Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Maxwell Anthony Sines, March 1, 2021

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

 

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00:00:00 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hello. Today is March 1, 2021. My name is Jay Sztuk. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in, uh--from 1974 through 1976. And today, I'm going to interview Maxwell Sines who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, uh, from 2010 to 2012 in the education program.

Segment Synopsis: Sines was born and raised in San Jose, California. When he was 13 years old, Sines met a family friend who had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal. Sines was deeply impressed by her experiences.

Keywords: Influences; Motivation; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; San Jose (Calif.); Santa Cruz (Calif.); University of California, San Diego

Subjects: Emotions; Himalayas; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Liberia; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: University of California, San Diego
Map Coordinates: 32.8801, -117.234
GPS: Nepal
Map Coordinates: 28.166667, 84.25
GPS: Santa Cruz (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 36.971944, -122.026389
GPS: San Jose (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.336111, -121.890556
GPS: Himalayas
Map Coordinates: 27.983333, 86.916667
00:04:15 - Applying to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So, so did, did, did you have a preference for, for Nepal when you, uh, applied?

Segment Synopsis: While a college student, a Peace Corps recruiter on campus recommended courses and activities to Sines to make his application stronger. Accordingly, Sines went to Tanzania for two weeks to teach English. On his application, Sines stated no geographical preference and eventually was invited to Liberia.

Keywords: Advice; Application process; Applications; Arusha project; Friends; Grants; Mothers; Peace Corps recruiters; Student activities; Teaching English as a foreign language; Tourism; Tourists; Traveling; Undergraduate education; University of California, San Diego; Volunteering

Subjects: Africa; East Africa; International travel; Liberia; Mexico; Peace Corps (U.S.); Sub-Sahara Africa; Tanzania; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Mexico
Map Coordinates: 23, -102
GPS: University of California, San Diego
Map Coordinates: 32.8801, -117.234
GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7331937, -16.5138449
GPS: East Africa
Map Coordinates: -4.2408634, 24.4290571
GPS: Sub-Saharan Africa
Map Coordinates: -5.9062615, -16.6587443
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:09:52 - Reactions to his joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Now, your, your mom had, uh--you said she was already little bit concerned about you going away.

Segment Synopsis: In conjunction with his going to Liberia Sines and his girlfriend decided to break up, which was a difficult decision.

Keywords: Conversations; Dating; Decisions; Difficult; Friends; Leaving; Relationships

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:12:28 - Ignorance regarding Liberia

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Partial Transcript: Did you, did you know much about Liberia?

Segment Synopsis: Before leaving for Liberia, Sines knew nothing of its history.

Keywords: History; Regional conflict; Support; Unprepared

Subjects: World politics

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:13:46 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Alright. So, did you do your training, uh, in Liberia or somewhere, somewhere else?

Segment Synopsis: After a staging in Philadelphia, Sines' cohort flew to Monrovia. In Monrovia, the acculturation of Sines' cohort was helped by Peace Corps Response Volunteers and some Volunteers who had been evacuated from Guinea and then re-assigned to Liberia. Sines' cohort was the first group of 2-year Volunteers to re-enter Liberia. After a few days in Monrovia, the cohort members were moved to Kakata and stayed with host families. Sines describes the training center layout there.

Keywords: Acclimation; Booker Washington Institute (Liberia); Host families; Kakata (Liberia); Monrovia (Liberia); Orientation; Peace Corps Response Volunteers; Philadelphia (Pa.); Samuel Doe; Staging; Support; Training centers; Transition periods; Traveling

Subjects: Acculturation; Evacuation; International travel; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Guinea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--History; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Guinea
Map Coordinates: 11, -10
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Kakata (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.53, -10.351667
GPS: Booker Washington Institute (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.53337, -10.3609
00:17:58 - Problems with pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember your first impressions of the country when you, when you landed there in Monrovia?

