Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with MaryJean "Mo" Moser, April 5, 2021

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: Okay. Today is April 5, 2021. This is Candice Wiggum, RPCV from North Macedonia, 2009 to 2012. And I am inter, interviewing MaryJean Moser, also known as Mo, um, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kiribati from 1979 to 1981 as an education Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: Before joining the Peace Corps, Moser had been teaching high school English for six years. Moser and her boyfriend were both looking for a change and her boyfriend suggested joining the Peace Corps together. At first, Moser was reluctant to join. Then, they talked to some recently Returned Volunteers. Finally, Moser agreed as she decided that to understand her own culture, she needed to get an outside perspective.

Keywords: Changes; Decisions; English teachers; High schools; Jobs; Misconceptions; Perspectives; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Telephone calls

Subjects: Culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--1970-1980; Peace Corps (U.S.)--1980-1990; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kiribati; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
00:01:56 - Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: And what kind of obstacles did you face getting into the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Moser says that her application process took a long time.

Keywords: Applying; Medical clearance; Paperwork; Peace Corps recruiters; Telephone calls; Waiting periods

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

00:02:56 - Reaction of family and friends to her joining Peace Corps / Screening process

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Partial Transcript: How did friends and family react to your joining the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Everyone in the faculty room at Moser's high school supported the idea of Moser joining the Peace Corps before she took on a mortgage or other long-term commitments. Moser and her boyfriend were invited to attend a CAST screening to help select 4 married couples and 4 single men for openings in Kiribati. People who were weeded out, according to Moser, had a savior attitude. At the end of the screening, Moser was informed of her acceptance and given 6 weeks to prepare to leave. So, Moser returned home and got married to her boyfriend.

Keywords: Adaptation; Advice; Attitudes; Center for Assessment and Training (CAST); Co-teachers; Harpers Ferry (W. Va.); Inoculations; Invitations; Marriage; Preparation; Support; Vaccinations; Waiting periods

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

GPS: Harpers Ferry (W. Va.)
Map Coordinates: 39.324167, -77.733889
00:07:30 - Departure from the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: I mean, I can't imagine that it takes a very short time to get to Kiribati.

Segment Synopsis: The cohort members flew from Los Angeles to Tarawa via Hawaii, Johnston Island, and Majuro.

Keywords: Arizona; Cohorts; Excited; Harpers Ferry (W. Va.); Hawaii; Johnston Island; Los Angeles (Calif.); Majuro (Marshall Islands); Minnesota; Tarawa (Kiribati); Traveling; Wisconsin

Subjects: Emotions; International travel; Kiribati; Marshall Islands; Pacific Ocean; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Wisconsin
Map Coordinates: 44.6243, -89.9941
GPS: Arizona
Map Coordinates: 34.2744, -111.6602
GPS: Minnesota
Map Coordinates: 46, -94
GPS: Harpers Ferry (W. Va.)
Map Coordinates: 39.324167, -77.733889
GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
GPS: Majuro (Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) now Majuro (Marshall Islands)
Map Coordinates: 7.083333, 171.383333
GPS: Marshall Islands
Map Coordinates: 9.82, 169.29
GPS: Hawaii
Map Coordinates: 21.3075, -157.8575
GPS: Johnston Atoll
Map Coordinates: 16.736944, -169.523889
GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
GPS: Tarawa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 1.333333, 173
GPS: Pacific Ocean
Map Coordinates: -8.0653798, -149.2396034
00:09:45 - Arrival in Tarawa, Kiribati

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Partial Transcript: What was your first impression when you landed in Tarawa?

Segment Synopsis: Moser comments on the small size of the runway and airport terminal. Moser's cohort was met at the airport by an official from the World Health Organization who had been hired by the Peace Corps. The Volunteers were taken to the one hotel for orientation. Moser's initial impression of the local area was how impoverished it seemed. But after pre-service training, Moser found the same area modern looking. Moser's was only the second cohort sent to Kiribati and the first to have Volunteers serving away from the main island.

