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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.

Bill Wanlund’s Peace Corps

by Bill Wanlund

Leaving college, I worked in journalism, then public relations. It was comfortable, but ultimately, unsatisfying, and I began to look for something different. It was a classified ad in The Washington Post that led me to the Peace Corps and, Rick the recruiter assured me, a teaching job in Bahrain. When the fat envelope from PC arrived, however, it included a letter welcoming me to the agency’s program in…Morocco. “The Bahrainis changed their program requirements,” Rick told me, “the Morocco program was closing, they speak Arabic there, I didn’t think you’d mind.” When it must’ve appeared that I did mind, Rick added, “You can always say no.” Fate overruled my own initial judgment – fortunately – and I agreed. I was sent to teach English in a secondary school in Nador, on the Mediterranean coast not far from the Algerian border.

Like many, maybe most, PCVs, I took pride in my status of non-official American. We were independent, and we weren’t spouting any official policy lines. Then came the conversation my two roommates and I had with Mohammed the mailman (who worked on his English with the help of the PC-provided Newsweek magazines he often didn’t manage to deliver to us. “Why did we need three copies of the same magazine? Don’t Americans share?” Mohammed wanted to know. He had a point.) Anyway, Mohammed decided to lecture us on America’s inadequacies, citing Vietnam, race relations, the inequalities of capitalism and probably other sins. Didn’t matter that we agreed with a lot of what he was saying, we took umbrage at hearing it from the subject of a repressive monarchy. After we finished harrumphing to each other, however, we began to think about how America presented itself to the world.

Our Peace Corps country director was Paul Hare, a 41-year-old State Department political officer on an excursion tour (and who became Ambassador to Zambia in 1985). Paul talked to me about the Foreign Service and, when he learned I had some background in journalism, suggested I look into USIA (which was being “reorganized” as the US International Communication Agency). He introduced me to the PAO, who was smart, cynical, and who had me when he ranted over beers about what a (lousy) name USICA was. When I told him I’d been interested in the Foreign Service but intimidated by what I’d heard about the exam process, he just snorted. I wasn’t quite sure what that snort meant, but I took the written exam at the next opportunity and the orals shortly after I returned to DC.

After finishing in Morocco, and while waiting to hear about the Foreign Service, I spent 1980 working at PC Headquarters, then on Connecticut Ave. and H St. across from Lafayette Park. I was editor (and only staffer) of Peace Corps Times, the agency’s bi-monthly newspaper for Volunteers. The last issue I worked on commemorated Peace Corps’ 20th anniversary. And here we are, at 60.

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