Segment Synopsis: Getting off the airplane in Monrovia, Sines remembers the great heat. Also, another Volunteer who was using a video camera, had it confiscated by the airport security forces. After 7 weeks of pre-service training, 14 of the original 15 members of Sines' cohort were sworn in. Sines says that he didn't feel completely involved with the surrounding activities until he got to his work site. Sines says that pre-service training was difficult, in part, because there had been a 20-year suspension in sending Volunteers to Liberia because of the civil war. Sines comments that his cohort members felt that, rather than supporting the Volunteers, the top priority of their country director was the advancement of her career. Sines reports that the Volunteers felt welcomed by the local people as previous Volunteers had established a favorable reputation.

Keywords: Airports; Civil wars; Criticism; Cultural differences; Cultural training; Dialects; Disappointment; Gio (Language); Host family; Impact; Kakata (Liberia); Language training; Media; Monrovia (Liberia); Peace Corps directors; Pidgin English (Language); Pre-service training; Questions; Regional conflicts; Reputations; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Stereotypes; Support circles; Swearing in

Subjects: Careers; Emotions; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Macedonia; Mauritania; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Sierra Leone; People with disabilities; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Kakata (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.53, -10.351667
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Sierra Leone
Map Coordinates: 8.5, -12.1
GPS: Mauritania
Map Coordinates: 20, -12
00:32:37 - Diversity in the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, so, was your group ethnically diverse, at all?

Segment Synopsis: Three of the Volunteers in Sines' cohort were from an ethnic minority and were not readily identified as being Americans. Because of Liberia's natural resources, there is a Chinese business presence in Liberia. Sines' Japanese American roommate was often perceived by the local people as being Chinese and called derogatory names.

Keywords: Asian Americans; Blending in; Cohorts; Identity; Perceptions; Racial slurs; Roommates

Subjects: China; Emotions; Japan; Liberia; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Japan
Map Coordinates: 36, 138
GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
00:36:45 - Host family

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about your, your host family during training.

Segment Synopsis: Sines describes his host family, who lived close to the training center. Sines enjoyed his host family and most of the local foods.

Keywords: Adjustment; Food; Kakata (Liberia); Living arrangements; Living situation; Mosquito nets; Nimba County (Liberia); Post conflict society; Safety; Training centers

Subjects: Guinea; Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Tanzania; Voluntarism; Volunteers; West Africa

GPS: Kakata (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.53, -10.351667
GPS: Nimba County (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -8.75
GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 14.4175698, -9.8943243
GPS: Guinea
Map Coordinates: 11, -10
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
00:44:32 - Memorable events

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Partial Transcript: What's your, your favorite training story?

Segment Synopsis: One weekend, Sines' host father did not permit Sines to go out and carouse with the other trainees. Another time, Sines encountered a thief, but Sines began shouting and they both ran in opposite directions.

Keywords: Dancing; Dangerous; Dangers; Host fathers; Kakata (Liberia); Peace Corps staff; Struggles

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kakata (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.53, -10.351667
00:48:02 - Assignment

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Partial Transcript: So, so after training, where did you get assigned?

Segment Synopsis: Sines and another Volunteer were assigned to teach at the high school at Tappita. During pre-service training, Sines and his partner were able to visit the two Volunteers already assigned to the same school. Sines taught physics and his site mate taught literature and composition. Sines describes the layout of the school. The classrooms were used by the primary students in the morning and the upper grade students in the afternoon.

Keywords: Ganta (Liberia); High schools; Nimba County (Liberia); Schedules; Site mates; Site visits; Tappita (Liberia); Zwedru (Liberia)

Subjects: Cote d'Ivoire; Guinea; Liberia; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); School management and organization; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.492222, -8.860278
GPS: Ganta (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 7.2375, -8.981389
GPS: Zwedru (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.066667, -8.133333
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Guinea
Map Coordinates: 11, -10
GPS: Cote d'Ivoire [also known as Ivory Coast]
Map Coordinates: 8, -5
GPS: Nimba County (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -8.75
00:52:04 - Tappita, Liberia

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Partial Transcript: And I loved our spot 'cause our house, you could see the school.

