Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Dan Wagner, December 17, 2020

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

 

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00:00:00 - Motivation for joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Today is December 17, 2020. I am Evelyn Ganzglass. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Somalia from 1966 to 1968. And today, I'm interviewing Dan Wagner who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 1968 to 1970.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: Wagner started studying at Cornell University in 1964 and was aware of President Kennedy and the Peace Corps. In college, Wagner became involved with a nonprofit organization which led to his summer employment in the United Kingdom and Amsterdam. During his senior year, a Peace Corps recruiter, who was new to the campus, approached Wagner by chance and Wagner casually agreed to apply even though he already had plans to attend graduate school. Several months later, Wagner got a completely unexpected telegram signed by Haile Salassie welcoming him to the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Wagner made a collect call to the Peace Corps for more information and eventually got switched from Ethiopia to Morocco, in part because Morocco had a program for engineers which had no candidates and in part because Wagner wanted to learn French.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Amsterdam (The Netherlands); Applications; Applying; Awareness; Bureaucracy; Changes; Choices; College majors; Cornell University; French (Language); Future plans; Haile Salassie; Jobs; John F. Kennedy; Learning; News; Peace Corps interviews; Peace Corps recruiters; Peace Corps staff; Telephone calls; Undergraduate education

Subjects: College campuses; College students--Employment; Ethiopia; Nonprofit organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.)--1960-1970; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; United Kingdom

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Ethiopia
Map Coordinates: 8, 38
GPS: Cornell University
Map Coordinates: 42.447222, -76.483056
GPS: United Kingdom
Map Coordinates: 55, -3
GPS: Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Map Coordinates: 52.366667, 4.9
00:09:41 - Parents' reaction to Wagner's joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: But then, they got back to me and said, "Well, you have to report to," um, it was actually, "Denver, Denver, Colorado for training."

Segment Synopsis: Wagner had already been accepted at graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in psychology when Peace Corps asked him to report to Denver for pre-service training. Wagner opted for the Peace Corps. Wagner had grown up in Chicago. Wagner's parents were supportive, although at first they thought he was going to Monaco.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Chicago (Ill.); Choices; Denver (Colo.); Graduate schools; Misconceptions; Pre-service training; Support; Telephone calls

Subjects: Families.; Parents

GPS: Denver (Co.)
Map Coordinates: 39.739167, -104.990278
GPS: Chicago (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.881944, -87.627778
GPS: Principality of Monaco
Map Coordinates: 43.733333, 7.416667
00:13:03 - Wagner's cohort

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you another question.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: Wagner's program had 6 Volunteers, 4 of whom eventually early terminated. Although Wagner had studied computer engineering, the project of his cohort involved civil engineering, specifically the building of canals and dams in rural Morocco. Wagner's cohort also included Volunteers in an English teaching program. The English teachers received Arabic language training. The engineers studied Arabic and French. Volunteers in the teaching program had already been required to pass an exam in French fluency which was waived for the engineering Volunteers.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Arabic (Language); College majors; Examinations; Exams; French (Language); Language training; Rural areas; Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Language and languages; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Volunteer workers in education

00:18:00 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Was your French good after training or did you really develop it when you were overseas?

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: For part of pre-service training, the 6 engineers in Wagner's group were housed separately from the English teachers in a primitive cabin in the mountains rather than in a dormitory. For technical training, they practiced making canals out of rocks which they had broken up with sledge hammers. Wagner says this turned out to be a practical experience. When Wagner repeated any lesson segment after the French language teacher incorrectly, the teacher would hit Wagner over the head with the 4 pound textbook. Eventually, it was arranged for Wagner to study French on his own. But this experience contributed to Wagner's subsequent, on-going interest in methods of pedagogy around the world. Eventually, Wagner was assigned to a remote town of 25,000 people in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where no one spoke English. Wagner was paired with another engineer in his cohort and they were able to support each other during their service.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Acclimation; Atlas Mountains; Books; Changes; Coming home; French (Language); Housing; Interests; Language training; Leaving; Problems; Red Rocks (Colo.); Returning; Rural areas; Site mates; Support; Technical training; Techniques; Towns; Traveling

Subjects: Acculturation; Burkina Faso; Emotions; International travel; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Teachers; Volunteers

GPS: Atlas Mountains
Map Coordinates: 31.061944, -7.916111
GPS: Burkina Faso
Map Coordinates: 12.333333, -1.833333
GPS: Red Rocks (Colo.)
Map Coordinates: 39.661944, -7.916111
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:27:55 - Wagner's arrival in Morocco

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, you finished training. And then did you go home before you left?

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: During pre-service training, Wagner's cohort had been advised to buy heavy boots and clothing because of cold weather and snakes. When Wagner's group arrived in Morocco, via Paris, wearing these warm clothes, the temperature was 100 degrees and everyone else was wearing shorts and sandals. Wagner's cohort was housed in a hotel in Rabat for about 3 weeks for further cultural training and lessons in Arabic.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Advice; Arabic (Language); Casablanca (Morocco); Clothing; Cohorts; Cultural training; Housing; Language training; Misconceptions; Paris (France); Pre-service training; Preparation; Professors; Rabat (Morocco); Traveling; Weather

Subjects: International travel; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Paris (France)
Map Coordinates: 48.856613, 2.352222
GPS: Casablanca (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 33.533335, -7.583333
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
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00:30:52 - Wagner's assignment

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Partial Transcript: And then, I think, within, uh, maybe a couple weeks or three weeks, uh, our group of six engineers was split into three pairs.

