Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Caroline Currie, October 21, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Inspiration to apply to Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hello. Today is October 21, 2021.

Segment Synopsis: Currie attended a rally in San Jose, California where John F. Kennedy spoke. His words inspired her to apply to Peace Corps, along with her husband. Her flight to the Philippines was her first time out of the U.S.

Keywords: John F. Kennedy; Philippines; San Jose (Calif.)

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

GPS: Philippines
Map Coordinates: 13, 122
GPS: San Jose (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.336111, -121.890556
00:04:08 - Family and friends' reactions to her decision to join

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Partial Transcript: And, um, what did your family and friends think about you, uh, volunteering?

Segment Synopsis: Forty years later, Currie's mother told her that she thought that she'd lost her daughter when Currie left the country. Currie says the Peace Corps was "just who we were."

Keywords: Decisions; Family; Forty years later; Lost; Mothers; Reactions

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

00:06:34 - Peace Corps application process

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Partial Transcript: And, um, you said you were married at the time that you, uh, you applied?

Segment Synopsis: Currie was married before leaving for her Peace Corps service. The application process was easy for Currie and her husband. Currie doesn't remember the application process well. Volunteers were in math, science, and language arts for the Philippines, for which they both qualified.

Keywords: Language arts; Married; Math; Science; Teachers; Teaching

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

00:09:10 - Pre-service training: An experimental model

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Partial Transcript: Well, I have to say that we had a very unique training.

Segment Synopsis: Currie had had limited exposure to the Philippines via an uncle, but was unable to locate the islands on a map. Peace Corps training was held outside of Hilo, Hawaii in an abandoned school's classrooms. Volunteers were asked what they needed and said that they needed a kitchen. Currie was in Group 13B, an experimental group in terms of training with Filipino trainers. Volunteers presented classes to the local community members; Currie taught sewing. Bathing and toileting were crude, with no hot water at all. The married couples erected privacy areas in their classroom. Off of what had been the principal's office was a tiny office that was dedicated, on a rotating basis, for the married couples. Volunteers presented a play for community members using items and clothing from the school. There were daily runs of several miles for physical training. In Waipio, there were buildings that simulated those in the Philippines where the group dug latrines in pouring rain as a part of installing water-sealed toilets as a service project. Currie learned Tagalog. The training, for Currie, was "excellent." The experimental model was not replicated after her group despite not having any attrition in-country from her group. Currie says deselection was "brutal" during training.

Keywords: Classrooms; Coercion; Deselection; Group 13B; Hilo (Hawaii); Married couples; Peace Corps staff; Physical training; Waipio (Hawaii)

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

GPS: Waipio (Hawaii)
Map Coordinates: 21.418056, -157.998056
GPS: Hilo (Hawaii)
Map Coordinates: 19.705556, -155.085833
00:20:54 - First exposure to Filipino people

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Partial Transcript: Now you said your, your uncle had, uh, had brought a couple of, uh, kids from the Philippines to Texas.

Segment Synopsis: "Culture is fun!" Currie loved the Filipino people she met. Her instructors were "tough" but good in training.

Keywords: Culture; Pre-service training

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

00:23:26 - Pre-service training in Palawan

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Partial Transcript: Alright, so you completed your training and then, uh, traveled to the Philippines.

Segment Synopsis: Currie and her group traveled from Honolulu, Hawaii to Manila, Philippines with an army escort due to political unrest. They stayed there for three nights, meeting with officials. For the next two weeks, they visited on-site with volunteers who had been there awhile. She and her husband went to Palawan; within two days, the culture shock set in for Currie. A remedy of Jack Daniels whiskey, prescribed by the country director, helped her cope. Currie missed her extended family in Texas. She returned to Palawan and completed the two weeks there.

Keywords: Honolulu (Hawaii); Jack Daniels; Manila (Philippines); Palawan (Philippines); Pre-service training; Remedies

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture shock; Peace Corps (U.S.); Philippines; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Honolulu (Hawaii)
Map Coordinates: 21.306944, -157.858333
GPS: Palawan (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 10, 118.83
GPS: Manila (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 14.5958, 120.9772
00:30:58 - Living arrangements

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Partial Transcript: Well, you were only there in--you stayed in Palawan for two weeks and then, um, where did they assign you to?

