Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Zachary Klim, September 30, 2020

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

 

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00:00:00 - Influences on him to have considered the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Today is September 30, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Zachary Klim grew up in Albany, New York, with interactions with a refugee family from Guatemala. They had a band that went to churches and he played with them. He experienced the food and hearing the language. They invited him to go to Guatemala with them one summer but his family did not agree. Another neighbor had volunteered in Afghanistan. They introduced him to that culture, its food and literature. They described a trip they made driving from there to Berlin. That introduced him to Peace Corps. He dated a person whose family had volunteered in Mali. At University of Buffalo, his sole plan for graduation in 1998 was Peace Corps. To be more competitive to Peace Corps, he got teaching credentials for instruction in English and Spanish. He assumed and hoped he would go to Central or South America.

Keywords: Afghanistan; Albany (New York); America; Americans; Berlin; Central America; Certification; Childhood; Education; Guatemala; Irish Catholic; Language skills; Mali; Marimba; Peace Corps; Plans; Refugee; South America; Spanish; Teaching credentials; Undergraduate education; University of Buffalo; Volunteers

Subjects: Afghanistan; Berlin; Careers; Childhood; College campuses; Communication and culture; Families; Food habits; Friendship; Guatemala; Higher education; Immigrants; Intercultural communication; International travel; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Mali; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Universities and colleges; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Albany (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 42.6525, -73.757222
GPS: Guatemala
Map Coordinates: 15.5, -90.25
GPS: Afghanistan
Map Coordinates: 33, 65
GPS: Berlin (Germany)
Map Coordinates: 52.52, 13.405
GPS: Mali
Map Coordinates: 17, -4
GPS: University of Buffalo
Map Coordinates: 43, -78.789167
00:06:43 - Application and waiting to join Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: How long did the application take from when you submitted it to when you were first contacted?

Segment Synopsis: Klim didn't remember how long the application process was. He had no alternative plans. He graduated summer of 1999 and then went to Provincetown, Cape Cod, and worked as a waiter. It was good for tips to tell people you are going to the Peace Corps. He had a choice between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Everybody said Zimbabwe. He chose Bangladesh, knowing nothing about either country. After the summer he painted houses and shipped off in January.

Keywords: Applying; Bangladesh; Cape Cod (Mass.); Conversations; Provincetown (Mass.); Summer job; Tips; Waiter; Zimbabwe

Subjects: Education, Higher; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Universities and colleges

GPS: Provincetown (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.058, -70.179
GPS: Cape Cod (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 41.68, -70.2
GPS: Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24, 90
GPS: Zimbabwe
Map Coordinates: 20, 30
00:08:37 - Teacher-training beginnings

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Partial Transcript: And it was, uh, in education?

Segment Synopsis: Klim and his fellow volunteers were the second group to Bangladesh. They went as teacher-trainers. He went to a primary teacher-trainer college in Netrakona in northern Bangladesh on the Indian border. They were the first volunteers there. Teaching English was not part of the curriculum. Their presence was exciting but training was a challenge.

Keywords: Curriculum; Indian border; Netrakona; Teacher-trainer colleges; Teacher-trainers; Teachers; Trainers

Subjects: Emotions; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; School management and organization; Schools; Teachers; Teaching; Travel

GPS: Netrakona, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24.88, 90.73
00:09:58 - Application process / Reactions of family and friends

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Partial Transcript: Were there any parts of the application process that were challenging? Or was it--did it go fairly smoothly?

Segment Synopsis: The application process went smoothly. He did not remember it very well. He was thrilled to have had a choice of two countries. He was open to any country. The reaction of family and friends was curiosity but no surprise. They did not know Bangladesh.

Keywords: Application; Bangladesh (East Pakistan); Choice; Reactions; Support system

Subjects: Emotions; Families; Friendship; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh

GPS: Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24, 90
00:11:16 - Early in-country training

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Partial Transcript: Let's go into the pre-service training process first before we get into the actual assignment.

