Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Alan Axworthy, February 11, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Background / Training in Nepal

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Partial Transcript: Today is February 11, 2021. This is Randolph Adams who served in the D--[unintelligible]--public from--[unintelligible]--66--[unintelligible]--69 and I am interviewing Alex--Alan Axworthy who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal from August 1975 to August 1978.

Segment Synopsis: Axworthy was born in California and was raised in Oklahoma City. His grandfather was a Baptist minister, which influenced his outlook on community service. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Stanford University. He applied to Peace Corps because building bridges appealed to him. He says the packing list was good; he discusses buying boots in anticipation of walking a lot. He had an orientation in Philadelphia, but his training was in Nepal. He had language training in Nepali and technical training, with a classroom component and field trips to relevant locations. They shared training with water supply volunteers. He describes the cross cultural training discussions. He discusses some of the roads. He describes the living situation during training and some of the technical language.

Keywords: Cables; Hiking.; Materials.; Outhouses.; Volunteering; Walking.

Subjects: Baptists; Buddhism.; California; Civil engineering.; Cross cultural communication; Education, Higher.; Engineering.; Factories.; Gorkha (South Asian people); Housing.; Infrastructure (Economics)--Developing countries.; Intercultural communication.; Kathmandu (Nepal); Language learning and language teaching; Manufacturing processes.; Mills and mill-work.; Nepal.; Nepali language; Occupational training.; Oklahoma City (Okla.); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Public health.; Roads.; Sanitation.; Stanford University; Steel-works.; Training.; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:33:17 - Working in Nepal

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Partial Transcript: At, at what point did you know, uh, what site you were going--did you go to one site during your service, or, it sounds like you may have traveled around?

Segment Synopsis: Axworthy enjoyed that he traveled around Nepal. He says during training he went on his own to survey a site for building a bridge. He describes his work, including working at the local development office in Kathmandu and finishing a bridge at the village where they trained. He discusses how moving around affected his ability to bond with locals. He describes having to leave to get a root canal and visiting a friend in Malaysia. He took a home leave trip after finishing his second bridge. He discusses dealing with bureaucracy and frustrating logistics. He worked under the local development department. He tells a story about trying to use the one truck that was available. He describes the Panchayat system and encountering a retired Gorkha soldier.

Keywords: Bridge building; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Trucks

Subjects: Bridges.; Building sites.; Building.; Bureaucracy.; Business travel; Cable-stayed bridges; Civil engineering.; Community development.; Cultural relations.; Engineering.; Gorkha (South Asian people); Gurkha soldiers.; Intercultural communication.; Interpersonal relations and culture.; Kathmandu (Nepal); Logistics.; Monsoons.; Nepal.; Panchayat; Panchayat--Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal.; Rural development.; Social interaction.; Travel.; Vehicles.; Volunteers

00:53:24 - Memorable experiences and lessons learned

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Partial Transcript: What about the, uh, the memorable experiences that were maybe, uh, things you enjoyed about living, working?

Segment Synopsis: Axworthy found it challenging to eat the same food every day. He mentions reading magazines in the tea shop. He tells a story of the locals not understanding the cultural context of looting. He thinks his main accomplishment was actually managing to build the bridges despite the setbacks. When he returned to the U.S., he got a job with a contractor building pulp and paper mills and warehouses. In the context of international aid, he states that the underlying value system of sharing what you have is a good value to have.

Keywords: Bhulbhule (Nepal); Bridge building; Culture; Lifestyles; Magazines; Manners and customs

Subjects: Aid and development; Bridges.; Building.; Burglars; Cable-stayed bridges; Civil engineering.; Community development.; Construction projects.; Diet.; Economic assistance.; Economic development projects.; Electric power failures; Engineering.; Food habits.; Food preferences.; International relief.; Nepal.; Paper mills; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal.; Periodicals.; Pillage.; Pulp mills; Reading.; Robbery; Stealing; Technical assistance.; Television--Receivers and reception.; Thieves; Values.; Volunteers; Warehouses; Water quality.; Work.

01:07:09 - Overall thoughts about his time in Peace Corps and life after Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'm curious about whether you think the things you were able to do as a volunteer you would have been able to do coming out of school in the U.S.?

Segment Synopsis: Axworthy discusses life after Peace Corps, including how he got his job. He mentions that he helped with training volunteers after his first year. He regrets not engaging in community service. He has sometimes worked with Habitat for Humanity. He has hosted an exchange student from Afghanistan. He thinks the notion of national service is crucial and that everyone should spend time with people not like them. He mentions a person in Nepal who wanted to have a math job like him. He tells a story of meeting Gorkha soldiers and having them explain the Underground in London, which taught him that language is about more than just the words.

Keywords: Careers; Community service; Exchange students

Subjects: Civil engineering.; Confusion of tongues; Cross cultural communication; Cultural awareness.; Cultural competence.; Engineering.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Foreign study.; Gorkha (South Asian people); Gurkha soldiers.; Habitat for Humanity, inc.; Intercultural communication.; Interviews.; Language and languages.; Multilingual communication.; Nepal.; Nepali language; Occupational training.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal.; Semantics.; Stanford University; Students, Foreign.; Training.; Translating and interpreting.; Values.; Volunteers; Work.