Sargent Shriver, Sally & Lionel Epstein, The Peace Corps, and The Experiment in International Living


“We (EXPERIMENTERS) learned by first-hand experience the reality of one world. We learned the language because we had to. We did not do what we wanted to do but what the people of our host country did. We sang their songs, played their games, danced their dances. We walked or rode bicycles as they did. We saw the world through their eyes.”
Sargent Shriver
 The Experiment in International Living dinner, 1965
by Geri Critchley (Senegal 1971–72)
I first met  Sally & Lionel Eptein in 1976 when I co-directed the DC Office of The Experiment in International Living/EIL ( founded in 1932, the oldest international education exchange organization in the USA.

Sally Epstein

The Experiment in International Living is now under the umbrella of World Learning (
   In 1934, Sargent Shriver received an Experiment scholarship to participate in one of the first Experiment summer cross-cultural programs abroad to Germany and Austria right after he graduated from Canterbury School in Connecticut. Later in 1936, Sarge was an Experiment group leader to Germany and Austria and in 1939 an Experiment group leader to France.
   In 1961, as the first Peace Corps Director, Sargent Shriver invited The Experiment to conduct the first Peace Corps pre-departure cross-cultural training programs which continued throughout the ’60s. The Peace Corps adopted the “homestay” for its training program which had been created by The Experiment in 1932.
   Sarge wrote,”The Experiment in International Living taught me how to form the Peace Corps 30 years later – live with a family, speak the language, wear the clothes, eat the food, accept the customs, waste no money – study … play, …  learn.”
   Sarge also attributed The Experiment in International Living to his learning the French culture and language which he said was extremely helpful when he was the Ambassador to France.
   Sargent Shriver met Sally and Lionel Epstein through The Experiment in International Living when they were both active Board Members. In 1961, Sarge gave Lionel a three-month Peace Corps consulting assignment. In the summer of 1962, Sarge enlisted Lionel and Sally’s assistance as onboard Peace Corps “recruiters”/marketers to students on two transatlantic crossings while they were part of the orientation staff for the Council on Student Travel. They distributed basic brochures they created which included the Peace Corps recruitment contact for interested students.
   Sarge wanted to find out if students were interested in joining the Peace Corps (Sarge’s informal experiential version of a survey/needs assessment) and saw an opportunity for future Peace Corps volunteers in students who were studying or traveling abroad. He also wanted some insight in pre-departure cross-cultural orientation to add to The Experiment cross-cultural training already in place for Peace Corps volunteers.
   In 1991, as the Director of Development for the 30th Peace Corps anniversary celebration, I organized an event with Sargent Shriver as “MC” to highlight the ‘60s pioneering collaboration between the Peace Corps and The Experiment in International Living. Almost 1000 attended under tents on the DC Mall. This collaboration continues and is now stronger than ever.
Sally Epstein’s lifelong interest in promoting cross-cultural understanding spans three generations. Sally’s parents Sarah and Clarence J. Gamble were friends of Donald B Watt, the founder of The Experiment in International Living. They later became Trustees. Sally and Lionel Epstein were also long time Trustees, and their extended family has participated in many EIL programs for decades.
   In 1949, Sally was an “Experimenter” to Austria, and in the 1950s, she and Lionel led an Experiment summer group to Holland.
   Sally’s family, through the Sarah and Clarence Gamble Fellowship Fund has provided many scholarships to RPCVs and to international students to attend World Learning’s  SIT (School for International Training) Masters program ( in Brattleboro, Vt.
   The Sarah G and Lionel Epstein Family Fund has provided EIL Ambassador scholarships for decades in the DC area to high school students to participate in Experiment summer programs abroad. It wouldn’t surprise me if some recipients are RPCVs. I enjoyed hosting orientation and debriefing receptions for decades.
   Sally Epstein owns one of the world’s largest private collections of Edvard Munch prints which are often loaned to exhibitions around the world. She has served on the Boards of Pathfinder International (her father was the founder), Planned Parenthood, Population Services International, Federation for Immigration Reform and many women’s organizations and NGOs – too many to list while continually hosting receptions and benefits to further their cause.
   Sally’s son Miles Epstein is an RPCV/Jamaica, was an “Experimenter” to Switzerland and presently an artist in San Francisco.

Sally’s lifelong contribution to cross-cultural understanding, population services, family planning, a woman’s right to choose around the world and so many more NGOs in her cause-driven life of 91 years is breath-taking and a template of a superhuman full life of making this world a better place. I am so fortunate that Sally has been my inspiring mentor for four decades and a dear friend.

 Geri Critchley was the organizer of the celebration of Peace Corps/EIL pioneering collaboration in the early ’60s. She was also the EIL DC Director, EIL Canada Director, EIL Quebec Coordinator, EIL Group Leader, EIL host, EIL parent, SIT parent, EIL fundraiser, EIL volunteer and promoted Sarge’s documentary “American Idealist.”


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    “We (EXPERIMENTERS) learned by first-hand experience the reality of one world. We learned the language because we had to. We did not do what we wanted to do but what the people of our host country did. We sang their songs, played their games, danced their dances. We walked or rode bicycles as they did. We saw the world through their eyes.”
    Sargent Shriver
    The Experiment in International Living dinner, 1965

    Sending you a snap of Sarge making that speech.

    /Users/rowlandscherman/Desktop/Sarge-1 copy.jpg

    • Thank you, Rowland! I’m seeing your response for the first time – years later! How very thoughtful to send your photo of Sarge making that speech. What a positive force you are on our planet – not only your photos but the way you live your life as an artist – open, flexible, capturing the moment, determined awakened curiosity – willing to turn on a dime with the speed of light, transcending labels, categories and stereotypes – and geography – creating, recreating the universal archetypes of a culture and a time – all time – capturing and sharing it with us all – ad infinitum…..
      Sending deep appreciation and gratitude,
      (P.S. You might want to check out an artistic soulmate
      on the Cape in Provincetown,

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