Segment Synopsis: Sines describes his town of 15,000 to 25,000 people. Sines made friends with officers at the local United Nations base which allowed him access to certain amenities.

Keywords: Alcohol; Amenities; Drinking; Friends; Ganta (Liberia); High schools; Malaria; Monrovia (Liberia); Population; Tappita (Liberia); Transportation; Zwedru (Liberia)

Subjects: Bangladesh; Bolivia; China; Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Russia; Serbia; Teachers; Ukraine; United Nations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.492222, -8.860278
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Bangladesh
Map Coordinates: 24, 90
GPS: Serbia
Map Coordinates: 44, 21
GPS: Bolivia
Map Coordinates: -16.712, -64.666
GPS: Ukraine
Map Coordinates: 49, 32
GPS: Russia
Map Coordinates: 66, 94
GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Ganta (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 7.2375, -8.981389
GPS: Zwedru (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.066667, -8.133333
GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
00:59:26 - Teaching responsibilities

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about, uh, your--you know, what it was like working with the students there and also, uh, with your, your fellow, uh, teachers.

Segment Synopsis: Sines reports that during the Liberian civil war, many schools were destroyed and many teachers were executed. Some of Sines' pupils were older people whose education had been interrupted by the civil war. Sines describes some elements of a typical lesson of his. Other than the two Volunteers, the other high school teachers were nearly all local people.

Keywords: Career paths; Counterparts; Dangerous; Dangers; Deaths; Letters; Monrovia (Liberia); Nimba County (Liberia); Patience; Post-conflict society; Regional conflict; Risks; Tappita (Liberia); Traveling

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Nigeria; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Nimba County (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -8.75
GPS: Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 8, 10
GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.492222, -8.860278
01:12:03 - Local relationships

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Partial Transcript: Um, did you eventually form some, some strong bonds with folks there in the community and, and start to feel like it was your home?

Segment Synopsis: One way Sines made connections was by watching sports, particularly British soccer, on television with the local people.

Keywords: Chelsea (England); Chewbacca; Counterparts; Didier Drogba; Distance; Leisure time; Local people; Locals; Nimba county (Liberia); Recreation; Tappita (Liberia)

Subjects: Cote d'Ivoire; Germany; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Chelsea (England)
Map Coordinates: 51.4875, -0.1684
GPS: Cote d'Ivoire [also known as Ivory Coast]
Map Coordinates: 8, -5
GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.492222, -8.860278
GPS: Nimba County (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -8.75
GPS: Germany
Map Coordinates: 51, 9
01:16:35 - Advice to new Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: What advice do you have for, like somebody--let's say, I'm a new Volunteer and I'm, I'm worried that, you know, how am I going to fit in in this community and I'm going to be a foreigner there?

Segment Synopsis: Sines says you need to be yourself, first. You need to be your best self. You don't know how others are going to perceive you, so pretense is not recommended.

Keywords: Identity; Perceptions

Subjects: Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
01:18:29 - Social life

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Partial Transcript: One of the, uh--and I know I talked about Tappita. Um, I also. One of my favorite things to do was, um, meeting Liberian friends in the city.

Segment Synopsis: Sines enjoyed meeting friends from his town in the capital, instead. Sines enjoyed going to the Liberian clubs in Monrovia.

Keywords: Advice; Conversations; Foreigners; Friends; Leisure time; Monrovia (Liberia); Pre-service training; Recreation; Safety; San Jose (Calif.); Socializing; Tappita (Liberia)

Subjects: Finance; Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -8.860278
GPS: Monrovia (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.313333, -10.801389
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: San Jose (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.336111, -121.890556
01:22:59 - A memorable student

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Partial Transcript: You're going to tell me about one of your students?

Segment Synopsis: Sines describes a special relationship that developed with a student, a former child soldier, who studied with him for eleventh and twelfth grades. This pupil, along with a number of Sines' other students, was able to pass the national college entrance test.

