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Mike Anderson’s Peace Corps

by Mike Anderson

For two years, I was a primary school English teacher in the small, northern West Malaysia town of Sungai Petani, Kedah. In that position, I would occasionally borrow films for my school from the wonderful, old USIS Library in nearby Penang. Two of my many unforgettable experiences in Malaysia were being there for the July 21 Apollo 11 moon landing and for the tragic race riots of May 13, 1969, which plunged the multicultural nation into a state of national emergency. I would also listen to VOA and to U.S. Armed Forces broadcasts from just across the South China Sea, where the Vietnam War was raging.

I extended for a third year to do journalism training at the Southeast Asia Press Center, a regional training center in Kuala Lumpur, and helping the University of Science Malaysia in Penang start the country’s first American-style mass communication program. While there, I met my first USIS officer, Richard Boardman, then the Embassy AIO. My center, which was under the Malaysian Ministry of Information, occasionally got speaker or other assistance from USIS, which gave me a little contact with Embassy Kuala Lumpur.

The Peace Corps provided excellent preparation for a diplomatic career. Throughout a nearly 30-year USIA and State Department career, I worked with many U.S. diplomats and development officers who shared similar Peace Corps experiences. For example, two of my front office bosses when I was PAO in Manila and Jakarta had been in the Peace Corps. When I was PAO New Delhi, there were two other former Peace Corps Malaysia Volunteers just in the public affairs section — CAO Robert Schmidt and ACAO Marjorie Harrison. As PAO Jakarta, my Information Officer, Paul Belmont, had been a PCV in Malaysia.

One of my memorable experiences as PAO in Jakarta was accompanying Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume, himself a former Volunteer in Libya, to a very moving 2010 swearing-in ceremony for Volunteers re-opening the Peace Corps program in Indonesia after a 45-year absence. There had been no Volunteers in Indonesia since the first and only Volunteers —- a group of sports coaches and trainers — had left suddenly in 1965 during the anti-U.S. political upheaval during President Sukarno’s regime. The Embassy — with the support of President Obama and Secretary Clinton — worked hard to convince Peace Corps headquarters that conditions were safe and relations friendly so that Volunteers could finally return.

Charles, Marjorie, and I have continued our Malaysia ties. We’re all on the board of the Friends of Malaysia, an affiliated group of the National Peace Corps Assn. Although Charles and I were never posted to Malaysia as FSOs, Marjorie did serve in Embassy Kuala Lumpur as the CAO.

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