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Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

Supporting VIP Visits: The Drama Behind the Curtain

By Judith Baroody
Among the highlights of Public Diplomacy Officers’ careers are the times they are called on to provide support to a visit abroad by a USG VIP, such as the President, the Secretary of State or Defense, and Congressional representatives and their delegations.

These meteor-fast encounters with powerful officials can range from exhilarating to humiliating, with the entire embassy devoted to this one event from the day the pre-advance team touches down until the celebrations following “Wheels Up.” Careers can tank or soar as a result of these encounters with the mighty and famous, and the key to success can be as simple as maintaining a sense of courtesy and humor.

Think about how many Presidents and Secretaries of State you served during your career; in my case, seven presidents and eleven Secretaries. Depending on where you were posted, you may have worked on few VIP visits or several. Martin Quinn, for example, handled SecState visits from Baker to Pompeo. These visits were filled with surprises, such as the night Secretary Clinton’s plane broke down in Jeddah. He invited her to join the consulate staff to dine on huge platters of Middle Eastern cuisine and she happily accepted:

“The memorable aspect of the meal, aside from her obvious relish for Middle Eastern cuisine, was that — unlike many senior officials — she made absolutely no effort to hold forth during dinner while chatting informally with everyone around the table just making small talk. One soon forgot that our dinner-partner that February evening in Jeddah was the most famous woman in the world.” (Click here for Martin’s story)

Earlier, when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she traveled with President Clinton, including on his first overseas trip as President to France in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. DCM Avis Bohlen was her control officer. She found the FLOTUS to be accommodating and gracious, advance team members less so. (Click here for Avis’s story; thanks to ADST.org for this and other excerpts.)

First Lady Hillary Clinton later accompanied the President to the APEC Summit in the Philippines in 1996. U.S. Embassy Manila IO Bruce Byers had the chance to meet with her and President Clinton, and to act as control officer for another VIP, USIA Director Joseph Duffy. (Click here for Bruce’s story.)

Another First Lady, Nancy Reagan, was blissfully unaware of the behind-the-scenes struggles Michael Boostein was going through in providing TDY assistance with the 1985 POTUS visit to the Embassy of the Holy See. She wanted to go to a distant castle. His arrangements to fulfill her wish almost led to career catastrophe when the helicopter which was to take her back to Rome took off without her. (Click here for Mike’s story)

That same year, Thomas Johnson, then Branch PAO in Frankfurt, had his own near-disaster with President Reagan. The President’s decision to lay a wreath at the cemetery in Bitburg became a Public Relations firestorm when the media learned that among those buried there were SS soldiers. The “Great Communicator” dealt with the challenge like a cool professional: “Reagan walked to the front of the cemetery, turned left toward the journalists with the monument to his right. His head slightly bowed. His hand toward the public was relaxed, while his hand toward the monument was white knuckled.” (Click here for Tom’s story)

Lloyd Neighbors faced another unexpected challenge as PAO in Shanghai when the White House decided to hold President George W. Bush’s news conference in the atrium of the Portman Hotel where he was lodging. The problem was that the hotel “didn’t look Chinese.” The solution?

“We called the Shanghai Film Studio and asked them to build a movie set at the Portman that would without a doubt say ‘China.’ So the studio builds this set that looks like a Chinese imperial palace. And they bring it in to the Portman at 4:00 in the morning, driving this huge truck with all the set materials into a highly secure area, through a cordon of guards and fences around the president’s hotel.

“Trying to get this shipment at 4:00 in the morning through security was just a filthy task. But we did it, and it looked like an imperial palace in the Land of Oz. It was an imposing structure, vermillion walls with gold trim. It did look like we were in China, a China of the Boxer Rebellion days, perhaps.” (Click here for Lloyd’s story)

These visits often pop up at the worst times for the officers who have to drop everything to work on them, as Philip Brown attests from a sojourn on his way to Moscow. Later, for the first Secretary of State visit to Africa, in Cameroon in 1970, Brown was assigned as control officer for the wife of Secretary William Rogers. It turned out to be a unexpectedly pleasant job. (Click here for Philip’s story about his way to Moscow; click here for his story about Cameroon.)

