Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Kenneth Dean Winkler, April 24, 2021

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


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00:00:35 - Life before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So, Ken--uh--can you tell us a little bit about your background? And what you were doing before Peace Corps and why you decided to join?

Segment Synopsis: Winkler comes from a farming background near San Diego, California working on chicken ranches. After graduating with a degree in journalism at San Jose State University, a counselor suggested that he consider applying to Peace Corps. Because he spoke some Spanish, Winkler assumed that he would be sent to South America. Despite this, Winkler received a telegram from Peace Corps informing that he would be assigned to India.

Keywords: Application; Assignment; College; Grandfather; Telegram

Subjects: Agriculture; Chicken; Education; Farms; High school; India; Journalism; Life; Life after high school and college; Peace Corps (U.S.); Rural; San Diego (Calif.); San José State University; South America; Spanish

GPS: San Diego (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 32.715, -117.1625
GPS: San Jose State University
Map Coordinates: 37.3353, -121.8813
00:02:49 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: And where was your training?

Segment Synopsis: Winkler's month long pre-service training was held at an Outward Bound School in Puerto Rico. Winkler underwent technical training and methods of poultry farming at the University of California, Davis. At age seventeen, Winkler studied at a forestry school, working in the forests on weekends, where he met people who helped him decide to do some good in the world. He learned Marathi as part of his training. At the beginning, there were twenty-six in his group, mostly white "farm boys," with some older trainees who were also farmers.

Keywords: De-selection; Forestry school; Forests; Outward Bound School

Subjects: Education; Idealism; India; Indians; Livestock; Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farms; Puerto Rico; Training; University of California, Davis

GPS: Puerto Rico
Map Coordinates: 18.2223, -66.4303
GPS: University of California, Davis
Map Coordinates: 38.54, -121.75
00:11:40 - Arrival in India/work in poultry farming

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember--do you remember how it . . . how you felt when you arrived in the country . . .

Segment Synopsis: Winkler recalls it being very hot when he arrived in India. The group was taken by bus into Bombay to a hostel. It was the first time the trainees had seen such abject poverty. Winkler and two others lived in a remote village in the state of Maharashtra. Winkler and his colleagues worked in conjunction with the development officers starting egg ranches. Muslims and people in the warrior class ate meat. Vegetarian villagers ate eggs instead. An Indian Christian group raised pigs and sold them to Hindu and Muslim villagers.

Keywords: Arrival; Beliefs; Development officers; Warrior class

Subjects: Agriculture; Animals; Caste; Christians; Climate; Diversity; Eggs; Farms; Heat; Hindus; India; Indians; Kshatriyas; Livestock; Maharashtra (India); Meat; Mumbai (India); Muslims; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Pigs; Poultry; Poultry farms; Poverty; Vegetarians; Volunteers

GPS: Maharashtra, India
Map Coordinates: 18.97, 72.82
00:18:35 - Working with the Indian Planning Commission

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Partial Transcript: So, you said that you worked with--uh--local development officers. So--so there was some kind of organization there--?

Segment Synopsis: The Indian Planning Commission had officers in every state. Winkler and his colleagues worked with a block development officer on the poultry project. The three volunteers accompanied the poultry officers as they went about their work. Eventually, the volunteers worked independently on a milk production operation with a veterinarian. The veterinarian was promoted due to the increase in milk production. Winkler felt successful when farmers began to see profits resulting from the changes implemented by the volunteers.

Keywords: Block development officer; Indian Planning Commission; Veterinarian

Subjects: Agriculture; Bureaucracy; Cooperation; Farmers; Farms; India; Indians; Livestock; Maharashtra (India); Milk; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farms; Profits; Work

00:20:29 - Language ability and acceptance

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Partial Transcript: It sounds like you were accepted pretty well from the--from the git-go . . .

Segment Synopsis: Winkler says that the volunteers' language ability initially hindered their acceptance into the village. Winkler recalls that some of the local young women were looking for husbands amongst the volunteers in order to escape poverty.

