UCLA Affiliation: Trained
Country of Service: Ghana
Years of Service: 1963-1965
In February, 1963, I found myself at a welcoming dinner at Hershey Hall on the UCLA campus. There were 13 of us invited to begin training for Peace Corps assignments as science and math teachers in Ghana, Africa. There were also 60 other trainees who were headed for Peru.
The Peace Corps representative welcomed us and stated that only one out of forty applicants was invited to the training camp. He also informed us that we were not volunteers yet, and that we would need to prove during training that we worthy of becoming Peace Corps volunteers. When asked how many were expected to be selected from our group, he answered, “about fifty percent.” The pressure was on from that moment!
We attended classes on Ghanaian history, politics, culture, education, religion, literature and Ashanti Twi, one of the main languages. A UCLA linguist, a Caucasian, was sent to Ghana for two weeks to learn Twi and he in turn taught us what he knew. We were fortunate for all our lecturers and tutors were UCLA faculty members who were very knowledgeable about Africa and Ghana.
We also underwent, on a daily basis, individual and group tests to determine our psychological and physical fitness.
One Sunday morning, we were invited to the Dean’ s house for a reception. We were instructed to meet in the middle of a large UCLA student parking lot and that a bus would pick us up at 8:00AM. We waited in the hot sun for hours as the Training Coordinator (TC), a UCLA graduate student, kept coming back to inform us that he was looking for the bus. We were warned not to leave the parking lot, not even to use the bathroom. Finally, at around 5:00 the bus arrived. For nine hours we had stood in the hot sun without water or food. The bus took us up to the hills above Hollywood and appeared to be lost. The driver, with directions from the TC, drove up and down and around every street in Hollywood for the next four hours; presumably, looking for the Dean’ s house. I went to sleep. Predictably, several of the trainees lost it and yelled at the TC for being incompetent, stupid, etc. They continued to argue with him until around 9:00PM, thirteen hours later, when we finally arrived at the Dean’ s house. He had gone to bed. There was no food or drinks so the bus took us back to our dorm.
It was a year later when I realized that this experience was a test to determine our ability to survive in Africa where time and schedules were unpredictable. This experience was actually repeated many, many times during my two years in Africa. Incidentally, the four men who argued with the TC were washed out. Only seven of us made it through training to become Peace Corps volunteers.
The eight week training program, conducted entirely by the UCLA faculty, prepared us well for our assignments in Ghana.
I have fond memories of my training at UCLA for it was one of the most enlightening personal growth experiences in my entire life.