Also in Africa, Angier Peavy had very different challenges supporting the visit of Secretary Rice to an IDP camp in Darfur, Sudan. One was to keep people at a distance from the woman they affectionately called “Condoleeza”: “I had particular problems with some old ladies who were determined to get up close and personal to ululate and thus show their respect and gratitude.” (Click here for Angier’s story.)

Michael Korff worked on another harrowing visit of Secretary of Defense (and former FSO) Frank Carlucci to Bern. That visit included a pleasant carriage ride through the small village from which Carlucci’s ancestors had emigrated. The Soviet Embassy proved uncooperative. (Click here for Mike’s story.)

Prime Minister John Major and President George H.W. Bush in Bermuda

I think back gratefully on the many VIP visits I supported throughout my career. Few were as soggy as the March 1991 trip by President George H.W. Bush to Bermuda for a summit with UK Prime Minister John Major. There were numerous countdown meetings at the Hamilton Princess Hotel. The weather was windy, warm, and humid. The President arrived in the late afternoon on Thursday, March 14, and the traveling press arrived after midnight.
The weather turned dark and stormy, with high tides and driving rain, but that didn’t stop the President from fishing in the choppy waters and playing golf at the Mid-Ocean Golf Club in the rain, lashed sideways by the wind. My job was to escort the press around the course and on to the bus, all the while thinking, “Why can’t he just pop in a video and relax like a normal person?”

The President met with Prime Minister Major at Government House, planted a tree, and had a press conference. After all that downpour and gale-force squalls, his comment was, “It’s just as pleasant as I remembered it.”¤


Judith Baroody is a member of the PDAA Board of Director’s and serves as chair of the Awards Committee.

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Location, Location, Location: Diplomacy Is with People

by Mike Anderson

Everyone knows the old real estate agent’s phrase “Location, location, location,” which Lord Harold Samuel reportedly coined when he founded a big U.K. property company in 1948.

But the phrase could just as well have come out of the mouth of any public diplomacy officer who has ever worked abroad. We all know and truly appreciate the importance of the location of our official residences while serving in a U.S. embassy or consulate. Where you live does really matter to your ability to do your job and stay healthy and secure.

During my USIA and State Department PD career, I was fortunate to work in seven countries, including two where I enjoyed two, separate four-year postings. Perhaps I was fortunate, but I was generally happy with all of my accommodations and never had to fight with the Mission Housing Board or GSO — and none of us ever had to worry about rent, furniture, household repairs, taxes, or property resale values.

Whether a stand-alone house or an apartment, each of my South and Southeast Asian residences pretty much met three criteria: each was relatively close to my work place and to venues — like government offices, universities, media, cultural venues, or major hotels — that I needed to frequent in my official capacity; each was healthy and safe; and each had at least adequate representational, or entertaining, space.

During my very first overseas tour, I was assigned to an aging, Manila high-rise apartment just down Roxas Blvd. from the U.S. Embassy and from Seafront Compound, the Embassy’s popular commissary and employee’s club. Also, it was relatively close to the Manila International Airport and to a cross-town road over to the Makati District, where the USIS Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center, the Fulbright commission, and the Ambassador’s residence were located. Best of all, the place had a smashing view of Manila Bay’s famous sunsets. On the other hand, there were massive traffic jams all around the place, urban grit and grim, poverty, and noise the minute one stepped out of the building. The old structure would sway and shake during our periodic typhoons or earthquakes. My great fear was being trapped in the tiny elevator during one of the frequent power failures.

The apartment and the Embassy were located near the historic Baclaran Church and market. Every Wednesday, the church held special masses, bringing a massive congregation of devotees to pray the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, so making our way past the church on Wednesday — “Bacalaran Day” — was always a formidable challenge.

My second assignment was to the one-PD-Officer Melanesian post of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The Embassy provided the PAO and other officers with small, but comfortable, townhouse accommodations atop an isolated hill with a spectacular view of the Coral Sea of the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Crime, however, was a problem, and the housing compound was heavily guarded. Both the Ambassador and DCM had bigger, more accessible housing and were always generous about letting our public affairs team entertain guests there. The old, original embassy — built literally up the side of a hill — had an outdoor, mini-amphitheater, but it was rarely used for events because of the tropical climate and the steep, uncomfortable outdoor seating.