Segment Synopsis: Pre-service training was in-country in Dhaka, the capital, then to a smaller city 80 miles north, Mymensingh. Volunteers lived with host families. Training was at the National Academy of Primary Education. He became close with the host family, a widow and her daughter (which was unusual since he was a single man) and the extended family. There were 35 volunteers at first but some left quickly. Bangladesh was challenging, especially for women and the restrictions on them. Some left for mental health, wellness, or having an unanticipated situation. There were field trips for groups of 5-6 for long weekends to visit some host sites. He went to Comilla, Bangladesh, to visit B1 (the first cohort) to get a sense of life at the sites.

Keywords: Bangladesh (East Pakistan); Challenges; Comilla; Dhaka; Education volunteers; Extended family; Field trips; Host families; Host family; Host mothers; Host sisters; Housing; Mental health; Mymensingh; National Academy of Primary Education; On-site training; Peace Corps staff; Pre-service training; Restrictions on women; Training centers

Subjects: Emotions; Families; Health; Manners and customs; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Volunteers

GPS: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 23.763889, 90.388889
00:15:45 - Language, technical, and cross-cultural training

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Partial Transcript: The, the language, technical training, cross-cultural training, the, the three key blocks of pre-service training. How did your language go?

Segment Synopsis: Klim says that the training was sub-par, by inexperienced trainers. He went on to be proficient in Bengla (or Bengali) because of friends. He tested out advanced at the end of service. The teacher-training was familiar from graduate study. It served the needs of others who were inexperienced teachers. Many have gone on in the education field. Cross cultural education was helpful. Bangladesh is conservative, primarily Muslim. The area he went to had many Hindus. There are many do's and don'ts in the society and volunteers live under scrutiny. Adaptation was important. He felt comfortable in training to ask questions about family, sanitation. Instructors for that were Americans.

Keywords: Adaptation; Bangla; Bangladesh (East Pakistan); Bengali; Cross-cultural training; Cultural training; Culture; Do's and don'ts; Education; Education programs; Education volunteers; Graduate studies; Hindu; Muslim; Sanitation; Teacher training

Subjects: Communication and culture; Culture; Emotions; Families; Friendship; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:20:11 - Hindus in Bangladesh

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Partial Transcript: Were any volunteers trained in Hindi?

Segment Synopsis: There are Hindu Bangladeshi who spoke Bengali which is also spoken in west Bengal, India. It was a porous border. Many had relatives in India.

Keywords: Bangladeshi; Borders; Hindu; India

Subjects: India; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh

00:20:50 - Support system among volunteers / Location of site at Netrakona

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Partial Transcript: So, any general summary about your training? Did you feel sufficiently prepared before you went to site, or would you, in retrospect, would have appreciated some additional information?

Segment Synopsis: Klim says he felt eager to start. The most important aspect of pre-service training was building a support network with other volunteers. They met, became pen pals, and became a family. His site was Netrakona, 4 hours from Dhaka by bus and 1 hour from the training site by a land route, without river crossings that others had to use. He was the first volunteer there. Others had visited a women's empowerment group there during training. He did a secondary project with that.

Keywords: Dhaka; Distance; Education; Education programs; Education volunteers; Family; Friends; Friendships; Land route; Netrakona; Pre-service training; Relationships; River; Secondary projects; Site visits; Support circles; Support networks; Support systems; Teacher training; Training; Transportation; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Families; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Volunteers

GPS: Netrakona, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24.88, 90.73
GPS: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 23.763889, 90.388889
GPS: Mymensingh, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24.753889, 90.403056
00:24:19 - Arrival at site

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Partial Transcript: When you got to your site, did it meet your expectations or was there anything that surprised you?

