Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Christina Thuemer, March 9, 2022

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


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00:00:00 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hi, my name is Don Yates. I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: When she was an infant, Thuemer's family moved to India for about five years. When she was growing up, Thuemer also lived in Ghana and Munich. Thuemer graduated from high school in Delhi. Thuemer experienced culture shock during her first year of college in Illinois. Consequently, she transferred to Bard College. After completing college, Thuemer was eager to go overseas again which was one reason that she applied to the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Bard College; Culture shock; Delhi (India); Ghana; Illinois; India; International travel; Motivation; Munich (Germany); Peace Corps (U.S.)--1970-1980; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Zaire; Study abroad; Traveling; Universities and colleges; Volunteer workers in education

GPS: Munich (Germany)
Map Coordinates: 48.1375, 11.575
GPS: Delhi (India)
Map Coordinates: 28.61, 77.23
GPS: Bard College
Map Coordinates: 42.020278, -73.91
00:02:10 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: How did, how, how did you think about Zaire or did they tell you where to go?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer was assigned to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) by the Peace Corps. Previously, Thuemer had studied French. Thuemer recalls being taken to the airport in Ghana, at age ten, to greet the first Peace Corps Volunteers to arrive there. This inspired Thuemer to join the Peace Corps. Thuemer had a degree in English but didn't want to teach. However, Peace Corps assigned Thuemer to an English teaching program. After receiving her posting, Thuemer had a month before her departure from the U.S.

Keywords: College majors; Democratic Republic of Congo; French (Language); Future plans; Ghana; Posting; South America; Sub-Saharan Africa; Teaching English as a foreign language; Undergraduate education; Volunteers; Waiting periods; Zaire

GPS: Zaire now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo
Map Coordinates: -4.4, 15.4
GPS: South America
Map Coordinates: -15.6192144, -100.9204189
GPS: Sub-Saharan Africa
Map Coordinates: 2.1419167, -16.9397626
GPS: Ghana
Map Coordinates: 7.816667, -1.05
00:04:07 - Staging / Departure

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Partial Transcript: And then you met up here in the States with other PCVs?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer's group, Zaire II, started with one hundred and twelve members. The cohort first had a week-long staging in Philadelphia. The cohort next flew to England and then Entebbe. Soon after take off from Entebbe, Thuemer's flight was ordered to return by the Ugandan military. Upon returning to Entebbe, the trainees' luggage was searched and they were accused of being Israeli mercenaries. The trainees were held by armed guards at the airport terminal for over a day before being released to the Lake Victoria Hotel.

Keywords: Attitudes; Cohorts; Democratic Republic of Congo; England; Entebbe (Uganda); Gabon; Ghana; Idi Amin; International travel; Israel; Joseph-Desire Mobutu; Lake Victoria Hotel (Uganda); Malaria; Medicine; Omar Bongo; Orientation; Philadelphia (Pa.); Press; Racism; Richard M. Nixon; Traveling; Zaire

GPS: Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952778, -75.163611
GPS: Entebbe (Uganda)
Map Coordinates: 0.05, 32.46
GPS: Lake Victoria Hotel (Uganda)
Map Coordinates: 0.0557763, 32.4648967
00:09:49 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So finally, um, we were able to get back on the plane, or another plane, and head to Bukavu.

Segment Synopsis: Finally, the cohort reached Bukavu for three months of pre-service training.

Keywords: Africa; Boarding schools; Bukavu (Zaire); French (Language); High schools; Idi Amin; International travel; Language training; Technical training; Training centers; Volunteers

00:12:48 - Assignment

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Partial Transcript: Where were you sent from the training?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer was assigned to English at a high school in Sona Bata. Thuemer describes teaching at the school. Thuemer had a lot of freedom in her class as English was not considered a crucial subject by the administration. Thuemer was uncertain what to do about widespread student cheating.

Keywords: Belgium; Democratic Republic of Congo; Examinations; Exams; French (Language); High schools; Joseph-Desire Mobutu; Kikongo (Language); Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo); Lingala (Language); London (England); Manners and customs; National languages; School systems; Sona Bata (Zaire); Student activities; Sub-Saharan Africa; Teaching English as a foreign language; Volunteer workers in education; West Africa; Zaire

GPS: Sona Bata (Zaire) now Sona Bata (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Map Coordinates: -4.900055, 15.153923
GPS: Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Map Coordinates: -4.325, 15.322222
GPS: London (England)
Map Coordinates: 51.507222, -0.1275
00:22:18 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: During your down time, maybe after two o'clock or on weekends, uh, how did you, what did you do?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer spent her free time sewing, cooking, and reading. There were two other Volunteers from the earlier cohort teaching at Thuemer's school.