Segment Synopsis: Currie was assigned to work in Lucena City in Luzon, a rural area. They lived in the top floor of a hut on stilts above the pig sty, with the required water-sealed toilet. Currie cooked on two burners on a kerosene stove; a Styrofoam container was the refrigerator. The landlord was their host family.

Keywords: Kerosene stoves; Lucena (Philippines); Luzon (Philippines); Pig sties; Refrigeration; Stilts; Water-sealed toilets

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

GPS: Lucena (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 13.93, 121.62
GPS: Luzon (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 16, 121
00:35:39 - Teaching in the school

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Partial Transcript: And tell me about the, the school. What was that like?

Segment Synopsis: Currie's K-6 school was elevated and had multiple classrooms. Kids started learning English in second grade. The kids cut the grass using small knives. Currie co-taught math and introduced the New Math system. To her, the pre-service training in math and science by faculty from the University of Hawaii was excellent. Currie taught the teachers the new approach to math by demonstrating the techniques in classrooms. Gradually, teachers from the outlying barrios also were taught these strategies. There was another Volunteer with whom they worked. People received them with "open arms." Everyone in the school attended an assembly to welcome Currie and her husband when they arrived. Currie had to speak to them in Tagalog, a frightening experience.

Keywords: Classrooms; Co-teaching; Math teachers; Mathematics; New Math; Pods; Schools; Tagalog (Language); University of Hawaii faculty

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

00:42:18 - Socializing

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Partial Transcript: So these, uh, these relationships with your local counterparts and the people in the community, uh, they can really make or break your experience...

Segment Synopsis: Currie's experience as a married woman differed from that of single Volunteers; she and her husband did not live with host families. Because her husband taught in the high school and Currie in the elementary school, they interacted with many people in the community. They socialized with the other American Volunteer, as well as with the Maryknoll nun in the city. The nun entertained them on every American holiday; she was key for all three Volunteers. Currie's family knew Sister Ramona's family in California.

Keywords: American holidays; California; Friendships; Leisure time; Maryknoll nuns; Recreation; Socializing

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

GPS: California
Map Coordinates: 37, -120
00:45:41 - Favorite parts of living in Lucena City and difficult aspects of it

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Partial Transcript: What were some of your favorite things about living, uh, living out there in, uh, Lucena?

Segment Synopsis: According to Currie, the kids around her were welcoming and "sweet." People assumed that she and her husband didn't eat rice, so they'd overcompensate with bread when serving them meals. She found it sometimes awkward not to eat all that was served to her. She liked the movies, the countryside, and many other aspects. Where she lived, it was the coconut providence; she learned much about harvesting coconuts while living there. Each day, she learned something new that completely changed her life.

Keywords: Bread; Coconuts; Food habits; Food security; Kids; Rice

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Philippines; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:49:03 - Reactions of others to the volunteers / Brother in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Well n-now, you were there during the Vietnam era, and there, there were quite a bit of, uh, U.S. military in the Philippines at that time.

Segment Synopsis: The local people acknowledged that Currie was there as a teacher, but they never really understood that she and her husband were not a part of a Hollywood movie. This proved to be a difficult barrier. There was no military personnel in her city. While Currie was serving, her brother was serving in the Vietnam War, which was hard for her parents to grasp. Her brother took time away from his post in Vietnam to visit Currie when her first child was born. Her brother took her to the PX in Camp John Hay where she bought baby supplies.

Keywords: Assumptions; Brothers; Camp John Hay (Philippines); Hollywood movies; Local people; Vietnam War

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

GPS: Camp John Hay (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 16.3926, 120.6193
00:53:42 - Travel while in service

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Partial Transcript: So getting back to your time in, um, in Lucena, while you were there did you get some time off?

Segment Synopsis: While in the Philippines, Currie and her husband traveled around the country, including to Zamboanga where Peace Corps had a training site where she went for in-service training.

Keywords: Travel within the country; Zamboanga (Philippines)

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

GPS: Zamboanga (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 6.92, 122.08
00:55:12 - Stories from service

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Partial Transcript: Um, any other, um, things you want to talk about?

Segment Synopsis: Currie tells her grandchildren stories about her time serving. Hers is "a story-telling family." Currie and her husband were given old Army mosquito nets; for two years, she and her husband slept on a 3/4-sized woven bed with one twin-sized mosquito net. Once, when a new Volunteer visited them, they played a joke on him by placing a huge moth inside of the net. He got out of bed really fast. She remembers the first leech on her leg, the first large spider, and other stories.

