Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jeffrey Mattison, April 13, 2021

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

 

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00:00:04 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Today is April 13, 2021. This is Randolph Adams who served in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1969. I am interviewing Jeffrey Mattison who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin from September 1999 to December 1999 and then, uh, he went to Jamaica from January 2000 to November 2001. Jeffrey worked in the environment sector.

Segment Synopsis: In the early 1960s, Mattison's father had been invited to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Libya but had joined the Navy instead. For several summers, Mattison had a camp counselor who later became a Volunteer and, while serving in Slovakia, maintained a correspondence with Mattison. Because of his father's employment, Mattison had lived in Caracas. Mattison's mother had studied in France as a junior in college. Mattison attended Principia College where he double majored in Russian Studies and World Perspectives.

Keywords: Applying; Caracas (Venezuela); Choices; College majors; French (Language); High schools; Illinois; Influences; Invitations; Jobs; Letters; Military drafts; Mindsets; Principia College; Study abroad; Traveling; Undergraduate education; Vietnam War

Subjects: Childhood; France; International travel; Language and languages; Libya; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.)--1990-2000; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Benin; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Jamaica; Russia; Slovakia; Universities and colleges; Volunteers

GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Libya
Map Coordinates: 27, 17
GPS: Vietnam
Map Coordinates: 16, 108
GPS: Caracas (Venezuela)
Map Coordinates: 10.480556, -66.903611
GPS: France
Map Coordinates: 47, 2
GPS: Principia College
Map Coordinates: 38.949, -90.349
GPS: Illinois
Map Coordinates: 40, -89.25
GPS: Russia
Map Coordinates: 55.75, 37.616667
GPS: Slovakia
Map Coordinates: 48.666667, 19.5
00:03:46 - Applying to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: At what point did you actually, uh, decide to submit a res--a application for the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison applied to the Peace Corps while a senior in college. One of Mattison's classmates applied at the same time and was assigned to Panama. Mattison had not lived in a developing country. So, Mattison knew that living in Benin would be a change. In college, Mattison had minored in biology. In the Peace Corps, Mattison was posted as an agriculture extension agent.

Keywords: Animal husbandry; Application process; Assignments; Challenges; Comfort zones; Expectations; French (Language); Interests; Language skills; Mail; Medical clearance; Paperwork; Peace Corps recruiters; Pre-service training; St. Petersburg (Russia); Study abroad; Technical training; Telephone calls; Undergraduate studies; Waiting periods

Subjects: Benin; International travel; Language and languages; Panama; Peace Corps (U.S.); Russia; Venezuela; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.); West Africa

GPS: Panama
Map Coordinates: 9, -80
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
GPS: Venezuela
Map Coordinates: 7, -65
GPS: St. Petersburg (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 59.9375, 30.308611
GPS: West Africa
Map Coordinates: 12, 3
GPS: Russia
Map Coordinates: 55.75, 37.616667
00:09:31 - Reactions to his joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What was the reaction of your parents?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison's father and the rest of his family seemed mildly supportive. Mattison's friends were excited for him.

Keywords: Confidence; Excited; Family; Fathers; Fears; High schools; News; Siblings; Support

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

GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7331937, -16.5138449
00:11:13 - Leaving home

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Partial Transcript: So, now you're off to Benin. What was the training like?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison flew to Philadelphia for staging. The cohort then left from New York City for overseas just before a hurricane arrived.

Keywords: Inoculations; Kennedy Airport (N.Y.); New Jersey; New York; New York City (N.Y.); Philadelphia (Pa.); Staging; Traveling; Vaccinations; Weather

Subjects: Hurricanes; Natural disasters; Peace Corps (U.S.); Religion; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: New Jersey
Map Coordinates: 40.1907, -74.6728
GPS: New York
Map Coordinates: 42.9538, -75.5268
GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
GPS: John F. Kennedy International Airport (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.639722, -73.778889
00:13:16 - Arrival in Benin

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Partial Transcript: And when we finally arrived, uh, in Cotonou, uh, the largest city in Benin, I mean that was something else.

Segment Synopsis: Upon arrival at the small airport in Benin, Mattison felt nervous. However, he felt relieved when a group of current Volunteers greeted the arrival of his cohort of 35 trainees. Besides the 10 trainees Mattison's program, the cohort included about 25 trainees in HIV/AIDS education.

