Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Christopher W. Roesel, September 28, 2021

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


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00:00:13 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps / Applying

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Partial Transcript: I was born in Savannah, Georgia and in a large Catholic family of seven children.

Segment Synopsis: Roesel was born in Savannah and grew up in Georgia, which was racially segregated. After high school, in 1967, Roesel attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but found himself questioning the school's philosophy. During his junior year, citing a health issue, Roesel transferred to the University of Georgia and doubled majored in chemistry and biology. After working for a period, Roesel went to graduate school. In order to see more of the world, Roesel applied to the Peace Corps in 1972.

Keywords: Black Americans; College majors; Motivation; Traveling; Undergraduate education

Subjects: African Americans; College students--Attitudes; Colorado Springs (Colo.); Emotions; Health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Racism; Religion; Savannah (Ga.); Stress (Psychology); United States Air Force Academy; Universities and colleges; University of Georgia; Waynesboro (Ga.)

GPS: Savannah (Ga.)
Map Coordinates: 32.081111, -81.091111
GPS: Waynesboro (Ga.)
Map Coordinates: 33.090556, -82.015278
GPS: Colorado Springs (Colo.)
Map Coordinates: 38.833889, -104.825278
GPS: University of Georgia
Map Coordinates: 33.9558, -83.3745
00:06:17 - Invitations

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Partial Transcript: I was accepted, uh, for Liberia

Segment Synopsis: Roesel was invited to serve in Liberia but turned it down in order to get married. Roesel and his wife were subsequently both invited to serve in Guatemala in the school garden program. Most of the other cohort members were also married couples.

Keywords: Applications; Cohorts; Garden programs; Invitations; Marriage; Peace Corps (U.S.)--1970-1980; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Guatemela

Subjects: Guatemala; Liberia; Peace Corps (U.S.)

GPS: Liberia
Map Coordinates: 6.5, -9.5
GPS: Guatemala
Map Coordinates: 15.5, -90.25
00:07:46 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: We flew to Guatemala.

Segment Synopsis: Roesel's project was to work with primary school teachers, the students, and the parents to create a school garden and use the produce to create school lunches. Roesel identifies what he believes were some of the problems with the project. During pre-service training, the trainees lived with host families in Antigua, Guatemala. Roesel describes the traditional society of the indigenous people which the volunteers in his program were designed to help.

Keywords: Cultural training; Ethnic minority regions; Examinations; Exams; Fluency; Gender roles; K'iche' (Language); Language training; Local languages; Local people; Locals; Roommates; Rural areas; School systems; Technical training; Volcan de Agua (Guatemala); Volcan de Fuego (Guatemala)

Subjects: Antigua (Guatemala); Colima (Mexico : Volcano); Culture; Guatemala; International travel; Lifestyles; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); South America; Spanish language.; United States Air Force Academy; Universities and colleges; University of Georgia; Uruguay; Volunteer workers in horticulture

GPS: United States Air Force Academy
Map Coordinates: 39.01, -104.89
GPS: University of Georgia
Map Coordinates: 33.9558, -83.3745
GPS: Antigua (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.566667, -90.733333
GPS: Volcan de Agua (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.4365, -90.743056
GPS: Volcan de Fuego (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.474722, -90.880833
00:20:25 - Assignment

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Partial Transcript: It was a smaller town than Antigua and a smaller town than Patzun.

Segment Synopsis: Roesel and his wife were assigned to Quetzaltenango, close to Lake Atitlan which was popular with tourists. There was a daily bus from Roesel's town to the capital and back.

Keywords: Cultural training; Guatemala City (Guatemala); Lake Atitlan (Guatemala); Language training; Patzun (Guatemala); Peace Corps directors; Pre-service training; Technical training; Tourists; Transportation; Traveling

Subjects: Antigua (Guatemala); Atitlán, Lake (Guatemala); Georgia; Guatemala (Guatemala); Patzún (Guatemala); Peace Corps (U.S.); Quetzaltenango (Guatemala); Savannah (Ga.)