“Moresby” was a unique city to live in because it was land-locked, with only a couple of roads leading out of town for a few miles. To visit other parts of the mountainous island-country, we had to fly. A favorite activity for embassy staffers and official visitors was a short out-of-town drive to a national park where one could see the famous bird of paradise in the wild and lunch nearby on crocodile meat.

My next posting was as Information Officer in bustling New Delhi. I was assigned a non-descript house in a suburb not far from Chanakyapuri, the diplomatic enclave, where our Embassy was located. I rarely entertained at home because I was kept extremely busy attending American Center events and or events hosted by the Ambassador in Roosevelt House, his official residence on the embassy grounds. I think I spent more time in the Embassy than I did at home, but it was a pleasure to work there because of the iconic nature of the structure, which famous American architect Edward Durrell Stone designed and then later adapted for the Kennedy Center.

After India, I transferred to the Consulate in the bustling port city of Karachi, Pakistan. My large, but quirky house was in a pleasant, secure section of the city close to the American School. It was located not far from the American Library in downtown Karachi, situated in a huge, old Consulate building, which had been the American Embassy before the capital was moved to Islamabad. Across the street from the office was the wonderful, spacious, old mansion which served as the residence of the Consul General. It was the perfect venue for official entertaining, and, again, our generous CGs welcomed its use for special PD events.

After two years with USIA back in Washington and living in a small Arlington, VA, condo, I moved to the island-city-state of Singapore. As PAO with representation duties, I was about the only officer other than the Ambassador and DCM who qualified for a real house. Due to land shortages and extremely high property values, most of our colleagues lived in housing flats or expat executive apartments. The PAO residence was located in a quiet and clean neighborhood that was perfect for entertaining. It had an open-air patio that opened out onto a small grass lawn which was absolutely ideal for receptions.

My next posting took me back to Manila, where I was in a fancy apartment building overlooking the famous Makati commercial shopping area and, again, had great sunset views. The apartment was walkable to the Ambassador’s residence and to the Fulbright Commission office and to several of Manila’s leading hotels, museums, and shops. A terrific feature of the roomy apartment was its flooring, made from the famous Philippine narra wood. A unique feature of my unit was the neighbor right above me — Imelda Marcos, widow of the late Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. I never did invite her down for cocktails, but we would always exchange smiles in the elevator as she and her security detail were going to or from their limo in the basement garage.

The one problem with the apartment was its distance across town from the embassy. Traffic was often a nightmare, and I would go into the embassy very early each morning just to beat the traffic. Much of Manila is at sea-level, and when there is heavy rain, many of the roads flood and are not passable for hours. On any rainy evening, we could just forget about any travel schedule. Returning home from the Embassy one evening, I was literally stuck in a jam amidst rising water for, I recall, nearly seven hours.

My next assignment — back in New Delhi — brought me back not only to my old office in the iconic Embassy, but also gave me access to the best diplomatic housing I ever had. The gem of a “PAO house” in New Delhi is on one of the city’s fanciest streets and just across the street from the famous Lodi Gardens, New Delhi’s Central Park, and near the historic “Luytens Bungalow Zone” named for the architect who designed Delhi during the British Raj. The house was convenient — just down a few doors from the DCM’s residence and from several other Embassy-owned houses, the embassy wasn’t far away, and both the stand-alone American Center in central Connaught Place and the Fulbright commission compound were quite close.

The one-floor gated residence was designed in the style of British colonial era-structures with a sizeable garden (visited by the occasional cobra, monkey, and peacock). Best of all, it had super entertaining space, including an enclosed, multi-purpose room where the PA Section regularly organized cultural events, dinners, and large receptions. I recall hosting a large event one evening which included not only maybe 100 guests but also a live elephant and a camel. All fit easily into the big yard and party room.

The large PAO residence in New Delhi required a sizeable staff just to keep things working. Although guests somehow assumed the USG was paying for my driver, cook, bearer, dhobi-washer, gardener, and sweeper, in fact that came out of the PAO’s pocket! But the staff became part of an extended family and made living and working in India relatively much easier.