Keywords: Airports; Anxiety; Anxious; Cohorts; Cotonou (Benin); English teachers; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Traveling

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

GPS: Cotonou (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 6.36667, 2.43333
00:15:10 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: What type of process did they use to teach you French?

Segment Synopsis: Pre-service training occurred at Parakou where the trainees stayed with host families. Mattison had studied French for three years in high school. Besides French, Mattison also studied Bariba, the local language of his expected work site. Mattison describes the language, technical, and cultural training.

Keywords: Bariba (Language); California; Cotonou (Benin); Cultural differences; Cultural training; French (Language); Ganvie (Benin); High schools; Host families; Improvements; Language skills; Language training; Local languages; Parakou (Benin); Peace Corps directors; Technical training; Transportation; Traveling

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

GPS: Cotonou (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 6.36667, 2.43333
GPS: Parakou (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 9.35, 2.616667
GPS: Ganvie (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.416667
GPS: California
Map Coordinates: 37, -120
00:22:41 - Project description / Conclusion of pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Now, y, your, uh, technical training seemed to cover a number of issues.

Segment Synopsis: Technical training was meant to enable the Volunteers to provide guidance for a variety of income-generating supplemental farm projects. Mattison was assigned to a village and partnered with another agricultural extension agent. Mattison was expected to assess the local area, establish relationships with the local people, and initiate projects on his own. During pre-service training, the trainees were able to visit their work site for several days. Mattison describes his work site housing and his pre-service training host family.

Keywords: Amenities; Assignments; Cotonou (Benin); Counterparts; Homesick; Host family; Housing; Local people; Locals; Peace Corps directors; Pre-service training; Preparation; Relationships; Safety and security training; Site visits; Traveling; Villages

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

GPS: Cotonou (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 6.36667, 2.43333
00:29:57 - Transfer to Jamaica

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Partial Transcript: So this was during training. Now that you're gone to site, how did you get to site for your first time when you actually moved in?

Segment Synopsis: After swearing in at Parakou, Mattison was switched to Jamaica because of an interruption of service. Mattison returned home for a month and then flew to Kingston, Jamaica. Mattison's new program was to promote environmental practices. After initially arriving in Kingston, Mattison had several weeks of individual orientation and training. Next, Mattison was taken to Trelawny Parish and assigned to an NGO site where two Volunteers were already working. Mattison stayed with a host family but had no specific duties at his work site. After several months, Mattison was re-assigned by the assistant Peace Corps director to a primary school in the town of Watermount.

Keywords: Acclimation; Changes; Coming home; Host family; Kingston (Jamaica); Leaving; Orientation; Paperwork; Parakou (Benin); Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps offices; Returning; Rural areas; Saint Catherine Parish (Jamaica); Swearing in; Traveling; Trelawny Parish (Jamaica); Watermount (Jamaica)

Subjects: Acculturation; Benin; International travel; Non-governmental organizations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Parakou (Benin)
Map Coordinates: 9.35, 2.616667
GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Kingston (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 17.971389, -76.793056
GPS: Trelawny Parish (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18.383333, -77.633333
GPS: Saint Catherine Parish (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18.0470997, -77.3108906
GPS: Watermount Primary School (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18.0567984, -77.0915969
00:36:48 - Living situations

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Partial Transcript: What about living conditions?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison's first host family had spent 30 years in the United Kingdom. Mattison later moved 4 times seeking more privacy. Mattison describes some of his various living situations. Finally, Mattison had a place of his own and did all his own cooking.

Keywords: Amenities; Challenges; Changes; Host families; Housing; Living alone; Malaria; Mosquito nets; Outhouses; Second Goal; Weather

Subjects: Benin; Canada; Hurricanes; Interpersonal relations; Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); United Kingdom; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: United Kingdom
Map Coordinates: 55, -3
GPS: Canada
Map Coordinates: 60, -110
GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
00:45:08 - Description of work site

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Partial Transcript: What was the community like? Was it, uh, very large?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison describes Watermount, a town of about 300 people. Many of the people were farmers.

Keywords: Acclimation; Conversations; Cultural training; Population; Watermount (Jamaica)

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

GPS: Watermount (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18.0567989, -77.0915969
00:48:11 - Goals

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Partial Transcript: Probably about, yeah, three-quarters through my service, um, still some of the projects that I had started were not really coming to fruition. And I decided I needed some goal to keep me going.

