Interview with N. Bruce Nelson, February 28, 2022
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryN. Bruce Nelson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran from 1972 – 1974 in the field of education, specifically as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Bruce first learned of the Peace Corps while in junior high school as he was taught English by a teacher who was a returned Peace Corps Volunteer. He took German in high school and became interested in other cultures. He attended Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa and had a roommate who was from Micronesia. Some of the information he learned about other cultures of the world came from his roommate, and Bruce also traveled to Germany to study his Jr year. He was impressed enough to take cross-cultural communication as a major. As he pursued a Peace Corps opportunity after college, Bruce originally applied for a placement in Micronesia, and when that didn’t occur, he thought of Africa but accepted an invitation to Iran for his two-year placement. Upon acceptance, Bruce went to Philadelphia for two days of medical screening and an indoctrination in Iranian culture. His group then traveled to Tehran, via Rome and spent a night at the Tehran Hilton before taking a bus to the town of Hamadan (two hours north) and staying at the Bu Ali Hotel where he learned about his assignment as a TOEFL instructor with 30 other PCVs. While in Hamadan, he had intensive instruction in Persian, the Iranian language also called Farsi, each morning and did student teaching in a local girls school there instructing 18-20 young ladies. After completing the last phase of his training there, Bruce took a bus to his assignment in the small village of Taft, an old area in the plains of central Iran. In Taft, he taught in a boys school of 600 students and taught two classes of over 60 students each! This was his first actual classroom experience with students at the junior high school level, and he experienced difficulties in maintaining discipline as he began. He had a curriculum book for TOEFL and worked with translation dictation. The students were used to a lot of memorizations (they all knew the Koran by heart) but had trouble using English in day-to-day situations. Students had a trimester school year and there was some testing required to move on in school. Later, Bruce was given four classes for a total of almost 400 students. It was not uncommon for students to skip school in the Spring trimester as they were needed to work in the fields. Bruce lived in a three-room unit arranged around an adobe brick courtyard with a small pool that had running water. He had a latrine, electricity (sporadic at times), and running water in his unit. He lived alone at first and then befriended Amir, an Iranian, who moved in with Bruce after a few months. He was a young man assigned by the government to work in Taft, but he hated the area at first (he was a city boy); however, he soon learned to enjoy it with Bruce’s influence, and they became close friends. As Bruce learned the language and also about the culture of his assigned area, he and Amir enjoyed cooking using a cookbook that Bruce and his fellow volunteers had assembled while in training. Most meals had a rice base to them, but Bruce also savored kabab strips with lamb meat and onions over a coal fire. His students always brought food to his house, especially the 20 varieties of pomegranates native to the area, and he learned to prepare them in a variety of ways. Occasionally, Bruce was visited by a Peace Corps field officer, Paul Rudy, who supervised his school instruction and saw his living conditions. During his semester breaks, Bruce enjoyed spending time in mountain-climbing in the area and soon had a number of his students joining his treks to observe the sun rise. In the Muslim month of Ramazan, Bruce saw how the local populace observed fasting and prayer, and he learned to respect the time needed for his students to worship, as well. On summer break, Bruce wanted to travel to Baghdad but could not make proper arrangements, so he traveled to Denmark. Bruce had a healthy two-year experience, complaining only of some water parasite problems and dysentery. He looks back upon his experience as a life-changing one, and he is most proud of a number of his students who became successful after their schooling, and one particularly who went on to work for the Iranian government. Upon returning home, Bruce continued teaching TOEFL both in Japan and in the United States, and then he left teaching to go into news work and computer programming. He now continues his career in environmental work while still finding time to teach.
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All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Nelson, N. Bruce Interview by Donald C. Yates. 28 Feb. 2022. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Nelson, N.B. (2022, February 28). Interview by D. C. Yates. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Nelson, N. Bruce, interview by Donald C. Yates. February 28, 2022, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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