Segment Synopsis: After 2 or 3 weeks in Rabat, Wagner was paired with another engineer in his cohort and they were sent to Béni Mellal, a provincial capital at the base of the Atlas Mountains. Wagner and his partner were given a very small apartment and attached to the Provincial Services Department. Wagner and his partner were loaned a jeep which they used to travel extensively in rural Morocco.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Atlas Mountains; Béni Mellal; Driving; Rabat (Morocco); Roommates; Rural areas; Site mates; Transportation; Traveling

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

GPS: Atlas Mountains
Map Coordinates: 31.061944, -7.916111
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
GPS: Béni Mellal (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 32.339444, -6.360833
00:34:39 - Wagner's reception in Morocco

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Partial Transcript: How did they think about having Americans there?

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: Because of the events of World War II, the Americans were very welcome. Later, for his doctoral thesis, Wagner returned and lived in this area for 2 more years. Wagner and his partner were among the first Volunteers posted to that area. Wagner feels their cultural training was inadequate because their instructors were not very familiar with the rural areas. Wagner describes a welcoming feast to which he and his partner were invited as the main guests. Wagner was unprepared for the amount of delicious foods served to them.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Americans; Changes; Criticism; Cultural training; Foods; History; Invitations; Local people; Locals; Research; Rural areas; Site mates; Socializing; Special occasions; Study abroad; Traveling; Unprepared

Subjects: Education, Higher; Food habits; International travel; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Teachers

00:45:14 - Wagner's secondary activities

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Partial Transcript: So, did you guys learn how to cook?

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: Wagner and his partner eventually hired a woman to prepare their evening meals. Wagner reports that food was very affordable. Because of personnel developments within the Moroccan bureaucracy, there were periods of 1 to 2 months when Wagner and his partner could not work on the canal building project. For part of this time, particularly during the first year, Wagner used these opportunities to better his French and Arabic fluency. During the second year, Wagner used these periods to go to Casablanca and became an intern at Dar America, the cultural center of the American consulate. Wagner rented a mud hut on the outskirts of Casablanca and got more familiar with urban Morocco and its people. Wagner tried teaching English but didn't care for it much.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Activities; Adjustments; Arabic (Language); Budgets; Bureaucracy; Casablanca (Morocco); Cultural exchange; Dar America; French (Language); Housing; Internships; Language training; Learning; Local people; Locals; Problems; Site mates; Stipends; Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Acculturation; Finance; Interpersonal relations and culture; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco

GPS: Casablanca (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 33.533335, -7.583333
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:50:24 - Wagner's re-entry to the United States

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Partial Transcript: But by this time, my 2 years were almost up. And, uh, I wrote a letter to the professor who had been in touch with me in my graduate school and said, "Remember me?"

Segment Synopsis: After his Peace Corps service, Wagner was able to enter the Ph.D. program which he had previously passed up. This, in turn, led to his career in education and work with the United Nations. Wagner has traveled extensively in Morocco and finds its various cultures interesting.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Béni Mellal (Morocco); Career paths; Graduate schools; Letters; Marrakesh (Morocco); Professors; Returning; Tangier (Morocco); Traveling

Subjects: International travel; Morocco; United Nations

GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Tangier (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 35.766667, -5.8
GPS: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 31.63, -8.008889
GPS: Béni Mellal (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 32.339444, -6.360833
00:54:43 - Three goals of Peace Corps and Wagner's career

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you, uh, to reflect a little bit about how your experience related to the three goals of Peace Corps.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Segment Synopsis: Wagner feels that his Peace Corps experience laid the foundation for his subsequent 40-year career as a global citizen. After completing his Peace Corps service, Wagner's re-entry at graduate school was a major struggle. Wagner eventually returned to Morocco to do research and wrote his thesis on the relationship between memory and culture. Wagner became a professor and eventually switched from cognitive psychology to education and became involved with UNESCO. In part, because of his starting to learn French in the Peace Corps, Wagner published his latest book in French and he has taught in Rabat and at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva.

[Technical Issue: The videoconferencing software or recording platform experienced a technical glitch resulting in an echo when the interviewer is speaking.]

Keywords: Accomplishments; Books; Challenges; Coverdell program; Cultural differences; Education; French (Language); Language skills; Margaret Mead; Marrakesh (Morocco); Professors; Psychology; Rabat (Morocco); Research; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Second Goal; Struggles; Third Goal; Traveling; University of Geneva; University of Paris; University of Pennsylvania

Subjects: International travel; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Teaching; United Nations; Universities and colleges

GPS: University of Michigan
Map Coordinates: 42.276944, -83.738056
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 31.63, -8.008889
GPS: University of Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.95, -75.19
GPS: Rabat (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 34.020882, -6.84165
GPS: University of Paris
Map Coordinates: 48.827396, 2.2364218
GPS: University of Geneva
Map Coordinates: 46.199444, 6.142927