Segment Synopsis: Mattison decided to train for a marathon. Through his subsequent practice runs Mattison met others in the area, some of whom he is still in contact with via social media.

Keywords: Contact; Decisions; Future plans; Marathons; Motivation; Recreation; Social interactions; Social media

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

00:49:42 - Daily routines

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Partial Transcript: What was a typical work day?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison had a weekly environmental lesson with each class at the school. After school, Mattison was involved with the track team and the environmental club. With his counterpart, who was the agriculture teacher, Mattison took the students on various field trips.

Keywords: Clarendon (Jamaica); Co-teachers; Counterparts; Differences; Kingston (Jamaica); Portland (Jamaica); Traveling

Subjects: Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); School management and organization; Student activities; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Kingston (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 17.971389, -76.793056
GPS: Portland Parish (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18.133333, -76.533333
GPS: Clarendon Parish (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 18, -77.283333
00:53:27 - Professional relationships

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Partial Transcript: What was your relationship, uh, with the--your colleagues as teachers?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison reports having an open, positive relationship with the other teachers. Mattison describes some of his teaching methods. Mattison helped introduce computers to the school. Mattison describes the Jamaican school system. Mattison especially tried to engage the students who were academically struggling.

Keywords: Co-teachers; Gender roles; Motivation; School systems; Technology

Subjects: Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in environmental education; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
01:00:02 - Contact with Peace Corps staff

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Partial Transcript: Did--(clears throat)--Peace Corps ha--staff have any, uh, impact or any relation with you while you were serving?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison remarks that his Peace Corps program director was very supportive of him. Occasionally, another Volunteer would visit Mattison's work site. Every few weeks, Mattison would travel to Kingston to attend church. Mattison has maintained ties with some of his Peace Corps Jamaica friends. At that time, there were about 100 Volunteers in Jamaica.

Keywords: Budgets; Bureaucracy; Close of Service; Connecticut; Distance; Friends; Kingston (Jamaica); Los Angeles (Calif.); Peace Corps directors; Rural areas; Site visits; Support; Traveling

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

GPS: Kingston (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 17.971389, -76.793056
GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
GPS: Connecticut
Map Coordinates: 41.6, -72.7
01:04:40 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: Was there such a thing as leisure time or down time in your village from work?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison also volunteered at another nearby school. Mattison liked to listen to his short wave radio, especially Voice of America. In addition, Mattison kept a journal and read a lot. Sometimes, Mattison would attend impromptu local street parties.

Keywords: Books; Community involvement; Dancing; Peace Corps offices; Secondary projects; Transportation

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

GPS: Cuba
Map Coordinates: 22, -80
GPS: Haiti
Map Coordinates: 19, -72.416667
01:07:36 - Most difficult challenges / Accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: What do you think you consider your most difficult challenges being a Volunteer?

Segment Synopsis: In Jamaica, Mattison was challenged by acculturation and obtaining a sense of fulfillment. Mattison was troubled by some elements of the physical environment and of being the focus of attention because of his race. In addition, Mattison had an issue with ringworm. Mattison describes some activities during the last 6 months of his service which gave him satisfaction. Mattison last visited his work site in 2008.

Keywords: Acclimation; Illness; Misconceptions; Returning; Secondary projects; Sickness; Sustainability; Traveling; Understanding; Workshops

Subjects: Acculturation; Benin; Health; International travel; Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
01:12:19 - Local impact of his Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: Who took over your lessons?

Segment Synopsis: No Volunteer was available to immediately replace Mattison when he returned to the U.S. Mattison left teaching materials with the principal and co-teachers. Mattison believes that the main impact of his service was cultural exchange.

Keywords: Close of Service; Co-teachers; Cultural exchange; Resources; Second Goal; Sustainability

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

01:13:49 - Greatest accomplishment

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Partial Transcript: What was your--what do you feel was your greatest accomplishment?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison had built up enough credibility with the principal and co-teachers that they came to a 2-day workshop after school at which Mattison talked about environmental education.

Keywords: Acceptance; Co-teachers; Community; Impact; Workshops

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

01:14:57 - Building relationships

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Partial Transcript: I'd like to ask you a little about, um, lessons learned in, in three areas.