Keywords: Escape; Language ability; Village

Subjects: India; Indians; Maharashtra; Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poverty; Volunteers; Women

00:21:14 - Living conditions in the village

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about . . . about your living conditions there.

Segment Synopsis: Winkler lived with his colleagues in a rustic three-room bungalow outside of the village. At that time in India, it was necessary to obtain a liquor permit to buy and drink beer and rum. The volunteers had running water for several hours a day and electricity most of the time. The volunteers also hired a cook to prepare their meals. By and large, Winkler and his fellow volunteers got along well.

Keywords: Bungalow; Compatibility; Cook; Liquor permit; Living conditions; Meals

Subjects: Alcohol; Beer; Cooking; Electricity; Food; Housing; Indians; Maharashtra (India); Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Rum; Volunteers; Water

00:25:41 - Poultry farming in the village

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your work in the--in the village.

Segment Synopsis: It took several months for people to trust Winkler and his colleagues. Their first project was to build a 100-bird unit for a doctor in the village. They raised the chicks; while they matured, the volunteers developed a market for the eggs. Specifically, the volunteers worked with a marketing cooperative in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) so that the villagers could distribute and sell their eggs. Winkler socialized with the villagers in order to build trust, so that the villagers would accept modern farming practices. Winkler notes that the chickens came from a farm in Israel called Arbor Acres.

Keywords: Arbor acres; Doctor; Marketing cooperative; Village

Subjects: Agriculture; Chickens; Eggs; India; Indians; Israel; Livestock; Marathi language; Marketing; Mumbai (India); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farms; Selling; Socialization; Trust; Volunteers

GPS: Mumbai, India (historically known as Bombay)
Map Coordinates: 19.07599, 72.877393
00:30:30 - Relationships with villagers

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Partial Transcript: You developed some close friendships there in the community?

Segment Synopsis: Winkler had friends in the village, particularly the farmers. The villagers were curious about American culture and asked many questions. The cook working for the volunteers reported to the village about their habits, partly owing to the fact that foreigners were a novelty at that time.

Keywords: Clothing; Foreigners; Village

Subjects: Americans; Curiosity; Farmers; Food; India; Indians; Maharashtra (India); Manners and customs; Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Rural; United States; Volunteers

00:31:53 - Leaving India/life after Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Were . . . was there anything that was really difficult about getting used to . . . to living there?

Segment Synopsis: For Winkler, letters served as his contact with his family. He enjoyed being in India, but at the end of two years, he felt the need to distance himself from these experiences to gain perspective. "India changed me forever, and it is still happening." After leaving India, Winkler has focused on Southeast Asia and lived in Thailand for six years.

Keywords: Departure; Enjoyed; Family

Subjects: Communication; India; Indians; Letters; Maharashtra (India); Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Perspective; Thailand

00:33:52 - Selling eggs commercially

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Partial Transcript: About a year in the village--uh--you got a chance to--to move and take on a different assignment?

Segment Synopsis: Winkler moved into Kolhapur (a much larger city than his village) with some other volunteers. The marketing cooperative that he had started in the village produced many eggs and in Kolhapur, he and his friends created a distribution center for the eggs. After eighteen months of laying eggs, the chickens were killed, sold and made into fryers or roasters. They trained the farmers on how to sell eggs on a commercial scale Winkler mixed with more middle-class people in Kolhapur, mostly businessmen, which entailed more participation in social events.

Keywords: Commercial scale; Distribution center; Fryers; Moving; Skills; Slaughter; Village

Subjects: Agriculture; Business; Chicken; Farmers; India; Indians; Kolhapur (India : District); Livestock; Middle class; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Poultry; Poultry farms; Refrigerators; Roasting (Cooking); Selling; Social

GPS: Kolhapur (India)
Map Coordinates: 16.691667, 74.233333
00:39:29 - Places visited in India

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--during your time there did--did you get to travel around much and see more of India?

