Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Newman, April 23, 2021

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


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00:00:24 - Life before Peace Corps/reasons for applying to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So, Bob, give us a--a brief--uh--bio. Tell us what you were doing before Peace Corps and why you decided to join.

Segment Synopsis: After graduating high school in Marblehead, Mass., Newman continued his education at Cornell. While in high school, he was an exchange student in Japan, where he experienced Japanese culture. He indicated on his Peace Corps application that he wanted to serve in Asia. Despite being 21 and having no background in agriculture, Newman was placed in a program working with pigs and chickens in India. He ended up working on the poultry project instead of both livestock programs. While at Cornell, he worked in Honduras on a community development project and on an adult literacy program. Newman was motivated to join the Peace Corps by John F. Kennedy's call for applicants to the program. Eventually, Newman was placed in a literacy program in India, rather than working with livestock as originally planned.

Keywords: Adult literacy; Application; Call to service; Foreign exchange students; JFK; John F. Kennedy; Lucknow, India

Subjects: Adult literacy projects; Asia; Chickens; Cornell University; Culture; High school; Honduras; India; Indians; International travel; Japan; Japanese; Literacy; Livestock; Lucknow (India); Marblehead (Mass.); Peace Corps (U.S.); Pigs; Poultry; Uttar Pradesh (India); Work; Working in Honduras

GPS: Marblehead (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.5, -70.858333
GPS: Lucknow (India)
Map Coordinates: 26.85, 80.95
00:04:52 - Application process/reaction of family to joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So when you applied to Peace Corps--uh--did it all go pretty smoothly?

Segment Synopsis: As a part of the application process, Newman took an exam and indicated a preference for a posting in India. While working in Honduras, he was accepted to a Peace Corps program in India. It was difficult for his mother who had cancer to accept her son's decision to serve in India. Newman also explains that community service was not an integral part of his upbringing. Despite this, Newman recalls that his parents took in a youth from the region in Honduras where Newman worked, eventually helping him through his education.

Keywords: Application; Child; College; Community service; Difficult; Exam; Mother's hesitancy; Preference; Preference for India; University

Subjects: Application exam; Cancer; Cornell University; Education; Health; High school; Honduras; India; Lucknow (India); Marblehead (Mass.); Mother; Parental reactions; Parents; Poultry farming; Uttar Pradesh (India)

GPS: Honduras
Map Coordinates: 15, -86.5
00:07:15 - Pre-service training and expectations

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--tell me about training. Did you guys train in India or in the states somewhere?

Segment Synopsis: Newman's pre-service training was in Corvallis, Oregon, at Oregon State University, where about sixty volunteers met. They spent ten days installing new septic and sewer systems on the Yakima Indian Reservation. He learned the Hindustani language in an intense learning environment during pre-service training, mostly from Indian-born teachers. Newman also mentions that there were anti-communism courses at his training. Oregon State University faculty who taught classes on poultry raising were not experts on the agricultural conditions in India. Newman feels that his project was a mistake because he was being sent to a vegetarian community to teach poultry raising. In contrast, volunteers in more urban areas worked with wealthier Indians who ate poultry and eggs. At that time, there was not very much coordination between Peace Corps and Indians in the field on volunteer placements. Newman was soon reassigned to an adult literacy program.

Keywords: Adult literacy project; Coordination; De-selection; Expectations; Poultry raising project; Sewer; Yakima Indian Reservation (Wash.)

Subjects: Agriculture; Americans; Chickens; Climate; Cold War; Communism; Cooperation; Corvallis (Or.); Hindustani language; India; Indians; Literacy; Livestock; Oregon State University; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farming; Rural; Teachers; Training; Vegetarians; Volunteers; Washington; Weather

00:16:28 - Finding projects to work on

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Partial Transcript: You know lot of--uh--times, when a volunteer arrives at the site it's not what they expect.

Segment Synopsis: For the first five months, Newman and his partner attempted to work on poultry farming. His partner got so discouraged that he left Peace Corps. Newman became involved in a model jail project and worked with inmates on poultry farming. At first, Newman was apprehensive about working with the inmates, but soon he realized that they were normal people. Newman also got involved with a literacy project, as well as a youth club where he formed volleyball teams and an English club.