Segment Synopsis: Klim says that it was a tumultuous start at the primary institute with its 800 in-service teachers living on campus. A new superintendent cracked down on cheating and that caused a violent revolt. He tried to give the interviewee a message to telegraph for help in the first week. The volunteer had no phone. An undergraduate college next door had unrest. The tension subsided soon. Everyone was kind to him. A new superintendent allowed things to return to normal. He began to live in a men's dorm which had public bathrooms. There was a sparrow infestation. He lost weight because of the cafeteria food. Drought was coming and there was no running water. Bathing was in a lake. Friends found a new apartment in a gated area with more privacy. His left-handedness was unusual in the culture and fascinating to many people since in the culture the left hand is only to clean oneself.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adaptability; Adaptation; Adjustment; Arrangements; Attitudes; Cell phones; Challenges; Challenging; Changes; Cheating; Cultural differences; Culture; Dormitory; Drought; Flexibility; Food; Friends; Friendships; Health; Housing; Left handed; Living conditions; Living situation; Local people; Locals; Primary institute; Public bathroom; Running water; Sparrows; Superintendent; Support circles; Support networks; Support systems; Telephone calls; Unrest; Weight loss

Subjects: College campuses; Communication and culture; Culture; Emotions; Food habits; Health; Hygiene; Interpersonal relations and culture; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; School management and organization; Schools; Social norms; Teachers; Teaching; Universities and colleges; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers; interpersonal relations

00:30:42 - Improved living accommodations

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Partial Transcript: Did it have running water and electricity?

Segment Synopsis: Running water and electricity were sporadic in a new, improved apartment. Meals were with families after cooking was a disaster. He had breakfast at a tea stand. People would watch. Friends coordinated to feed him and he taught their children English and spent time with them. He was less than a mile from school so he walked for exercise and to explore. Rickshaws were available.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adaptability; Adaptation; Adjustments; Arrangements; Challenges; Challenging; Changes; Distance; Electricity; Family; Flexibility; Food; Friends; Friendships; Housing; Living conditions; Living situation; Local people; Locals; Relationships; Running water; Stipend; Support circles; Support networks; Support systems; Tea stand; Transportation

Subjects: Communication and culture; Culture; Families; Food habits; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh

GPS: Netrakona, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24.88, 90.73
00:35:01 - Typical work day

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about a typical work day? What was it like from getting up to going back to bed?

Segment Synopsis: Klim went to tea stand at railroad station for breakfast every day. That was an interesting place to observe the activity. He had paratha (fried bread) and eggs every day. People were alarmed at someone eating so much protein. Eggs were considered an aphrodisiac. The tea had lots of sugar and condensed milk. A professor often recited poetry as they ate. At the primary teacher center he tried to infuse English but that was not very successful. The new superintendent ruled with an iron fist and treated women in ways that seemed inappropriate. He would visit but not teach very much, focusing on games and songs. English was not in the curriculum so it was not valuable. He had no counterpart since no one was going to teach English.

Keywords: Activities; Aphrodisiac; Counterparts; Cultural differences; Culture; Curriculum; Daily routines; Education; Education programs; English education; Learning; Local people; Locals; Paratha; Poetry; Railroad station; Relationships; School systems; Tea stand; Teachers; Teaching

Subjects: Communication and culture; Culture; Food habits; Friendship; Health; Interpersonal relations; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; School management and organization; Schools; Sexism; Social norms; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:38:47 - Secondary and tertiary projects

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Partial Transcript: What did Peace Corps have to say about that, if anything?

Segment Synopsis: That English was not in the curriculum was a source of frustration. As a member of the action committee he heard other volunteers say the same thing. Peace Corps had agreed with the Bangladeshi government to send volunteers to teach English. Volunteers had little guidance about how to do that. Volunteers focused on secondary and tertiary projects, with varying success. He worked with an entrepreneurial women's empowerment NGO, and did some professional development. They had funding from Sweden and U.S. so English was useful to them for visits from foreigners, grant applications, and reports. They received funding from Norway for a women's maternity hospital. He became a consultant for that.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Action committee; Activities; Challenges; Challenging; Changes; Community development; Community involvement; Education; Education programs; Education volunteers; Empowerment; English education; English education projects; Entrepreneurs; Flexibility; Frustration; Funding; Grant; Hospital; Hospitals; International development; Non-governmental Organization; Norway; Public health; Report; School systems; Secondary projects; Sweden; Teacher training; Teachers; Teaching; Tertiary projects; U.S.; Women's empowerment