Mike Anderson with statue of Barry Obama at the future president’s grade school near the PAO residence in Jakarta. The marker on the statue explains in Indonesian and English who “Barry” was and is -former student in the school and POTUS.

My final posting was to another sprawling, Asian capital, Jakarta, Indonesia, where my residence was on the top floor of a modern, secure executive apartment building in the historic Menteng section of central Jakarta. Not only was it relatively close to the Embassy, but it also was within walking distance of both the Ambassador and DCM residences.

The neighborhood had some distinctive Indonesian charm and housed a famous basket market at Cikini station and Jakarta’s famous antique or flea market. The public primary school that President Barack Obama attended for a couple of years when he and his mother resided in Jakarta was nearby. The PAO apartment was great for entertaining because it had large picture windows and two balconies which overlooked the city’s skyline. Off in the distance, on a clear day, one could even catch a glimpse of a volcano.

All of these “locations, locations, locations” bring back warm memories of always interesting and challenging times doing PD work abroad. While always comfortable and appropriate to my needs, they also were distinctive and useful for representational events, when my Embassy position required it. My only regret is that I didn’t have a little more free time to just enjoy living in some of those special properties.


Mike Anderson retired as a senior PD FSO officer in 2010.

 

 

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Merger of PDAA and Public Diplomacy Council Approved by Boards of Directors

Report of the Public Diplomacy Coalition Working Group

Merger Targeted for 2022

In 2019, the PDC and PDAA boards each approved the creation of a joint working group (WG) to examine all aspects of the two organizations and to make recommendations for the future relationship of the two organizations.  The six members of the WG are all members of both organizations and include the two respective presidents.  The WG looked at all possibilities, from the status quo to full integration.

Throughout the process, we were guided by the principle that this be a win-win situation for all.  We see this as a merger of two equal organizations with similar governance and strong programs that are complementary or collaborative, all of which would thrive in a stronger, combined entity.

LIST OF SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Mission and Vision Statement.
  2. All current programs of both organizations should continue to be fully supported.
  3. The PDAA Program Committee is a model for the new organization and should merge with the current joint program committee.
  4. PDC’s E-Book process could be a template for record-keeping in a combined organization.
  5. A new combined organization could probe the possibility of partnering with U.S. Embassies and Consulates on programs.
  6. The new organization should adopt a campaign to make it more attractive to would-be members, including active duty FS and GS. This should include a hard look at member benefits.
  7. All current and former State Department and USAGM personnel should be welcome as new members. Anyone else is welcome to apply for membership and will require a current member to recommend him or her.
  8. A web-based platform should be chosen for membership issues, to include an easily accessible member directory.
  9. PDAA Life (currently suspended) and PDC Life and Emeritus (currently suspended) membership categories should be discontinued, grandparenting in current members.
  10. The new organization should have 501(c)3 tax status. It is possible the current PDC 501(c)3 status could apply.
  11. Calendar Year 2021 should be a period of transition. Recommendations for the transition/implementation phase are below and include working groups on finances, governance, legal Issues, and media presence/branding.  Recommendations for those working groups are also in the discussion that follows. We are willing to continue in an oversight function to coordinate the work of those groups.

Click here to read full report.

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Recent Public Diplomacy Programs

PDAA, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy have recently hosted the following programs that are available for watching; all programs were provided via Zoom.

Michael McCarry, Kate Eltrich, and Michele Wymer

March 1, 2021 – Public Diplomacy in the New Congress

Kate Eltrich and Michele Wymer, with Michael McCarry

To watch a replay of this program, click here.

 

 

 

 


Joel Fischman, President of PDAA; Ambassador Stuart Holiday, CEO of Meridian International Center; and Mark Rebstock, Vice President of Meridian.

Feb. 1, 2021 – Global Leadership and the Future of Diplomacy

Ambassador Stuart Holliday, CEO, Meridian International Center

To watch a replay of this program, click here.

 

 

 


Jan. 19, 2021 – How President-Elect Biden Is Viewed from Abroad

Richard Wilke, Pew Research Center

To watch a replay of this program, click here.

 

 


Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Ambassador of Singapore

Dec. 15, 2020 – How the US Election Is Explained to the World

Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Ambassador of Singapore

To watch a replay of this program, click here.