GPS: Antigua (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.566667, -90.733333
GPS: Patzun (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.6778106, -91.0254508
GPS: Guatemala City (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.613333, -90.535278
GPS: Quetzaltenago (Guatemala)
Map Coordinates: 14.8390624, -91.5910387
GPS: Savannah (Ga.)
Map Coordinates: 32.081111, -81.091111
00:24:56 - Expectations of Guatemala

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Partial Transcript: When, when you went to Guatemala, and in particular when, when you arrived at your site, uhm, what did you think it was going to be like and, and how did you find it was either the same or different from what you had expected?

Segment Synopsis: Roesel recounts one of several instances of local government corruption which didn't overly surprise him. Roesel was most surprised by learning of the U.S. government interference in Guatemalan politics and economy.

Keywords: Acclimation; Bureaucracy; Cultural training; Orientation; Pre-service training; Support

Subjects: Acculturation; Bolivia; Corruption.; Guatemala; Peace Corps (U.S.); World politics

GPS: Bolivia
Map Coordinates: -16.712, -64.666
GPS: Guatemala
Map Coordinates: 15.5, -90.25
00:35:25 - Daily routines

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Partial Transcript: In terms of any routine that you had in, in the village, what was, uh, what were days like?

Segment Synopsis: Roesel was involved with twenty-one elementary schools. Each school day, Roesel would visit two or three of these schools by foot, bus, or bike. On one vacation, Roesel bought a ten-speed bike and rode it from Panama back to Guatemala. He describes a coffee plantation where one of his schools was located. According to Roesel, a basic problem of his project was getting the cooperation of the teachers. For the teachers to get involved in farming was degrading to them which was complicated by the teachers usually coming from a different ethnic group from the local people. Another hurdle was coming in as an outsider and trying to alter the traditional farming methods. Roesel enjoyed working with the children and starting the gardens. Roesel also tried teaching English as some of the schools.

Keywords: Community; Community involvement; Ethnicity; Local people; Locals; Outsiders; Spanish (Language); Teaching English as a foreign language

Subjects: Costa Rica; El Salvador; Germany; Guatemala; Honduras; International travel; Minnesota; Minorities; Nicaragua; Panama; Peace Corps (U.S.); Schools; Social norms

GPS: Nicaragua
Map Coordinates: 13.133333, -85.116667
00:50:10 - Re-entry

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk a little about, uh, finishing your service and coming back.

Segment Synopsis: Roesel returned to the University of Georgia to complete his master's degree in nutrition. Several months after Roesel's return to Georgia, there was a devastating earthquake in Guatemala that indirectly caused him stress. In addition, Roesel and his wife found themselves incompatible and got divorced. Roesel had difficulty reconciling his volunteer experience with his previous beliefs. Roesel moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for Peace Corps for a year. Next, Roesel attended Johns Hopkins University and studied health planning in developing countries. After graduation, Roesel became a consultant for the federal government. Roesel describes some of the projects on which he was involved.

Keywords: Applying; College majors; Earthquakes; Georgia; Graduate schools; John Lewis; Master's degrees; Peace Corps staff; Personal growth; Professors; Transition periods

Subjects: Africa; Birmingham (Ala.); Health; India; Interpersonal relations; Johns Hopkins University; Middle East; Natural disasters; Nigeria; Peace Corps (U.S.); United States. Agency for International Development.; Universities and colleges; University of Georgia; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: University of Georgia
Map Coordinates: 33.9558, -83.3745
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Birmingham (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 33.5175, -86.809444
GPS: Johns Hopkins University
Map Coordinates: 39.328889, -76.620278
01:03:06 - International career

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Partial Transcript: At any rate, you went back overseas.

Segment Synopsis: Starting in 1983, Roesel went to work for CARE working with refugees in Southeast Asia. Roesel has written two books about his various projects including work in Bolivia and Ecuador. In addition, Roesel has created a small nonprofit organization to further put his development ideas into practice.

Keywords: Advice; Books; Borders; CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere); Commitments; Inoculations; Nutrition; Reforms; Traveling; Vaccinations

Subjects: Africa; Asia; Bolivia; Cambodia; Ecuador; Emotions; Food habits; Guatemala; International travel; Kenya; Laos; Non-governmental organizations; Nonprofit organizations; Research; Sierra Leone; Thailand; Uganda; United Nations; Vietnam; Zambia