Segment Synopsis: From living in another culture, Mattison came to have more sensitivity to others' perspectives. Forms of address which might be seen as racial slurs in one culture might not have the same intent in a different context. Building trust takes a long time, losing trust can happen quickly. As he was not a trained teacher, Mattison found classroom management frustrating. Mattison learned to come to terms with his failures and tried to see the positive in people.

Keywords: Differences; Motivation; Personal growth; Perspectives; Racial slurs; Unprepared

Subjects: Emotions; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:17:35 - Development process

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Partial Transcript: Second area I'd like to ask you about is, uh, uh, the capacity building, the developmental process. What did you draw conclusions about from your village?

Segment Synopsis: In addition to technical skills, Mattison says that the people-to-people skills that Volunteers aim to demonstrate are critical to improving relationships. At times, Mattison was discouraged by his formal assignment. Yet, Mattison took solace by knowing that just being in a foreign community and making friends was having some positive impact. Mattison regrets not seeking outside funding to make improvements at the school. Mattison was able to see various improvements at the school when he first returned three years after he had completed his Volunteer service.

Keywords: Awareness; Friends; Funding; Impact; Improvements; Regrets; Returning; Second Goal; Sustainability; Traveling

Subjects: Finance; Health; Hygiene; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:22:32 - Cultural influence on change

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Partial Transcript: The last area I'd like to ask you about is, is uh, and you've mentioned this throughout your interview to some degree, the influence, the influence on--the cultural influences on change in the change process.

Segment Synopsis: Mattison had trouble adjusting to the difference in religious values which he encountered in Jamaica. Mattison learned to overlook behavior which he initially found upsetting in order to find common ground to work to improve the community.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adjustment; Cultural differences

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

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
01:25:08 - Addressing the three goals of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Overall, were you conscious of the three Peace Corps goals during your service?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison sent in quarterly progress reports to the Peace Corps. Mattison was well aware that he was the only white person living in the area. Mattison established a pen pal letter exchange with students in the U.S. After his service, Mattison has been involved with the local Returned Volunteer groups in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Keywords: Accountability; Awareness; Chicago (Ill.); First Goal; Los Angeles (Calif.); Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Second Goal; Third Goal

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

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
GPS: Chicago (Ill.)
Map Coordinates: 41.881944, -87.627778
01:26:32 - Personal impact of service

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Partial Transcript: Did Peace Corps--your Peace Corps experience influence your plans for the future?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison joined the Peace Corps expecting to become more knowledgeable about the environmental sector. At the conclusion of his service, Mattison had developed an interest in language acquisition. After Peace Corps, Mattison considered various career paths and finally decided to get a master's degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. Mattison currently teaches ESL at a public high school.

Keywords: Attitudes; California; Career paths; College majors; Creole (Language); Expectations; Fluency; Future plans; Graduate schools; High schools; Jamaican Patois (Language); Jobs; Language skills; Master's degrees; Monterey (Calif.); Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Teaching English as a second language; Transition periods; Uncertainty

Subjects: Finance; Jamaica; Language and culture; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Russia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Monterey (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 36.603056, -121.893611
GPS: California
Map Coordinates: 37, -120
GPS: Russia
Map Coordinates: 55.75, 37.616667
01:29:54 - Continuing contacts with Jamaica

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Partial Transcript: Do you stay in touch with members of the community, some of your teachers?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison is still in contact with some people at his former work site and has attempted to support them.

Keywords: Deaths; Florida; Host families; Problems; Social media; Students; Support; Traveling

Subjects: Canada; Emigration and immigration; Finance; Immigrants; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4
GPS: Florida
Map Coordinates: 28.6305, -82.4497
GPS: Canada
Map Coordinates: 60, -110
01:32:28 - Reflections on his service

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Partial Transcript: Is there, uh, any particular summary statement you'd like to make about Peace Corps or your Peace Corps service?

Segment Synopsis: Mattison says his Peace Corps service was a formative two years which greatly influenced his career. Mattison is now more aware of and outspoken about economic inequalities.

Keywords: Altruism; Awareness; Comfort zones; Impact; Patience; Personal growth; Site visits; Traveling; Treasure Beach (Jamaica); Understanding

Subjects: Benin; International travel; Jamaica; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Treasure Beach (Jamaica)
Map Coordinates: 17.876001, -77.757196
GPS: Benin
Map Coordinates: 6.466667, 2.6
GPS: Jamaica
Map Coordinates: 18.18, -77.4