Mary Anne Newell (Malaysia 1965-68)

Monday, November 21
3:42 pm

1959-1960. I was 20 and a college junior when I spent a school year abroad in Grenoble, France. Experiences of that year exposed me to conditions of poverty that my sheltered American life had prevented, and which left me with troubling questions about my life choices.

Fall 1960. A young presidential candidate offered the possibility of an American “Youth Corps” that would be a source of aid to third world countries. Thousands like myself responded to the idea with an overwhelming enthusiasm. At Colorado State, my university, three professors were selected as an advance study team to s survey prospective governments in Asia, Africa and South America about their perceived needs for a “Youth Corps”; and I joined a student committee which distributed questionnaires soliciting attitudes about such an organization to many campuses. The vision that I had longed for had been articulated by John F. Kennedy, and I vowed to become a part of it.

1962 and 1963. Because of teaching commitments, I asked for postponement to two invitations to Peace Corps training. In the meantime, I met the man I would marry and decided that he’d jolly well better become interested in the Peace Corps if he wanted to continue our relationship. Roger’s application to train was soon on file as well.

1965. One late August night, shortly after our wedding, we reported to training in Peepekeo, Hawaii, where we joined EIGHT(!!!) also recently wed couples of the Malaysia XII trainees in an elementary school that was to be our bedroom for the next three weeks. So much for a romantic Hawaiian honeymoon! Eventually, we would move to the Hilo training center and separate bedrooms, but until then, communal rather than connubial bliss would have to prevail. What better introduction than this to test the unofficial Peace Corps motto: “Be flexible!”?

August, 1968. We returned to the families we had left three years earlier and began the graduate school, professional and community lives that would take us to homes across the country the next 18 years.

September 1986. The 25 Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. One aspect of that celebratory time stood out most unexpectedly for me: the two-hour briefing with Malaysian nationals and U.S. State Department personnel about present day Malaysia. As we sat in that room, I realized that our questions and concerns represented those of hundreds of Malaysian RPCVs who still cared very deeply about the past, present and future of a country to which we owned deep allegiance and love. In concurrent sessions for over 100 other Peace Corps nations, similar concerns and emotions were being expressed and felt by their returned Volunteers. What, I thought, could be a stronger source of global thinking and local action than these thousands of women and men who represent an adoptive expatriate cadre of world citizenry for our country?

The answer to my original concerns 28 years ago I’ve found as much in this country as I did in Malaysia. They are the result of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s inspiration to articulate a vision that still grows with an ever-vibrant American Peace Corps. Our two teenage daughters are considering becoming a part of that vision one day. We couldn’t be more proud.

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