Keywords: Insects; Jokes; Mosquito nets; Moths; Pranks; Stories from service

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

00:57:50 - Extension of service as a regional representative

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Partial Transcript: Alright, well, uh, so, your impressions of the country changed enough, uh, that you, you decided to stay there.

Segment Synopsis: After service, Currie and her husband returned home for a few months and, then, her husband was hired as a regional representative for the Philippines. They lived there for another 3 years in Zamboanga, Mindanao, where the population is largely Muslim. They lived in a house built on stilts with a nipa thatched roof, behind which there was a conference center. Unfortunately, Currie is asthmatic and was pregnant; she was hospitalized and then never returned to the site. She moved to Baguio, away from her husband, where her first child was born. Currie felt like a part of the culture. Currie's father and mother-in-law visited them while they were in Lucena. She says that, generally, Filipinos are not demonstrative people; when her father-in-law met the school principal, he hugged her and felt awful afterwards. Her mother-in-law smoked, which was not socially appropriate then there. But, they tried hard to fit into society.

Keywords: Asthma; Baguio (Philippines); Childbirth; Extended service; Family visits; Long-distance relationships; Lucena (Philippines); Mindanao (Philippines); Muslims; Nipa roofs; Peace Corps staff; Regional representatives; Zamboanga (Philippines)

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

GPS: Mindanao (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 8, 125
GPS: Zamboanga (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 6.92, 122.08
GPS: Baguio (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 16.415167, 120.595594
01:06:50 - Life after Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: In, in your, um, your post-Peace Corps years there your, your role kind of changed...

Segment Synopsis: Volunteers often stayed with them on holidays while they lived in Baguio. Currie also connected with the Filipino community. She met with a group of wives of the gold miners, as well as with the wife of a staff member at Voice of America. Living as an ex-patriate broadened her heart and mind. Returning to the U.S., Currie earned a graduate degree in learning disabilities which she combined with her interest in immigrants. She became proficient in Spanish to work more effectively with them. Currie was a principal of multi-cultural students; she now works as a contractor in local government. In 2006, Currie worked for a year in rural China where she taught English in an immersion course preparing staff of the upcoming Olympics. Because of her Peace Corps experiences, she could accept the circumstances as they were and do her work. In "every phase of my life, that adaptability and acceptance, and willingness to observe before acting" were the best attributes from her service.

Keywords: Baguio (Philippines); China; Contractors; Differences; Gold miners; Holidays; Homesickness; Immigrants; Professional life after Peace Corps; Voice of America

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Philippines; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Baguio (Philippines)
Map Coordinates: 16.415167, 120.595594
GPS: China
Map Coordinates: 35, 103
01:17:31 - Connections with Group 13B

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Partial Transcript: And you said you, you, you've still been in touch with other people from your group?

Segment Synopsis: Currie is involved in reunions with members of Group 13B Philippines, as well as constant email contact. Currie doesn't have much contact with Filipinos, however. She has many air-o-gram letters (onion paper) sent and received by friends and family when she was in service.

Keywords: Air-o-gram letters; Group 13B Philippines; Reunions with Group 13B Volunteers

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

01:21:30 - Immersion into culture / Husband serving as Deputy Director in Saipan, Mariana Islands

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, just to, I, I don't know, to kind of wrap things up here, what, what do you think your--back in the Philippines, your major accomplishments in the, in the Philippines were?

Segment Synopsis: Currie thinks that, in her town, she expanded teachers' teaching methods. Seeing teachers understand numbers was gratifying. She and her husband folded into the culture; to this day, she feels part Filipino. Currie often recommends Peace Corps for potential Volunteers. Peace Corps helped her "shed it all," and immerse in the culture. For Currie, the pre-service training helped her be aware of this need to immerse: they could not be "the ugly American." "I'd rather travel than eat." Currie's husband was deputy director in Saipan, Mariana Islands, where she became "the mother" for the Volunteers. Serving while living in the Micronesian Islands presented unique issues for Volunteers, especially vulnerable female Volunteers in remote locations.

Keywords: "The Ugly American"; Accomplishments; Deputy directors; Immersion; Peace Corps staff; Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands); Vulnerable female Volunteers

Subjects: Acculturation; Northern Mariana Islands; Peace Corps (U.S.); Philippines; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands)
Map Coordinates: 15.183333, 145.75