Subjects: Community health services; Health; Hospitals; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Non-governmental organization; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Public health; Volunteers

GPS: Sweden
Map Coordinates: 63, 16
GPS: U.S.
Map Coordinates: 40, -100
GPS: Norway
Map Coordinates: 61, 8
00:41:34 - Hospital / English center / Vocational school

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Partial Transcript: Was the hospital public or focused on, uh, maternal, childhood, or?

Segment Synopsis: Klim worked with a hospital focused on maternity and children's disability. It was not government funded and there was a government hospital in Netrakona. The maternity hospital provided services at-cost or no cost to vulnerable persons. WHO did a nation-wide polio immunization project. Friends who fed him encouraged a community English language center. It was later named Zany Zach's Post-Modern English Academy. He was the first teacher. It became a vocational school for embroidery, block printing, automotive and refrigerator repair. So he was happy with meaningful projects. The interviewer notes that Klim was engaged in organizational development, grant writing. Klim notes that a VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) volunteer there modeled those things.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Changes; Community center; Community development; Community involvement; Education; Education programs; Education projects; Empowerment; English; English education; Flexibility; Hospitals; Immunization; Learning; Maternity; Netrakona; Polio; Public health; Secondary projects; VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas); Vocational school; World Health Organization

Subjects: Community health services; Families; Food habits; Friendship; Health; Hospitals; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Public health; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Netrakona, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24.88, 90.73
00:44:49 - Take-aways and lessons learned

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Partial Transcript: Um, looking back at your service, what, what do you feel was your main accomplishment?

Segment Synopsis: Klim is proud of the vocational/English language school. It was a learning process in consensus building, community organizing, and needs assessment. English had little value for the villagers. They had no internet. Vocational skills were useful. His takeaways and lessons learned about development (in the goal of community development) were flexibility and adaptability, an entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to explore, and resourcefulness when resources were scarce. Those served him later as an educator. There was the lack of chalk, electricity (working by candlelight in the heat, at night). In the volunteer action committee he saw similar conditions across the program. Those who left did so early (in training) and others stayed. Those others continued in teacher training centers and youth development offices. Most formed other relationships and were busy and content.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Adaptability; Challenges; Challenging; Changes; Community development; Community involvement; Community organizing; Consensus building; Cooperation; Early termination; Education; Education programs; Empowerment; English education; English education projects; Entrepreneurship; Flexibility; Needs assessment; Public health; Resourcefulness; Resources; School systems; Secondary projects; Teacher training; Vocational skills; Voluntary action committee; Youth development

Subjects: Careers; Communication and culture; Culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Schools; Social norms; Teachers; Teaching; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:50:18 - Post Peace Corps education and career

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Partial Transcript: How do you think your service affected your future plans? Did you expect to go into teaching after you left Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Klim had not expected to continue in teaching. Since he did enjoy it, he joined a fellows program at Teachers College (Columbia University). It funded his master's in TESOL. He is now at New York University as a professional in international education. He completed a PhD in international education. That is a result of Peace Corps. His work has fulfilled Peace Corps' goals of capacity development, being exposed to Bangladeshi culture, and Bangladeshis were exposed to him as an American. For the fellowship he taught in a high needs school, Seward Park on the lower east side of New York City. It has served immigrants for over a century. Bangladeshis were among his students. There was a Bengali Club. He discussed Peace Corps with students. He conscientiously discussed Peace Corps at home.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Accountability; Activities; Bangladesh (East Pakistan); Career paths; Careers; College majors; Columbia University; Conversations; Doctorate; Education; Education programs; Fellows program; Graduate schools; International development; International education; Master's degrees; New York City; New York University; PhD; Seward Park High School; TESOL; Teacher training; Teachers; Teachers College; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL); Teaching