Keywords: Acclimation; Amenities; Distance; Healthcare infrastructure; Medical kits; Medication; New Jersey; Peace Corps offices; Perspectives; Poverty; Tarawa (Kiribati)

Subjects: Acculturation; Health; Non-governmental organizations; Nonprofit organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Solomon Islands; United Nations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Solomon Islands
Map Coordinates: -8, 159
GPS: New Jersey
Map Coordinates: 40.1907, -74.6728
00:18:23 - Volunteer construction projects

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Partial Transcript: In the 1970s, the world-wide focus of the World Health Organization was to get--insure that all the people on earth had access to clean water.

Segment Synopsis: Moser describes the projects of the four single Volunteers who were assigned to the Ministry of Public Works. In part, it involved the construction of latrines. But Moser thinks the project was not well thought out and was unsustainable. Other projects involved road repair and construction of water catchment tanks.

Keywords: Counterparts; Differences; Goals; Letters; Outhouses; Problems; Sustainability

Subjects: India; Kiribati; Non-governmental organizations; Nonprofit organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); United Nations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: India
Map Coordinates: 21, 78
GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
00:22:51 - Responsibilities

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Partial Transcript: And what did you do?

Segment Synopsis: Moser says that the four Volunteer wives had no specific projects. Moser became friends with many of the kindergarten - 8th grade teachers who were living in the same government compound as Moser and her husband. The teachers were all fluent in English. Moser ended up teaching basic personal health at the school.

Keywords: English (Language); Fluency; Friends; Gilbertese (Language); History; Improvements; Independence; Language skills; Politics and government; Post-colonial; Roommates; Site mates; Technology

Subjects: Great Britain; Health; Kiribati; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
GPS: Great Britain
Map Coordinates: 54, -2
00:26:49 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: How did training prepare you for what you ended up--how you ended up living and what you ended up doing on the island?

Segment Synopsis: Moser had received 10 weeks of pre-service training on Abemama. Moser reports that none of the training was job-related. Moser relates that the Volunteers had little supervision at their work sites and were among the first outsiders to adopt the outer island lifestyle in Kiribati.

Keywords: Abemama (Kiribati); Americans; Autonomy; Cultural training; Dancing; Language training; Outsiders; Technical training

Subjects: Acculturation; Europe; Health; Kiribati; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Abemama (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 0.4, 173.866667
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 48.0965493, 4.1333519
GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
00:29:31 - Moser's work and life on an outer island

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Partial Transcript: And what was your island like?

Segment Synopsis: Moser gives a description of the atoll where she was assigned and the housing that was provided to her and her husband. Because of the amount of supplies they were transporting, Moser and her husband first traveled to their outer island by boat along with another Volunteer who was dropped off at his island first. Moser describes feeling welcome and taken care of when she and her husband arrived at their island, Onotoa. Moser and her husband had only brought a limited amount of food with them and were not prepared for the subsistence economy of the outer island. Eventually, the locals started bringing them food as Moser and her husband were going hungry.

Keywords: Food; Housing; Local people; Locals; Mosquito nets; Onotoa (Kiribati); Preparation; Problems; Roommates; Site mates; Supplies; Tabiteuea (Kiribati); Tarawa (Kiribati); Transition periods; Traveling; Unprepared; Volunteers

Subjects: Emotions; Food security; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tabiteuea (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: -1.35, 174.8
GPS: Tarawa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
GPS: Onotoa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: -1.85, 175.55
00:40:06 - Local animal life

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Partial Transcript: Were you, were you ever scared?

Segment Synopsis: Moser describes the local animal life.

Keywords: Animals; Food culture

Subjects: Health; Kiribati; Manners and customs

00:42:19 - Daily routines

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Partial Transcript: So, how did you get integrated into your job?

Segment Synopsis: Moser's co-teachers helped her learn Gilbertese. Moser went to the school three times a week and was occupied with the household chores much of the remainder of the time. Stopping and conversing with all the neighbors was customary. Moser reports the local people as being respectful and curious about foreigners.