Segment Synopsis: While in India, Winkler attended conferences in Jaipur and Madras. Winkler also went to Delhi, Koonam (for liquor) and Goa.

Keywords: Conferences; Koonam (India); Sightseeing

Subjects: Chennai (India); Cities; Delhi (India); Goa (India : State); India; Indians; Jaipur (India); Kerala (India); Liquor; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Travel

GPS: Jaipur (India)
Map Coordinates: 26.9, 75.8
GPS: Goa (India)
Map Coordinates: 15.5, 73.83
GPS: Chennai, India (known as Madras until 1996)
Map Coordinates: 13.083694, 80.270186
GPS: Delhi (India)
Map Coordinates: 28.61, 77.23
GPS: Koonam (Kerala State, India)
Map Coordinates: 12.063667, 75.428361
00:40:32 - Impact of living in India

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Partial Transcript: So, all--in all--um--have you--how did you enjoy your stay in--um--in India?

Segment Synopsis: For Winkler, his time in India was a "foundational" change. Relics and an and an old fort surrounded his village but no one knew anything about them, which he found astounding. Winkler states that he is still learning from his Peace Corps experience. Winkler learned that as a foreigner, if you try to speak the local language, people appreciate you making an effort.

Keywords: Effort; Foreigners; Fort; Impact; Village

Subjects: Change; Culture; India; Indians; Languages; Maharashtra (India); Marathi language; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Relics

00:42:59 - Takeaways from Peace Corps experiences

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Partial Transcript: --Um--what are some of your favorite stories about--uh--about your life and--and work there . . .

Segment Synopsis: When he left for the Peace Corps, Winkler recalls that he was unsure what to expect. In Kolhapur, Winkler found a man who had studied in Arizona. His neighbor there was the head of the Communist party in the area. His wife would make food for the volunteers and her husband rallied against Americans. Later, when he and his wife traveled together in India, they met other interesting people.

Keywords: Communist Party; Neighbor; Variety; Wife

Subjects: Americans; Anti-Americanism; Arizona; Communism; Food; Indians; Kolhapur (India : District); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; People; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Travel

GPS: Kolhapur (India)
Map Coordinates: 16.691667, 74.233333
00:45:45 - Leaving India

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Partial Transcript: So--uh--after 2 years, did you consider extending?

Segment Synopsis: After two years, Winkler needed a break to process his experiences in India. Effectiveness as a volunteer often lessens after two years. The operative mindset was to convey and demonstrate the American "can-do attitude. Whenever Winkler meets someone who is interested in visiting India, he recommends they go there with an open mind.

Keywords: Open mind; Positive attitude; Reflection; Willing

Subjects: Americans; Culture; Culture shock; Experience; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Rest

00:47:26 - Life after Peace Corps in India

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Partial Transcript: So--um--after--after leaving--uh--when you--when you came home--uh--tell me what that was like. Did you have some reverse culture shock there and--?

Segment Synopsis: Upon returning home, Winkler understood that most people could not relate to his experiences in India. He found it difficult to relate his experiences to the perceptions of India that many Americans had. He entered a master's program in creative writing and English. After completing his master's degree, Winkler taught at a public school in Oakland. Eventually, Winkler moved abroad to teach at "the Harvard of Thailand" for two years, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Winkler identifies himself as a global citizen.

Keywords: Applications; Chulalongkorn University; Global citizen; Graduate school; Master's degree; Public school; Relatable; Teaching abroad

Subjects: Bangkok (Thailand); Creative writing; Education; English; Oakland (Calif.); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Perception; Schools; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Teacher; Teaching; Thailand; United States

GPS: Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok)
Map Coordinates: 13.738359, 100.532097
00:52:43 - Second Peace Corps tour

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Partial Transcript: --Um--yeah so it was thirty years later, you decided to go to--uh--Czech Republic, huh?