 

 


PDAA sponsored its traditional post-election program on November 16, 2020. This year’s program was held via Zoom and cosponsored by PDC and USC. The event was moderated by former PDAA President Michael Schneider and featured comments by Michael Gerson and Michael McCurry.

Nov. 16, 2020 – Understanding the 2020 Presidential Election: Implications for U.S. Public Diplomacy

Michael McCurry, “Of Counsel” at Public Strategies Washington, Inc., Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary
Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post, Visiting Fellow, Center for Public Justice, and Policy Fellow, One Campaign

To watch a replay of the program, go to the PDAA Vimeo channel by clicking here.

 


 

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Memorandum for President-Elect Biden – Public Diplomacy: Re-engaging the World

November 29, 2020

PDAA logo

While international faith in America’s global leadership is much diminished, there is residual affinity around the world for our values, goals, and democratic heritage.  On that foundation, we must rebuild our credibility as a world leader and as a society worthy of emulation.

The Biden-Harris Administration faces many global challenges and will need to reinvent and revitalize the instruments of American statecraft.  Increasingly in this connected age, the public dimension of U.S. global leadership will be decisive, because publics abroad are indispensable players in policy.  Leaders ignore public opinion at their peril.

As it restores America’s global relationships, the Biden-Harris Administration should emphatically embrace U.S. public diplomacy.  Through purposeful interactions with foreign publics, public diplomacy conveys American values and helps our leaders understand the range and roots of global opinions.  Public diplomacy provides tools and platforms to rebuild critical relationships through effective programs and dialogues that build trust.

As associations of accomplished public diplomacy practitioners, we believe that the United States needs to engage international publics and project more effectively its policies and values.

We respectfully recommend that the Biden-Harris administration invest considerable thought, resources, and effort to reinvigorate U.S. public diplomacy.

Priorities

There is a vital need to strengthen public diplomacy within the Department of State, led by a dynamic Under Secretary with enhanced authority to work not only within the Department but with other agencies to support a “whole of government” approach. We recommend that this effort include the following elements:

  • Build consistent leadership – Appoint a respected Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who (1) understands both foreign policy and communication, (2) can navigate the Department and the interagency environment, (3) enjoys the evident confidence of the President and the Secretary of State, and (4) intends to stay in the job. After the Secretary, this is the second most important appointment in the State Department.
  • Open doors – Eliminate recently erected barriers to international education and exchange, notably the proposed federal rulemaking on “duration of status” that would have an enormous negative impact on U.S. higher education, and the June 22 White House proclamation halting issuance of several categories of nonimmigrant visas. America’s academic and business communities will be vocal allies for the Administration on these issues.
  • Coordinate International Communication– Strengthen Department of State strategic public diplomacy planning and support for major Administration global policy initiatives (e.g., managing the pandemic, climate change).  The Bureau of Global Public Affairs (GPA) is best positioned to manage substantive development of international public communication of global issues in liaison with regional and functional bureaus within the State Department and relevant interagency representatives.
  • Engage the American public – The American people, and especially our youth, are the President’s finest diplomats – capable of making friends and allies in every corner of the globe. Devise programs on compelling topics (e.g., climate, race, public health, the arts) that involve both travel and an ongoing virtual component. Long-term U.S. interests will be served by encouraging more young Americans to engage with the world.
  • Restore broadcasting – Restore protections for U.S.-funded international broadcasting against politicization, enabling it to perform its true function: to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. 
  • Expand counter-disinformation efforts – Take hold and focus the USG effort to counter the growing wave of disinformation. Attacked by propaganda on steroids, America has fought back with aspirin.  There is a pressing need to:  coordinate the Global Engagement Center and PD’s social media work with the intelligence community and DOD’s information operations; fully document hostile disinformation efforts mounted by foreign governments; assist NGOs and the private sector to conduct prevention efforts to inoculate susceptible groups and individuals against the appeals of national adversaries and violent extremists.
  • Enhance professional culture – Reinvigorate and update public diplomacy staff training, including opportunities to pursue advanced degrees and “excursion tours” in the private sector. More public diplomacy training should be provided to all Department officers. These expanded opportunities will attract talented officers and, over time, build a cohort of accomplished public diplomats who will compete for ambassadorships and senior domestic assignments.
  • Augment resources – To fuel this process of more effectively engaging with the world, reenergizing the PD function, and attracting top talent, substantially increase resources for all elements of public diplomacy, and reinforce the “firewall” that protects exchange funding. Part of this effort should be a review of PD staffing abroad that assesses the potential need for expanded presence.