Keywords: Chicken coops; Discouraged; English club; Jail; Literacy House; Literacy classes; Model jail; Partner; Youth club

Subjects: Caste; Chickens; Children; Criminals; Culture; English; India; Indians; Inmates of institutions; Livestock; Lucknow (India); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farming; Sports; Uttar Pradesh (India); Volleyball; Youth

00:27:02 - Life in Lucknow

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about adjusting to--to life there. What--what was the--the village life like? What was your--what was your housing like?

Segment Synopsis: Initially, Newman stayed with his partner in luxurious guest-quarters with running water and electricity. When his partner left Peace Corps, Newman moved into a dormitory on the Literacy House grounds, which had an all-Indian staff. Newman describes the food as awful, which prompted him to hired a cook who prepared English food. Once his partner left, he hired another cook who cooked Indian food instead. Newman describes some of the cultural differences between the U.S. and India. Occasionally, people thought that Newman was a Pakistani spy due to his mustache, and at one point, he was arrested. There was no hostility among Indians towards him. When he was arrested, he had no ID. Fortunately, his shirt had an American tag on it, and he was released when the officer heard him speak English and saw the tag.

Keywords: Amenities; Bank; Bus; Cook; Different; Dormitory; Eating; English food; Friendly; Literacy House; Living conditions; Personal; Questions; Spy

Subjects: Americans; Cooking; Electricity; Examples of cultural differences; Food; Hindi; India; Indians; Lucknow (India); Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Personal space; Staff; Tea; Time; Toilet paper; Train; United States; Uttar Pradesh (India); Volunteers; Water

00:46:09 - Meeting his wife

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Partial Transcript: Well, it sound like you made some good friends there--uh--working at the Literacy House.

Segment Synopsis: Newman recalls how he met his wife during his Peace Corps service. They married three years after his service ended.

Keywords: Literacy House; Met; Wife

Subjects: Brother; India; Indians; Lucknow (India); Marriage; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Uttar Pradesh (India); Work

00:46:59 - Travel/education after Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Any--uh--other interesting--uh--stories you wanna tell about your--your service or?

Segment Synopsis: Newman took two vacations while in India. He spent a few weeks in Nepal and traveled to Mumbai and Bangalore. He also saw parts of the country partly through Peace Corps meetings. His language proficiency really helped him later in life. He got an Indian fellowship to study Hindi as a part of his anthropology work in organizational behavior and Southeastern Studies at Cornell.

Keywords: Cornell; Indian fellowship; Studying; Wife

Subjects: Anthropology; Bangalore (India); Cornell University; Education; Hindi; India; Indians; Lucknow (India); Meetings; Mumbai (India); Nepal; Organizational behavior; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Southeast Asia; Travel; Uttar Pradesh (India)

GPS: Bangalore
Map Coordinates: 12.978889, 77.591667
GPS: Nepal
Map Coordinates: 28.166667, 84.25
GPS: Mumbai (India)
Map Coordinates: 19.07599, 72.877393
00:50:28 - Reflections on Peace Corps experience

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Partial Transcript: Tell me some of the things that you learned--uh--living in another culture like that, being an American--uh--alone there in another culture.

Segment Synopsis: For Newman, it was a slow process of learning about others in India. He learned to live in adverse conditions and became tolerant of very different behaviors that helped him to be confident and flexible. Newman also learned about the effects of American foreign policy up close. Newman explains that he did not extend his service in order to attend graduate school. Newman has kept in touch with some of the Indians he met in Peace Corps. He returned to the village he was residing in during his Peace Corps service to conduct doctoral fieldwork. Newman's first job was a temporary position at the University of Chicago, followed by a position in Australia where he lived for sixteen years teaching Indian Studies. Newman states that he has a lifelong connection with India. Newman feels that his contribution to India has been his work as an informal ambassador for India. Newman reveals that Peace Corps is what influenced him the most in his life. Newman states that Peace Corps helps volunteers to understand what is going on in the world. Newman believes that Americans live in a cocoon to a certain extent. Upon return to the U.S., Newman experienced reverse culture shock. To him, living in India was more intense than life in the U.S. Newman likes the Indian people and culture, and enjoys listening to Indian classical music. Newman also felt that Peace Corps staff gave him too much autonomy and not enough direct supervision.

Keywords: Doctoral field work; Flexible; Foreign policy; Graduate school; Indian Studies; Indian classical music; Informal ambassador; Sheltered

Subjects: Americans; Australia; Autonomy; Career; Culture; Culture shock; Education; Hindi; Hindustani language; India; Indians; Lifestyles; Music; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Radio; United States; University of Chicago