Segment Synopsis: Winkler and his wife went to the Czech Republic teaching English instead of their desired placement of Mongolia. Winkler and his wife had a different perspective on the Czech Republic than Czechs, as a recently established democracy that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. Winkler and his wife taught students with ease, but had more difficulties dealing with government bureaucracy and lingering Communist ways of thinking.

Keywords: Appearance; Application; Placement; Thinking; Wife

Subjects: Bureaucracy; Change; Cold War; Communism; Czech Republic; Czechs; Democracy; Education; English; Mongolia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Czech Republic; Philosophy; Students; Teaching

00:54:17 - Work and living conditions

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your--uh--what you did there and what your living situation was like.

Segment Synopsis: In the Czech Republic, Winkler and his wife lived north of Prague in Liberec, a polluted region of the country, instructing English teachers at the Technical University of Liberec. They lived in a large dorm room with a hotplate and bathroom. Winkler recalls the climate being very cold. They had a hard time with the staff, who were all former Communist educators. Some of the educators were resentful of their students who had opportunities that were not available to them. Winkler and his wife questioned why Peace Corps Volunteers there. While Winkler was there, Czech society was going through a post-communist transformation. The Winklers are still in touch with their Czech host family. Winkler recalls that older people were suspicious of Americans, while younger people reached out to the volunteers.

Keywords: Amenities; Bathroom; Dorm; Host family; Hotplate; Opportunities; Seniors; Technical University of Liberec; Wife

Subjects: Americans; Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany, 1961-1989; Change; Cold; Communication; Communism; Communists; Czechs; Education; Educators; English; Liberec (Czech Republic); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Czech Republic; Pollution; Resentment; Society; Staff; Students; Suspicion; Teachers; Teaching; Trust; Volunteers; Walking; Weather; Young

GPS: Liberec (Czech Republic)
Map Coordinates: 50.766667, 15.066667
00:59:10 - Pre-service training in Czech Republic

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Partial Transcript: Everything was in-country then.

Segment Synopsis: Winkers' pre-service training was in-country. Winkler found it difficult to learn Czech, especially so for the older volunteers. To foster language learning, the volunteers were required to speak in Czech to the locals on the streets. Winkler's group was the last Peace Corps cohort to serve in the Czech Republic. Attrition was high in the group. The Winklers also eventually left their post early.

Keywords: Difficult; End; Issues; Leaving; Technical University of Liberec

Subjects: Czech; Languages; Liberec (Czech Republic); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Czech Republic; Training; Volunteers

GPS: Liberec (Czech Republic)
Map Coordinates: 50.766667, 15.066667
01:01:49 - Interpersonal relationships and Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What would you tell--uh--older volunteers who had--maybe had some reservations about going to a foreign country.

Segment Synopsis: Winkler observed that older people are respected in developing countries. The person-to-person contact that volunteers have with the nationals makes a difference and helps to accomplish the three Peace Corps goals. One reason that Winkler was hired at a college upon his return was his international experience.

Keywords: Friends; Goals; Ideals; Locals; Old people; Return; Seniors; Talking; University

Subjects: Culture; Developing countries; Experience; International travel; Interpersonal relationships; Languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Czech Republic; Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Philosophy; Respect

01:04:49 - Long-term impact of Peace Corps on Winkler's life

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Partial Transcript: . . . Any last minute thoughts on Peace Corps? Is there anything we missed?

Segment Synopsis: For Winkler, Peace Corps was life changing. Winkler is very appreciative of the opportunity to represent his country through Peace Corps. Making connections with people in India sparked his continued interest in Asia, culminating in the publication of several books. All of that was based on the Asian experience that Peace Corps allowed him to have. Winkler whole-heatedly recommends Peace Corps to others.

Keywords: Highly recommended; Image; Impact; Life-long interest in Asia; Recommends Peace Corps

Subjects: Americans; Asia; Books; Czech Republic; India; Interest; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Czech Republic; Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Representation; United States; Writing