the suggestion of her mother who thought that the language would be helpful in her life. She continued to study it in high school, and majored in it in college (with a minor in political science). As a junior in college, studied in Spain. After graduation from college, Kimball worked in housing and immigrant/refugee issues. Her parents, in retrospect, wanted to do Peace Corps, but didn't; it was a family value. Kimball met with a Peace Corps recruiter on her campus; the application process took close to a year. Her first placement was in Honduras, which she rejected based on political issues there at the time. When an offer to go to Costa Rica came up, she had already signed a year's contract with a school system to teach, so she also rejected that country. She reapplied to Peace Corps after completing her contract and went to the Dominican Republic (DR). To Kimball, the paperwork was a lot of work but worthwhile. One RPCV who served in DR told Kimball stories about tarantulas that entered her house when it rained, and that unsettled Kimball. However, she lived in Constanza where there weren't many spiders. Kimball's parents supported her decision to enter the Peace Corps. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and, subsequently, died while Kimball was in DR. Her host family requested that Kimball stay with them again when she returned to service.

Keywords: Application process; Family value; Parental support; Placements; Spanish (Language); Studying Spanish

Subjects: Families; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Constanza, Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 18.91, -70.75
00:10:37 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Um, let's get to the--your pre-service training.

Segment Synopsis: Kimball stayed with a host family living close to the training site. Since she was fluent in Spanish, she and the others who were similarly proficient were assigned an independent study project that entailed visiting current volunteers and making business connections. The technical training included site visits to schools, learning to make teaching materials relevant to remote areas, and learning to make requests for assistance to corporations. Some time was spent on group facilitation. Kimball's mother died before training ended; upon her return, she completed training with another cohort. Safety and security issues weren't addressed until a volunteer was assaulted. The "word" from Peace Corps was it was safest for women to live with a family. Kimball rented a room in a house with a family. The training staff was a mix of DR nationals, professional trainers, Peace Corps staff and volunteers who extended their service to help train new volunteers. Kimball feels that she was prepared for service, as she's self-motivated. Volunteers were given mountain bikes but no helmets (they had to buy them themselves); they were told not to ride on moped taxis without helmets.

Keywords: Language proficiency; Safety and security; Technical training

Subjects: Acculturation; Families; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
00:20:46 - Living arrangements in mountains of the Dominican Republic

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Partial Transcript: Let's move from your training to, to your site.

Segment Synopsis: In the DR, Kimball lived and worked in Tireo Al Medio in the Constanza region. She lived on a windy mountain road; when she arrived, she realized that she was in the mountains and she had only tropical clothing with her. Crops in the mountains include garlic and cabbage, cold weather crops. Tireo Al Medio was a small town with one school on the main street, a medical clinic, and small stores. Water came from a spring and spigot; Kimball never had to treat her water nor did she get sick from drinking it. Her house had electricity, which was not typical; the house did not have heat, though. The house where she lived had its own entrance, she shared the bathroom with the family; the house was cement block with corrugated tin for the roof. Flies were a problem, especially after the crops were treated. Rats were another issue. Kimball remains in contact with her fellow volunteers. In-country, she communicated with them via faxes since phone communication was expensive and letters were slow. Volunteers took weekend vacations together and collaborated on projects. Conferences were held by Peace Corps staff which provided opportunities to connect with other volunteers. About half of the volunteers completed their service; the others left before the end of service for various reasons. She enjoyed the fluidity and autonomy of Peace Corps in DR, but others didn't thrive as well as she did in this situation.

Keywords: Autonomy; Autonomy within Peace Corps; Connections with other volunteers; Faxes; Living arrangements; Living conditions; Mountain village; Spring water

Subjects: Acculturation; Communication and culture; Culture; Culture shock; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Constanza, Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 18.91, -70.75
00:33:29 - Aspects of daily life

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Partial Transcript: Can you give me sort of a, a sense of a typical day, from getting up to going to bed.

