Richard Sayette Wins Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award for 2019 (Russian Far East)

The Vodka Diaries: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Adventures in Russia
By Richard Sayette (Russian Far East 1994-95)

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Richard Sayette (Russian Far East 1994-95) earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Rutgers University, spent several years backpacking through Europe, Asia and Australia and worked as a professional chef. Richard eventually earned an MBA with a focus in international business from the University of South Carolina and has spent the past twenty years working in the risk management field.

In a radio broadcast on October 1st, 1939, Winston Churchill referred to Russia as, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” During Richard Sayette’s tour as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Russian Far East, he found Churchill’s words to be accurate, as his limited knowledge about Russia stemmed from Dostoevsky and Pushkin novels. From the summer of 1994 until late 1995, he lived and worked in the Russian Far East as a Peace Corps Volunteer managing a small business center; only a few miles from both the Chinese and North Korean borders. He experienced firsthand the thrilling and often confusing environment as the Russian people established a foothold in a more open society marked by their initial forays into capitalism. His experiences living with a Russian family, managing a business center catering to Russian entrepreneurs and running with and from the Mafia during this tumultuous period allowed him insight into the Russian soul and allowed him to examine his own. Fluctuating between enjoying local celebrity status to being a suspected American spy, he had the opportunity to socialize with Russian and American politicians, various mafia organizations and Russians from all walks of life. The book takes a humorous and insightful look at the cultural differences between America and Russia as well as providing a peek at how his Russian friends and colleagues dealt with the flux of change within every aspect of their lives. Although this book is based on real events, he has changed the names of some of his fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps staff for reasons of discretion.

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  • Congrats to Rich!! The Russian Far East was an amazing experience for us all! Somewhere we ‘were’ but seemingly weren’t supposed to be. It was a real challenge to direct, but thanks to the well qualified PCVs, excellent Russian staff and patient Russian sponsors – we made it work! I recommend Rich’s book (while not agreeing with it all….). An experience not to be forgotten!

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