Keywords: Abemama (Kiribati); Attitudes; Co-teachers; Conversations; Foreigners; Friends; Gilbertese (Language); Local people; Locals; Misconceptions; Pre-service training; Students

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

GPS: Abemama (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 0.4, 173.866667
00:47:56 - Local changes

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Partial Transcript: Well we were talking about the kids that you taught and what they were like. And how many were there in a class? That kind of thing.

Segment Synopsis: Moser describes the local school system, curriculum, and teaching conditions.

Keywords: School systems; Supplies

Subjects: Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

00:50:19 - Local purposes of education

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Partial Transcript: What would be the use of this education in a subsistence culture like that?

Segment Synopsis: Moser says that the local people needed to prepare to govern themselves and to deal with climate change which is making the country uninhabitable.

Keywords: Climate change; Dangers; Empowerment; Independence; Politics and government; Post-colonial; Preparation

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

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
00:53:18 - Daily challenges

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Partial Transcript: What, what was your life in the village like?

Segment Synopsis: Routine daily activities took most of Moser's time. Every few months, Peace Corps provided for the Volunteers to come into the capital. The Volunteers learned to order cases of canned food to be shipped from the capital to their work site. Moser describes some of the difficulties of adapting to outer island life.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adjustments; Counterparts; Food; Learning; Roommates; Site mates; Traveling

Subjects: Acculturation; Australia; Food security; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Australia
Map Coordinates: -25, 133
00:56:08 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: We read a lot.

Segment Synopsis: Moser and her husband read a lot. Moser notes that the pace of life was slowed by the hot weather.

Keywords: Books; Foreigners; Recreation; Roommates; Site mates; Weather

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

00:57:34 - Special occasions

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Partial Transcript: Were there any celebrations, either private or village-wide celebrations, that you took part in?

Segment Synopsis: Moser and her husband attended two weddings and several celebrations to mark the birth of a couple's first grandchild. Moser describes some of the activities at these ceremonies.

Keywords: Gender roles; Invitations; Marriage; Women

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

01:01:52 - Health problems

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Partial Transcript: Speaking of rashes, you mentioned that--(laughing)--they were not unusual.

Segment Synopsis: Moser describes some of the ailments that she and her husband suffered and the treatments they underwent.

Keywords: Illness; Medical kits; Medicine; Roommates; Sickness; Site mates

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

GPS: Solomon Islands
Map Coordinates: -8, 159
01:04:20 - Memorable events

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Partial Transcript: Cool. What was your biggest adventure?

Segment Synopsis: Moser describes how one day a sperm whale got stranded on the ocean side of the island. Moser describes the outcome. Moser recalls a time when the plane she was on was landed on Tabiteuea in an abrupt manner by a former British fighter pilot.

Keywords: Excited; Tabiteuea (Kiribati); Tarawa (Kiribati); Traveling

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

GPS: Tarawa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 1.333333, 173
GPS: Tabiteuea (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: -1.35, 174.8
GPS: Australia
Map Coordinates: -25, 133
01:10:08 - Accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: What are you proudest of?

Segment Synopsis: Moser is proud of having lived without modern conveniences for two years.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adaptation; Complaints; Cultural differences; Dangerous; Dangers; Expectations; Food culture; Healthcare facilities; Illness; Isolation; Leaving; Older volunteers; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Sickness; Transportation

Subjects: Acculturation; Health; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kiribati; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
01:13:47 - Third Goal of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Do you have a fondest memory?

Segment Synopsis: Moser used to do presentations on Micronesian culture at her son's high school.

Keywords: Dancing; Hawaii; High schools; Speaking

Subjects: Culture; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Micronesia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Polynesia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Hawaii
Map Coordinates: 21.3075, -157.8575
GPS: Polynesia
Map Coordinates: -9.4138106, 146.5466934
GPS: Micronesia
Map Coordinates: 5.150764, 141.1624614
01:16:11 - Leaving the village

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Partial Transcript: What was it like when it was time to go?

Segment Synopsis: Before Moser and her husband departed by plane, they gave away most of their possessions to people in the village. Moser has been able to maintain some email contact with people in Kiribati.