Segment Synopsis: Kimball first lived with a family in which the mother was involved in community organizations; they had that connection. This family left the area and rented the house to another family, so her routine changed. Often, she'd talk with the school principal about a project, especially the school store that sold snacks and school supplies; the profit from sales paid for his travel costs from Constanza, where he lived. She helped him make it more profitable. "Barrita" is the word for the store. Much candy was sold there, which wasn't healthy since there were no dentists. A local 'mom and pop' store was situated at the end of the school property and the school store competed with it. Kimball also worked with a women's group that was self-sustaining. When the group wanted to buy land for a center, Kimball served as the face for the group to the owner of the land. She picked and chose groups that she felt she could help empowering people. One project involved painting murals on the barren walls of the school, on which students and staff collaborated. The school had about 10 teachers and about 8 classrooms. Teaching was rote. Kimball had 1 year of teaching education and tried to demonstrate different ways of teaching. In 2 years, that was hard to do. She declined teaching English to students. In a small town where she and another volunteer gave a workshop, a woman offered Kimball her baby to take back to the U.S. for a better future. Kimball tried to help others realize that they have more opportunity than they might envision on their own. People in another village wanted Kimball to help them electrify it, but, again, she declined. Before Kimball, there had been another volunteer in the village.

Keywords: Mother offering her baby; Murals; Parent-teacher organizations; School principals; Small store within the school; Women's groups

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Constanza, Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 18.91, -70.75
00:49:58 - Accomplishments during service

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Partial Transcript: What would you consider was your greatest accomplishment?

Segment Synopsis: Kimball states that her greatest accomplishment was her connections with the people with whom she interacted. People asked her why she was in the DR as an American; giving back as a foreigner wasn't a shared value but it made an impression on people. She indicated that it was a family value and that interested people in her village. The fact that she'd come so far to do this resonated with people. The health fair that she conducted was probably the most successful of her projects. A women's group gave a workshop on safe sex practices, Colgate gave one on dental hygiene, and another on safety practices related to pesticides. However, a priest protested the information regarding safe sex and the health fair overall, which discouraged participation at the fair. Many kids got free toothbrushes and practice in brushing their teeth, so all was not lost. Such educational forums, in order to take real effect, in Kimball's estimation, need repetition and frequency. It was held in the school; it was a day-long program. Lunch was served, which was important. Kimball feels that, although she contributed to the village, that she gained much more herself than she gave: she was profoundly changed as a result of her service, perhaps more than the people with whom she interacted. Having said that, she is in contact via Facebook with a young man who was 8-9 years old when Kimball was in the DR: she evidently impressed him. According to Kimball, she wishes that she could have done more -- two years pass quickly. She decided against extending her service knowing that she had to restart her career in the U.S.

Keywords: Accomplishment; Health fairs; Priests; Profound changes; Questioning "giving back"; Safe sex

Subjects: Intercultural communication; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Constanza, Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 18.91, -70.75
00:58:59 - Reflections on lessons learned

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about lessons learned?

Segment Synopsis: Kimball states that among the things that she learned were an ability to be a minority and feel comfortable in that role, and the ability to "walk in others' shoes," understanding their decisions. These abilities are useful in her work as a photo journalist. Her service also gave her an appreciation of the gifts that she has as an American. Learning the dialects of Spanish helps her connect with other Spanish speakers. She understands better now why people immigrate. Giving back, now, has become an integral part of her life, not just a 2-year experience.

Keywords: Empathy; Gaining empathy; Gifts being an American; Giving back; Giving back as an integral value in her life; Minority

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Dominican Republic; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667
01:02:15 - Effects of Peace Corps in Kimball's life

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Partial Transcript: What about the Peace Corps' three goals?

Segment Synopsis: Kimball relates to teaching others about Peace Corps, particularly as a high school teacher. When she's not shooting as a photo journalist, she substitutes as a Spanish teacher in a public school where she talks about her experiences with students. She talks about how it expanded her horizons enormously. Peace Corps ranks high in her peak life experiences. Kimball is in touch with fellow volunteers and emergency crisis corps. She and her partner are thinking about serving again in Latin America.

Keywords: Peak experience; Substitute Spanish teachers

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

GPS: Dominican Republic
Map Coordinates: 19, -70.666667