 

 

Sherry Lee Mueller, Ph.D., President, Public Diplomacy Council
mueller@american.edu

 

 

Joel Anthony Fischman, President, Public Diplomacy Association of America
fischman@comcast.net

 

Media Contacts:

Ambassador Brian E. Carlson (ret.), Vice President, PDC, PDAA member
carlsonbe@vestniek.com

Michael McCarry, PDC Board member, PDAA member
mmccarry.1@gmail.com


The Public Diplomacy Association of America is a nonprofit, voluntary association for public diplomacy professionals, with some 400 members. PDAA members have worked in or with the information, education, and cultural programs, which the U.S. Government incorporates into the conduct of its diplomacy abroad.

The Public Diplomacy Council is a U.S.-based, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1988. Its members are committed to promoting excellence in professional practice, academic study and advocacy for public diplomacy.

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Peace Corps: A Public Diplomacy Incubator

By Bill Wanlund

As Peace Corps celebrates its 60th anniversary, it is President John Kennedy who usually gets the credit for its conception. But if JFK is considered the father of the Peace Corps, Hubert Humphrey might be its grandfather, for it was he who first floated the idea in 1957 Senate legislation. It gathered little enthusiasm, in part because of opposition by career FSOs horrified at the idea of a ragtag band of largely unsupervised young Americans spread around the world.

But on October 14, 1960, candidate Kennedy brought the idea back to life when he sketched out his notion of a Peace Corps in extemporaneous 2:00 a.m. campaign remarks at the University of Michigan. Kennedy asked whether his audience of 10,000 students would be willing to “contribute part of [their] life to this country.” And, with the United States deeply in the Cold War, JFK couched his idea in competitive rhetoric, saying it would help show the world that “a free society can compete.” This time the idea took hold.

From its inception, the Peace Corps has been an element of America’s “soft power.” The agency’s enabling legislation—introduced in the Senate by Humphrey in 1961 at by then-President JFK’s request—specified that the new agency was not only to provide grass-roots development assistance, but also to “help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served.”

That sounds like public diplomacy, and indeed, a number of former Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) found they liked that dimension of the job. Peace Corps does not keep records of where PCVs go after their service, but PDAA boasts a few members who were inspired to continue their work overseas.

One is Mike Anderson, a PCV in Malaysia 1968-71. He and another future PD officer, Charles Silver, were in the same Peace Corps group. Mike tells of “the substantial impact of the PC as a training ground for future FSOs, including PD officers.” He credits the Peace Corps with giving him “a life-defining, career-enhancing experience.” With roots in Minnesota, Mike had never traveled abroad except to nearby Canada until he was selected as a Peace Corps Volunteer to Malaysia. The opportunity to serve overseas and learn about diverse Asian cultures opened his mind and eventually got him interested in the Foreign Service. (Click here for Mike’s story)

Like Mike, Charles Silver also rates his time in PC as “a life-changing experience.” It led him to abandon one career track—in physics – for the Foreign Service. Charles, who’d had no experience outside of the U.S. before his stint as a PC teacher, found a new definition of “foreign.” He writes that he “learned a lot about myself and America from seeing how other people put their lives together.” And, as it happened, he and Mike weren’t the only ones from those Malaysia years who found a career with USIS: On a Southeast Asia Desk Officer visit to the Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, “Mr. Charles” ran into one of his former students—by then, 26 years later, a senior USIS FSN. (Click here for Charles’s story)

Joe O’Donnell heard Kennedy’s 1961 “Ask not…” Inaugural Address in person and was inspired. Six years later, he was headed for a Peace Corps assignment in the mountains of Colombia. His two-plus years there saw “a few modest successes leavened by some predictable setbacks,” including a city boy’s real-life lesson in agronomics.  And, he gained a lovely wife and a new way of looking at America and the world. Still, he admits to “a guilty feeling that I had gotten more out of my experience than I put into it” – a not-uncommon sentiment among RPCVs. (Click here for Joe’s story)