Keywords: Ages; Alcohol; Belongings; Contact; Deaths; Drinking; Emails; Friends; Local people; Locals; Marriage; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

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

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
01:20:03 - Training the next cohort

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Partial Transcript: So, what happened after you left Onotoa?

Segment Synopsis: Moser and her husband returned to Tarawa from Onotoa two months early to help with the pre-service training of the next cohort. The new cohort consisted of four married couples. Moser says that one older couple was terminated by the Peace Corps staff during pre-service training. Two other couples had health problems during pre-service training and chose to return home.

Keywords: Attitudes; Close of Service; Home; Illness; Leaving; Older Americans; Onotoa (Kiribati); Peace Corps staff; Plans; Pre-service training; Quitting; Sickness; Tarawa (Kiribati); Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Health; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Tarawa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 1.333333, 173
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Onotoa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: -1.85, 175.55
01:25:06 - Coming home

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Partial Transcript: And then what was it like when you were done with that and it was, it was time to end?

Segment Synopsis: From Tarawa, Moser and her husband flew to Hong Kong. They made subsequent stops in China, Hawaii, and Boulder, Colorado. While serving as Volunteers, Moser and her husband had vacationed in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

Keywords: Boulder (Colo.); Excited; Friends; Hawaii; New York City (N.Y.); Tarawa (Kiribati); Traveling

Subjects: China; Emotions; Fiji; Hong Kong; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Solomon Islands; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tarawa (Kiribati)
Map Coordinates: 1.333333, 173
GPS: Hong Kong
Map Coordinates: 22.3, 114.2
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
GPS: Hawaii
Map Coordinates: 21.3075, -157.8575
GPS: People's Republic of China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
GPS: Boulder (Colo.)
Map Coordinates: 40.015, -105.270556
GPS: Fiji
Map Coordinates: -18, 179
GPS: Solomon Islands
Map Coordinates: -8, 159
01:27:11 - Re-integration into the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: So, what was it like coming back to the States? How was re-integration after living in this subsistence culture to come back to the U.S.?

Segment Synopsis: Moser and her husband had difficulty re-adjusting to the U.S.

Keywords: Arrangements; Belongings; Changes; Difficult; Expectations; Family; Friends; Hawaii; Holidays; Interviews; Jobs; Pennsylvania; Siblings; Uncertainty

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture shock; Kiribati; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Hawaii
Map Coordinates: 21.3075, -157.8575
GPS: Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.8781, -77.7996
GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173
01:30:29 - Career paths

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Partial Transcript: How did, how did Peace Corps impact your life after you got back?

Segment Synopsis: Moser found work as a substitute teacher. Moser's husband found a position as a social worker. Their plan was for Moser's husband to attend graduate school and study Public Health and Social Work Administration. Then, they would seek work with an international health NGO. Moser's husband successfully completed his graduate studies but couldn't find a job. Eventually, they moved to New Jersey and were able to establish careers there and started a family.

Keywords: Ages; Belongings; Changes; Children; College majors; Columbia University; Funding; Graduate schools; International development; Internships; Jobs; Master's degrees; New Jersey; New York City (N.Y.); Plans; Ronald Reagan; Traveling

Subjects: Lifestyles; Non-governmental organizations; Nonprofit organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); United Nations; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Columbia University
Map Coordinates: 40.8075, -73.961944
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
GPS: New Jersey
Map Coordinates: 40.1907, -74.6728
01:35:03 - Reflections on human nature

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Partial Transcript: I--it was only in, in the years after the Peace Corps that I started really reflecting on things that I learned that I didn't even know I had learned.

Segment Synopsis: Moser was interested in which human values are innate and which are learned. Moser, in part because of her Volunteer experience, concluded that few are innate. Moser contrasts the concepts of adoption, private ownership, and social class between the Gilbertese and Americans. Moser agrees with the idea that it is better for people to live in small groups where nobody is a stranger.

Keywords: Americans; Behavior; Books; Cultural differences; Influences; Motivation; Personal growth; Perspectives; Questions

Subjects: Culture; Kiribati; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Social norms; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kiribati
Map Coordinates: 1.416667, 173