60 students per class keeps me on my toes.

Name: James Mayer
U-M Affiliation: Alumni

Where do you work?

Retired teacher

When did you serve in the Peace Corps?

1973-75

Where did you serve (which country/countries)?

Sedhiou, Senegal

What were your main responsibilities as a volunteer?

Teaching English in a public school

Is there a specific person (or persons) who made a strong impression on you during that time?

N'degame, the 12-year old Mandinka boy who had lived with the previous Peace Corps volunteer, greeted me at house upon my arrival in Sedhiou. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis a few months later; we tried several cures, both traditional and modern, all unsuccessful. Soon after independence in Guinea Bissau, his family moved back to their village, and I lost track of this courageous boy.

What was one of the most memorable moments you had as a volunteer?

One that stands out was during the first week of teaching. I suddenly felt ill, had to run out of the single-room schoolhouse and vomited behind the building. My students were solicitous and concerned; they walked me home.

In what ways did your Peace Corps experience affect your life and/or career decisions?

My experience helped me be better able to deal with challenges and hardship; mainly, it set up my future career as a teacher.

In what ways did your U-M education, both inside and outside the classroom, prepare you for your Peace Corps experience?

Going to a school like Michigan, where you can get lost in the crowd, made me have to be independent and self-reliant - traits that were crucial to my life in Sedhiou where I was the only American.

What advice would you give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps?

Go for it! You'll make life-long friends, you'll learn about yourself, and you'll discover what it is like to live in an environment so completely different from what you are used to that - especially at your age - the experience will leave a lasting, positive impression.

What is the value gained from the Peace Corps experience?

It set me on a journey of discovering where I wanted to live permanently. After Senegal, I traveled for nearly 4 months in Europe; several months later, I found myself in Alaska, and finally settled in Portland, where I have been ever since.

What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corps that you carry with you today?

I learned patience, self-confidence, open-mindedness, and resilience. I also learned that needs are not divisible; one can try to find a way to give wherever there is a need.

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