Bob Schmidt also took JFK’s words to heart and, in October 1963, five months after graduating from college, began training in Hawaii for a Peace Corps assignment teaching in North Borneo (now Sabah, Malaysia). A budding historian who’d had an eye toward Europe, Bob found that the Peace Corps “punted me towards Asia for most of the rest of my life.” After teaching stints that included Laos, South Vietnam, and Taiwan, he joined USIA in 1985, where assignments included postings in South America and East and South Asia – but not Europe. (Click here for Bob’s story)

Dave Miller was a PCV in South Korea in the 1970s and says then-Ambassador Philip Habib and other Embassy staffers “encouraged Volunteers to take the Foreign Service exam.” Dave thinks that, “eventually over a dozen of us joined the Department of State and USIA, including Ambassadors Kathleen Stephens and Joseph Donovan.” His first two tours were in, yes, Korea, 1976-80, giving him “over seven very eventful years” in the hermit kingdom. His subsequent overseas assignments were all in East Asia — Hong Kong, Taipei, Phnom Penh, and Shanghai. (Click here for Dave’s story)

Tom Hull is another who traces his Foreign Service career directly to his Peace Corps experiences, in his case as a teacher in Gbinti, Sierra Leone, in 1968-70. More than three decades later, he returned – this time as the U.S. Ambassador. Tom says his Embassy was able to promote peace, democracy, and human rights thanks to his PC service, which afforded him exceptional credibility and cultural context. After retirement, he was instrumental in getting the Peace Corps to return to Sierra Leone, where operations had been suspended during the civil war of the 1990s. “At that point,” he says, “my Peace Corps and diplomatic service came full circle. My debt to those villagers after 40 years was finally repaid.” (Click here for Tom’s story)

Joan McKniff was a PCV in Colombia during a turbulent time in America, beginning in 1963 “when President Kennedy was alive, and [coming] home to Johnson and Vietnam in ’65.” And, she found, her gender was an obstacle to finding employment: In response to Joan’s application to work overseas with CARE, a representative of the organization called and explained that “they did not hire women for those jobs.” Joan pursued other opportunities; it would be another 20 years before she would join USIA. (Click here for Joan’s story)

Michael Boyle graduated from Stanford without a clear idea of what to do next, so in 1967 he followed a friend into the Peace Corps (it also seemed like a good alternative to being drafted). He went to teach English in Leyte Province, the Philippines, where no phones and iffy infrastructure were the order of the day. It was a “seminal experience,” Michael writes, one that inspired his decision to join USIA – after, perhaps inevitably, being drafted after all upon return from the Philippines. Peace Corps “was a huge turning point in my life, and something I have been proud of doing ever since,” he writes. (Click here for Michael’s story)

John Dickson’s Peace Corps tour was as an English teacher in Gabon, 1976-79. His first exposure to the work USIS did was at the American Cultural Center in Libreville, whose resources he drew upon for teaching materials (and baseball scores). John says, “You can draw a direct link from Peace Corps to my interest in working in public diplomacy.” (Click here for John’s story)

Steve Telkins went to Ghana in 1962, which makes him practically part of Peace Corps’ origin story: His was the second group to go to Ghana (the first country to receive PCVs), during a time of turmoil and change — and hope — in Africa. Steve’s Ghana experience led directly to his subsequent career at USIA, VOA, and elsewhere. His account of the conditions, frustrations, and rewards of his time in Ghana is a textbook look at Peace Corps’ early years. (Click here for Steve’s story)

As for me – Bill Wanlund – I’d embarked on an uninspiring career and was taken by the idea of the Peace Corps. I was sent to teach English in Morocco, and it was there that I came to understand that the image most Americans had of their own country – the one I had accepted growing up – wasn’t necessarily shared by the rest of the world. But America had a story to tell, and I wanted to try to help tell it. (Click here for Bill’s story)


Bill Wanlund is a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Diplomacy Association of America.

What’s your Peace Corps story? We would be pleased to add it to our collection on our PDAA website. Send your story to admin@publicdiplomacy.org.

 

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