Reviewed by John Chromy (India 1963–65)
Tom Corbett’s book, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, is well worth reading, mostly for the very thoughtful reflections of the India 44 RPCVs that arose at three reunions that started in 2009, forty years after their PC service in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Drawn from Tom Corbett’s notes from the reunions, the narrative focuses not on all the problems or peculiarities of the host country, as many Peace Corps stories do, but rather these India RPCVs thoughtfully and often humorously reflect on:
- Some of the positive achievements, however small, each of them made during her/his PCV assignments,
- How much the PC/India experience changed their lives and forced them to become better people,
- The many achievements and progress India has made since 1969, and
- Near unanimous opinion that Peace Corps “seemed like a good idea at the time” AND STILL IS!!!!!
The narrative is sweetened with a variety of personal India anecdotes, lots of inter-group banter, only occasional gripes about the PC administration, and a bit more than enough tales of the male Volunteers’ romantic/sexual misadventures. All in all, a good read. Corbett is an excellent wordsmith with significant skills in drawing lessons and conclusions from a wide variety of trends, events and PCV experiences.
One idiosyncrasy this reviewer found a bit intriguing was the male RPCVs in India 44 frequently referred to themselves as Peace Corps “Kids,” most often when bemoaning their self-perception of inadequate technical skills in their assigned agriculture field. While back in the 1960s I was aware that some of Peace Corps’ critics, and occasionally senior State Department officials, referred to Peace Corps Volunteers as “kids,” yet I have never ever heard any members of the Peace Corps refer to themselves or other PCVs as “kids.” While many of us were young, in our early 20s, all of us were adults doing adult work in often very difficult situations. It was odd to note that these gentlemen referred to themselves as “kids” doing agriculture advising in India. A strange note in an otherwise intriguing book of reflections on the service of Peace Corps Volunteers in India.
Reviewer John Chromy was a Peace Corps Volunteer in India (1963–65), a PC Country Director in the Eastern Caribbean (1977–79), and Associate Director at Peace Corps/Washington (1979–1981) overseeing Volunteer Recruitment, Selection, Placement, Medical Services and Payroll. He spent several weeks in Afghanistan in 1976 and again in 2004.
He is now retired and living in Washington DC after a 40 year career in community-based development on both the domestic and international fronts.