Subjects: Careers; College campuses; Education; Education, Higher; Immigrants; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal communication and culture; Interpersonal relations; Interpersonal relations and culture; Language and culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Schools; Teachers; Teaching; Universities and colleges

GPS: Teachers College (Columbia University)
Map Coordinates: 40.8101, -73.96107
GPS: New York University
Map Coordinates: 40.73, -73.995
GPS: New York City
Map Coordinates: 40.71274, -74.005974
00:54:53 - Post-service Peace Corps connections

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Partial Transcript: Um, a--apart from exposing your students to your own international experiences, have you maintained any contact with the Peace Corps network itself?

Segment Synopsis: Klim may have gone to one event from Peace Corps after the end of service. He has maintained a network of those he volunteered with. They had reunions until the COVID-19 pandemic. They have had Zoom meetings and communicated since. Bangladesh was open and closed several times as a Peace Corps country so, regrettably, there is no active involvement of Peace Corps.

Keywords: Activities; Close of service; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Volunteers

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Friendship; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh

00:57:35 - Evacuation after 9/11

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Partial Transcript: Volunteers had been, um, evacuated from Bangladesh after 9/11.

Segment Synopsis: Volunteers were not well informed about evacuation due to 9/11. They were consolidated in Dhaka with only a backpack and then left for Bangkok after 2 days. They were in Thailand for a month. It was traumatic. Security investigators thought Bangladesh was dangerous so their Peace Corps service ended three months early. Klim did not believe it was dangerous. He and five others returned to Bangladesh independently to say good-bye and have closure. He was not sure if he used the Peace Corps passport or his personal one.

Keywords: 9*11; 9/11/2001; Belongings; Challenges; Challenging; Changes; Close of service; Closure; Dhaka; Evacuations; Passports; Peace Corps staff; Safety; September 11, 2001; Thailand; Transportation; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Air travel; Emotions; Evacuation; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001; Travel; Volunteers

GPS: Bangkok, Thailand
Map Coordinates: 13.7525, 100.494167
GPS: Thailand
Map Coordinates: 15, 101
GPS: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 23.763889, 90.388889
01:03:30 - Diversity issues or discrimination

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Partial Transcript: There is also questions, uh, about diversity issues, be it ethnic, cultural, racial, um, sexual orientation.

Segment Synopsis: Klim says that his group of fellow volunteers was not diverse in color. He had conversations with volunteers of color about being among other white Americans. The perception of Bangladeshis is of white Americans and that brought some challenges. He identifies as a gay male and chose to live in the closet in Bangladesh. He says it would have been a good idea to address the issue of diversity in training.

Keywords: African Americans; Attitudes; Black Americans; Challenges; Challenging; Conversations; Discrimination; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Homosexuality; LGBTQ+; LGBTQ+ community; Living situation; Orientation; Peace Corps staff; People of color; Pre-service training; Racial discrimination; Relationships; Sexuality

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Race discrimination; Race relations; Sexism; Sexual minorities--Identity; Sexual orientation; Social norms

01:06:14 - Collaboration with former student for publication

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Partial Transcript: Basically we're at the end of the interview so give you the opportunity...

Segment Synopsis: The English education and vocational school has continued. One student had been shy and he has succeeded in college and studied in the U.K. On Facebook (where Klim is connected to many Bangladeshis) he learned that the young man now has a PhD in computers. They are going to collaborate on research on higher education leadership and international education. A publication is in the works. He is grateful it came from his Peace Corps experience.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Activities; Career paths; Careers; College; Education; Education programs; English education; English education projects; Graduate schools; International development; Publication; Relationships; Secondary projects

Subjects: College campuses; Communication and culture; Education, Higher; Emotions; Friendship; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Bangladesh; Teachers; Teaching; Travel; Universities and colleges

GPS: U.K.
Map Coordinates: 55, -3