Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Allison Irland Wawrin, February 15, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Personal background

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Partial Transcript: Hello, today is February 15, 2021. My name is Jay Sztuk, I was a peace corps volunteer in Fiji from 1974 through 1976, and today I'm interviewing, uh, Allison Irland Wawrin who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Papua New Guinea from 1997 through 2001 in the education program.

Segment Synopsis: Wawrin knew in high school she wanted to help others. She majored in math and worked for the army as a civilian. She describes her first Peace Corps application attempt, which she ended up rejecting to get married. She later got divorced and applied for Peace Corps again. She describes living and traveling in Korea and backpacking through Europe. She said her mom wanted to live vicariously through her.

Keywords: Backpacking; Divorce; Family; Helpfulness; Mothers; Uijeongbu

Subjects: Asia.; Computer engineering and computer science; Europe.; Families.; Korea (North); Korea (South); Marriage.; Mathematics.; P'yo╠ćngyang (Korea); Papua New Guinea.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Togo.; Travel.; United States. Army; Women employees.; Women volunteers

00:09:25 - Experiences during training in Papua New Guinea

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, did you do any training in the states before you left for PNG?

Segment Synopsis: Wawrin states that she had two days of training in the United States. She describes her first impression of Papua New Guinea, mentioning that others noticed the red on the ground from the Betel nut. She stayed in Port Moresby for a week before training, discussing the safety precautions they were given. She then went to Goroka and describes her experience staying with a family. She shows some photos at this point. She discusses her bathing experience and a time when a different family set up a roadblock in protest of lack of maintenance. She discusses her training, including the Pidgin language and cultural training. She mentions women not being able to step over anything, cannibalism, beliefs about witchcraft and AIDS. She also got technical education training. She tries to remember what she did with her host family in the evenings. She discusses the New Guineans' awareness of foreigners.

Keywords: Baths; Betel nut; Food; Fruit; Grass huts; Homestay; Melanesian Pidgin; Neo-Melanesian language

Subjects: Agriculture.; Bathing customs; Coffee plantations; Cross cultural communication; Cultural awareness.; Cultural intelligence.; Diaries--Authorship.; Education.; Extended families; Families.; Food habits.; Gender and culture; Gender and society; Gender politics, global issues; Goroka (Papua New Guinea); Hobbies.; Housing.; Intercultural communication.; Intergroup relations.; Interpersonal relations.; Lifestyles.; Man-woman relationships.; Manners and customs.; Occupational training.; Papua New Guinea.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Reading.; Recreation.; Save the Children Fund (Great Britain); Social interaction.; Social norms.; Subsistence farming.; Tok Pisin language; Training.; World Health Organization.

00:30:29 - Working in Papua New Guinea

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Partial Transcript: Ok, alright, so you completed training then, and, and all your, your fellow volunteers went off to their, their sites, and you stayed there in Goroka.

Segment Synopsis: Wawrin discusses the education reform that was happening at the time in Papua New Guinea. The Peace Corps volunteers were brought in to teach the upper grades while the teachers were getting further education. They spoke English at the school. She describes the students and teachers at the school, stating that there weren't disciplinary problems with her students. She describes some of the other projects happening in the town, including developing the water supply. She taught chemistry and physics and calculus. She describes the culture of giving/sharing and taking care of each other and how it impacted the development of businesses. She describes some memorable experiences.

Keywords: Concerts; Gifts; Hiking; Homestay; Language preservation; Local languages; Meetings; Mefloquine; Mosquitoes; Spiders

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); Anthropological linguistics.; Calculus.; Chemistry.; Chinese; Cognition and culture.; Collectivism.; Community development.; Computers.; Discussion.; Discussions; Drinking water; Education.; English language.; Generosity.; Goroka (Papua New Guinea); Housing.; Language and languages.; Linguistics.; Malaria.; Mathematics teachers; Negotiation.; Occupational training.; Oral history.; Papua New Guinea.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Physics.; Racism.; Religion and culture.; Schools.; Science teachers; Seventh-Day Adventists.; Sharing.; Teachers.; Teaching.; Training.; Water resources development.; Water--Purification.; Water-supply.; Women teachers.

00:53:06 - Extending her stay / Life after Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: And then, uh, so you extended--you stayed the first two years, two years, extended, and then extended again, huh? And all in the same place.

Segment Synopsis: Wawrin extended her stay, partly because she wanted to make sure the computer lab was kept running. She describes how Peace Corps volunteers tried to fit in with the local culture but other foreigners didn't. She traveled to Australia every Christmas and each time her house was robbed. She describes traveling across Papua New Guinea. She mentions briefly working in Port Moresby. After Peace Corps, she wanted to do Civil Engineering. She ended up teaching online to youths who were homebound, later teaching children with disabilities, and is now a social worker. She also became an environmental representative on a town council. She wants to be an activist for global equality. She describes the guilt she felt at buying things when she returned to the U.S.

Keywords: Activism; Alotau; Alotau (Papua New Guinea); Environmental activism; New Britain (Papua New Guinea)

Subjects: Acculturation.; Adaptability (Psychology); Adjustment (Psychology); Assimilation (Sociology); Autism spectrum disorders.; Burglars; Burglary; Cerebral palsy.; Children with disabilities.; Civil engineering.; Consumer movements; Consumption (Economics); Cultural awareness.; Cultural pluralism.; Culture shock.; Danger; Disabilities.; Early childhood special education.; Engineering.; Environmental agencies; Environmental engineering.; Friendship.; Goroka (Papua New Guinea); Homebound instruction; Human rights workers.; Lae (Papua New Guinea); Madang Province (Papua New Guinea); Milne Bay (Papua New Guinea); New Ireland Province (Papua New Guinea); Papua New Guinea.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea); Rabaul (Papua New Guinea); Religion.; Reverse culture shock.; Robbery; Safety.; Social interaction.; Social workers.; Special education.; Stealing; Teachers.; Teaching.; Thieves; Travel.; Women employees.; Women teachers.