Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jonathan Zimmerman, April 9, 2021

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


Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Reasons for applying to Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: This is Evelyn Ganzglass.

Segment Synopsis: To Zimmerman, Peace Corps was in his DNA, as his father, Paul Zimmerman, was the country director of Peace Corps in India and Iran. He has many memories as a young child interacting with Peace Corps Volunteers. His parents were supportive of his decision to join. He wanted to travel and he wanted to be an educator, both of which he did while in Peace Corps. Zimmerman joined immediately after he graduated from Columbia University in New York City. As a part of the application, Zimmerman had to get peer recommendations, as well as other recommendations. Zimmerman requested Nepal, which was unusual, he found. He selected it because he was interested in India, where he had lived.

Keywords: Application process; Applications; Decisions; Family; India; Iran; Nepal; New York City (N.Y.); Peace Corps directors; Reasons for applying to Peace Corps

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Iran; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Management; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: India
Map Coordinates: 21, 78
GPS: Iran
Map Coordinates: 32, 53
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
GPS: Nepal
Map Coordinates: 28.166667, 84.25
00:05:49 - Pre-service training in the U.S. and in Nepal

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Okay, so you applied to the Peace Corps and you got in.

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman went through "boot camp" at Center for Assessment and Training (CAST) in West Virginia where initial pre-service training entailed "new age games." People were de-selected during this time. The remainder of training was conducted at a training site in Kathmandu, Nepal. After that, the group went to Pokhara for practice teaching. He says the training was outstanding, especially the language training. There were 15 people in his TEFL group, number 131, comprised of equal numbers of men and women, and 1 person of color.

Keywords: Center for Assessment and Training (CAST); De-selection process; Kathmandu (Nepal); Language training; Pokhara (Nepal); Pre-service "boot camp"; Pre-service training; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)

Subjects: Language and languages; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: West Virginia
Map Coordinates: 38.6409, -80.6227
GPS: Kathmandu (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 27.7172, 85.324
GPS: Pokhara (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 28.208333, 83.988889
00:13:22 - Arrival in Nepal and description of work site

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You weren't shocked by Nepal, right? Because you had lived in India?

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman says he lived the "high life" in India many years before he went to Nepal but, as a Volunteer, he didn't have electricity or running water. To get to his site in Bijuli he had to go north to Terai and then south to Pyuthan, and then walk. Taking 2-3 days to get somewhere was not considered to be remote in Nepal. In the village, there was a central school and below in the valley were "feeder" schools. Students hiked up the mountain from the valley where the fields were. Zimmerman taught all grades. In addition, he presented teacher training sessions. He, then, was able to visit other schools. Most Nepali people had never seen a non-Nepali before Zimmerman.

Keywords: Bijuli (Nepal); Getting to the site; Pyuthan (Nepal); Schools; Teacher-training sessions; Terai (Nepal); Transportation; Travel

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Terai (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 27.5, 84.333333
GPS: Pyuthan (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 28.1, 82.866667
GPS: Bijuli (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 28.03, 82.95
00:18:53 - Learning based on rote memorization

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And, and what was the education system like?

Segment Synopsis: In Nepal, the British educational system was used, despite Nepal never having been colonized. The school leaving exam determined the futures of the students. Instruction was based entirely on rote memorization. Kids' chanting math tables was heard outside of schools, for instance. People gathered outside of his classroom because he taught differently. At the heart of the system was corporal punishment.

Keywords: British educational system; Classes in school; Corporal punishment; English (Language); English teaching; Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL); Teaching English as a second language; Teaching styles

Subjects: Culture; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:25:37 - Befriending a Peace Corps couple / Teacher-training sessions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, what did you do for fun in town?

Segment Synopsis: Three hours away, in Khalanga, there were restaurants and shops. There was also a Peace Corps couple whom he befriended. This friendship was "profound" for Zimmerman. Mark was a forestry volunteer while Ann, a trained teacher, became a resource for Zimmerman. There was very little additional technical support concerning teaching from Peace Corps for Zimmerman. Along with Ann, he demonstrated teaching techniques to Nepalese teachers. He walked the 3 hours to get to their house; he tried to "make good time" getting there, and the Nepalese laughed at him. There was nowhere to go to eat elsewhere.

Keywords: English teachers; Khalanga (Nepal); Peace Corps friends

Subjects: Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:30:23 - Host family

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I would--I, I, I lived with a family that, um, took me in, uh, um, as really one of their own.

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman lived with a family who "took him in" as their own; they named him "Fourth Born." During his second year, a baby was born and Zimmerman was asked to name her: "Santi" which means 'Peace.' He ate rat and drank cow urine during the naming ceremony. Zimmerman stayed in contact with the family for a while. While teaching in the United Arab Emirates, Zimmerman spoke Nepali with workmen who were surprised to find that he could speak their language.

Keywords: Antibiotics; Birth order; Host families; Host family; Medical kits; Naming ceremony; Relationships; United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Subjects: Culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:33:25 - Return visit with his daughter

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I exchanged some letters but then and all--for me, the most magical part of the whole thing is twenty years later when my older daughter was a junior in high school...