Keywords: Cohorts; Democratic Republic of Congo; Site mates; Socializing; Volunteers; Zaire

00:23:35 - Living situation

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about your housing. How did they set you up there ?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer describes her living situation.

Keywords: Adjustment; Amenities; Kinshasa (Zaire); Problems; Roommates; Traveling

00:27:13 - Difficulties

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Partial Transcript: What were some of the hard things?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer found it challenging to establish new, close relationships with local people. Thuemer found her site mates helpful but isolation was a problem. Thuemer says she received personal mail about every nineteen days.

Keywords: Challenges; Housework; Interpersonal relations; Isolation; Kinshasa (Zaire); Letters; Traveling; Volunteers

00:29:59 - Vacations

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Partial Transcript: You must of had some vacation time. Did you travel?

Segment Synopsis: During her first summer vacation, Thuemer spent a week in Paris with her parents. From there, Thuemer went to East Africa to meet up with some other Volunteers from Zaire. Thuemer describes problems during the trip. Sometimes during shorter vacation periods, Thuemer would go to the beach at Matadi or make site visits to see other Volunteers.

Keywords: Borders; Democratic Republic of Congo; East Africa; England; Kenya; Matadi (Zaire); Norms; Parents; Paris (France); Site visits; Tanzania; Transportation; Victoria Falls; Volunteers; Waiting periods; Zaire; Zambia

GPS: Paris (France)
Map Coordinates: 48.856613, 2.352222
GPS: Victoria Falls
Map Coordinates: -17.924444, 25.856667
GPS: Matadi (Zaire) now Matadi (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Map Coordinates: -5.816667, 13.483333
00:35:47 - Health

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your health during your two years.

Segment Synopsis: During pre-service training, because of the malaria medication, Thuemer and two other trainees experienced unusual hair loss. Thuemer says her physical health was otherwise generally good. However, Theumer ended service four months early because of mental concerns. Thuemer was having a problem with depression which she had also experienced as a college student.

Keywords: Career paths; Co-teachers; Fiji; Malaria; Medication; Mental health; Peace Corps staff; Pre-service training; Teaching

00:41:43 - Acclimation

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Partial Transcript: Tell me something about the, your interrelationship with the culture and, and the religions and, and the involvement with that.

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer discusses the role of religion in the local community and her relationship with her students.

Keywords: Acculturation; Belgium; Dancing; Drinking; Jesus Christ; Relationships; Religion; Second Goal; Simon Kimbangu; Third Goal; Volunteers

00:43:55 - Accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: What do you think were your major accomplishments and any, what, what regrets might you have had over your period of time?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer says she treasures the mutually wonderful relationship she had with her students. Thuemer feels that her teaching improved markedly during her second year of service. Thuemer comments that since she was close in age to her students that helped her identify with them and vice versa.

Keywords: Adaptability; Autonomy; Belgium; Co-teachers; Independence; Students; Teachers; Teaching

00:46:06 - Career path

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Partial Transcript: What did you do directly after the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer says she had a boyfriend from college who was living on Long Island, so she moved to New York City to be with him and found a secretarial job. After a year, Thuemer resumed teaching in grades five through eight and doing school admissions. Thuemer describes her subsequent professional and private life.

Keywords: Co-teachers; Democratic Republic of Congo; English (Language); Finance; French (Language); Long Island (N.Y.); Middleburg (Va.); New York City (N.Y.); Retirement; Traveling; Washington (D.C.); Washington International School; Zaire

GPS: New York City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.712778, -74.006111
GPS: Middleburg (Va.)
Map Coordinates: 38.968333, -77.7375
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Washington International School
Map Coordinates: 38.9338, -77.0617
00:50:50 - Three Goals of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: You might know that the Peace Corps has three major goals.

Segment Synopsis: Thuemer notes that understanding cultural differences certainly was relevant to her work at Washington International School. Thuemer describes some of the cross cultural problems which occurred at this school.

Keywords: Africa; African Americans; Angola; Australia; Belgium; Black Americans; Civil rights movements; Democratic Republic of Congo; Diversity; France; George Floyd; Identity; Myanmar; Second Goal; South America; Teachers; Third Goal; Washington International School; Zaire

GPS: Washington International School
Map Coordinates: 38.9338, -77.0617