THE PEACE CORPS EXPERIENCE AWARD was initiated in 1992. It is presented annually to a Peace Corps Volunteer or staff member, past or present for the best depiction of life in the Peace Corps — be it daily life, project assignment, travel, host country nationals, other Volunteers, readjustment. Initially entries could be short works including: personal essay, story, novella, poem, letter, cartoon, or song. Beginning in 2009 memoirs were added to the list.
In 1997, this award was renamed to honor Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965–67) whose Living Poor has been widely cited as an outstanding telling of the essence of the Peace Corps experience.
The winner of the 2015 Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award is
At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir
by Janet Givens (Kazakhstan 2004–06)
In her memoir, Janet clearly expresses the First Goal of the Peace Corps, writing that as a PCV, “One of my hopes was that these local people — who’d never met an American before —would like me. And through me, they would like America.”
She has also written a book that perfectly fulfills the Peace Corps’ Third Goal, profiling her colleagues and students, telling us not only about the personalities surrounding her, but the country itself.
PCWw reviewer Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96) wrote about At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:
Givens takes the reader step by step through her town, her school, her new friends. One of the new words she teaches them is “frustration,” her own. When, in the beginning, she finally releases long weeks of tension by sobbing in front of the post office, sobbing out loud, and copiously, you are there with her. And you feel her relief as her tears melt the iceberg of tension that had been building between her and Woody and her counterparts. She learns to give up control. “My role was . . . to accept them as they were, as they accepted what they believed to be their fate.”
. . .
Thank goodness she decided to write At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, a delight for any reader.