Segment Synopsis: Twenty years later, his daughter visited his village with him. A man asked him, "Jon, sir, where have you been?" Due to globalization, many men had left the village. The school gave him a "welcome home ceremony."

Keywords: Changes; Daughters; Family; Return with daughter; Visit with daughter

Subjects: Families.; Interpersonal relations; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:37:06 - Travel while a Volunteer

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Did you travel around the country at all?

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman didn't travel much other than to Darjeeling, India, just inside of India. He did visit Chitwan National Park, however.

Keywords: Chitwan National Park (Nepal); Darjeeling (India); Safaris; Vacations

Subjects: International travel; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Darjeeling (India)
Map Coordinates: 27.0375, 88.263056
GPS: Chitwan National Park (Nepal)
Map Coordinates: 27.5, 84.333333
00:38:33 - Teaching career after Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what ha--so what happened after your Peace Corps service?

Segment Synopsis: After Peace Corps, Zimmerman moved to Vermont to be with his girlfriend who was in medical school. He was a substitute teacher in public schools. Another teacher had a heart attack so he had a permanent sub position. He was certified as a teacher based on his Peace Corps experience. Now, he teaches in the education department but never has taken an education course. Zimmerman has a doctoral degree in history from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He taught at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at New York University in New York City, and at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Keywords: Baltimore (Md.); Careers; Girlfriends; Johns Hopkins University; New Brunswick (N.J.); New York City (N.Y.); New York University; Philadelphia (Pa.); Rutgers University; Teaching; University of Pennsylvania

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

GPS: Johns Hopkins University
Map Coordinates: 39.328889, -76.620278
GPS: Rutgers University
Map Coordinates: 40.501667, -74.448056
GPS: New York University
Map Coordinates: 40.73, -73.995
GPS: University of Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.95, -75.19
00:43:13 - Zimmerman's publications

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Great. So you've mentioned several times you've written books about teaching and I know you've, um, written about Peace Corps as well.

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman wrote several books and articles. The first was an article, "Beyond Double Consciousness," about African American Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s. Peace Corps didn't keep racial/ethnic records at that point. Sargent Shriver, in Zimmerman's estimation, felt that Peace Corps should be "color-blind." He found the information that he wanted in the National Archives, which kept photographs, and tried to identify Black Volunteers and then contacted each one. He interviewed 30-40 people over the phone; these interviews are in the Kennedy Library. Zimmerman's specialty is the history of education. Another of Zimmerman's publications is, "Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools." Another book, "Innocents Abroad," addresses American teachers teaching overseas across the 20th century. Zimmerman tells a story of being in Nepal and a young child equated him with being a friend to a white man in the valley, assuming that Zimmerman knew him. The man was a missionary; Zimmerman thinks that both of them knew what was best for the Nepalese, which was incorrect.

Keywords: African Americans; Black Americans; Books and articles; Diversity in the Peace Corps; History; Missionary; National Archives; Peace Corps records; Publications; Sargent Shriver

Subjects: Authors.; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Writing

01:01:37 - Stories reflecting cultural differences

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So is that, is that the legacy of what you take from Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: The legacy from Peace Corps, for Zimmerman, is the dilemmas and sets of important questions to grapple with. Having been back from Nepal for a time, Zimmerman received a call from a Nepalese man whom he had known while there. He married a Peace Corps Volunteer after he'd become a teacher. He told Zimmerman a story about his time in Nepal when Zimmerman tried to impose his own foundational cultural beliefs on the man who was a young child at the time. In another instance, Zimmerman ate dinner in a house where a family of a low caste lived; he became ill. His friend said that he'd warned Zimmerman not to eat there.

Keywords: Foundational cultural beliefs; Questions to grapple with; Value of dilemmas

Subjects: Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:09:40 - The goals of Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let's--I think you've covered this but I usually end with kind of reflections on the three goals of Peace Corps.

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman has no idea if he added understanding about the U.S. for his Nepali friends and students. However, on a return trip, he met a person who'd been in one of his training sessions and who had kept the mimeo sheets under their bed for so many years. But he doesn't know the value of his presence for the people there. From his standpoint, though, he knows that it made him the educator and person that he is today. Other than marrying his wife, Peace Corps was "far and away" the best experience of his life by exposing him to some "radical" differences that he needed, and set him on the path to make sense of them and share that journey with others. He feels that he was a good friend to people.

Keywords: Effects; Impact; Three goals of Peace Corps; Understanding

Subjects: Culture; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Nepal; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Nepal; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:15:29 - Appreciation for Volunteers who interview RPCVs

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I'm basically out of my questions.

Segment Synopsis: Zimmerman is impressed with the scholarship about Peace Corps. He appreciates the work of the Volunteers doing the interviewing work which serves as the basis for future scholarship. He says history has to be made, and these interviews serve as primary sources for it.

Keywords: Appreciation; Oral history interviews; Scholarship

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