Keywords: Examinations; Exams; Parties; Personal growth; Support

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:26:13 - Uncertainty

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Partial Transcript: Were there any times when you, you felt, um, discouraged or like you, you weren't going to finish or--

Segment Synopsis: Sines found pre-service training difficult. Sines found it emotionally trying every time someone from his cohort left early. Because of conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, there was talk of evacuating the Volunteers of Sines' group. Only an interim country director was in place for part of Sines' service.

Keywords: Cohorts; Difficult; Leaving; Peace Corps directors; Pre-service training; Regional conflict

Subjects: Cote d'Ivoire; Distance; Emotions; Ethiopia; Evacuation; Guinea; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Plans; United Nations; Voluntarism; Volunteers; West Africa

GPS: Cote d'Ivoire [also known as Ivory Coast]
Map Coordinates: 8, -5
GPS: Guinea
Map Coordinates: 11, -10
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Ethiopia
Map Coordinates: 9, 38.7
GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 14.4175698, -9.8943243
01:31:06 - Traveling

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Partial Transcript: It was time. I had been the only one of the 15 of us that had not left West Africa.

Segment Synopsis: After his two years of service, Sines was ready to leave Liberia. Consequently, Sines traveled to Europe and traveled for 6 weeks with a friend from his university days.

Keywords: First Goal; Friends; Puerto Rico; Second Goal; Third Goal

Subjects: Europe; International travel; Liberia; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers; West Africa; Yugoslavia

GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 14.4175698, -9.8943243
GPS: Puerto Rico
Map Coordinates: 18.2223, -66.4303
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 48.0965493, 4.1333519
GPS: Yugoslavia
Map Coordinates: 44.816667, 20.45
GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
01:32:55 - Subsequent Peace Corps activities

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Partial Transcript: So, have you been, have you been doing--have you been involved in any Returned Peace Corps groups?

Segment Synopsis: Sines has been involved with the Northern California Peace Corps Association group which helped him with re-entry to the U.S. Sines attended a reunion of his cohort in 2015 and has visited members of his cohort on other occasions. Sines still can find support from his former site mate who lives nearby. Sines is also a member of Friends of Liberia.

Keywords: Aptos (Calif.); Cohorts; Difficult; East Bay (Calif.); Friends; New Orleans (La.); Re-entry; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; San Francisco (Calif.); San Ramon (Calif.); Site mates; Support circles; Transition periods; Traveling

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Aptos (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 36.981389, -121.9075
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: New Orleans (La.)
Map Coordinates: 29.95, -90.08
GPS: San Ramon (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.78, -121.978056
GPS: San Francisco East Bay (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.7, -122
GPS: San Francisco (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.7775, -122.416389
01:36:12 - Reflections on the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: I'm really excited now for this, this time in my life and this kind of reiteration into the Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: Sines commends the rule which limits continuous Peace Corps service to a maximum of 5 years. During his service, Sines met a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Tappita who he found very supportive. Accordingly, Sines tried to advise the cohort which followed his and has considered becoming a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

Keywords: Excited; Future plans; Pre-service training; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Robertsport (Liberia); San Jose (Calif.); Site mates; Tappita (Liberia)

Subjects: China; Emotions; Ghana; Peace Corps (U.S.); South Pacific; Voluntarism; Volunteers; West Africa

GPS: Tappita (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.492222, -8.860278
GPS: Robertsport (Liberia)
Map Coordinates: 6.75, -11.366667
GPS: South Pacific Ocean
Map Coordinates: -35.5473068, -148.2081669
GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 14.4175698, -9.8943243
GPS: San Jose (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.336111, -121.890556
GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
01:41:34 - Advice about joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, if I, uh, if I was thinking about joining Peace Corps, what would you tell me?

Segment Synopsis: Sines encourages others to join the Peace Corps to learn about others and give others direct contact with an American.

Keywords: Cultural exchange; Second Goal; Stereotypes; Third Goal

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