Interview with David Rosen, March 8, 2022
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryDavid J. Rosen served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria from 1966 – 1967 and then, when he was evacuated from Nigeria because of civil war, in Liberia from 1967 – 1969. He taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to junior high school-aged students in both countries. Before he joined the Peace Corps, David had attended the University of Michigan where he studied English Literature and Philosophy. In the spring of 1966, his last undergraduate year, he had been accepted at the University of Chicago in a Ph.D. program in English literature. However, a letter he received from a friend who was in the Peace Corps serving in Nigeria changed his plans. David applied to the Peace Corps to serve in Nigeria, and the University of Chicago granted him a graduate school deferment. David had heard of the United States Peace Corps and had known that in 1960 the then Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy had announced the forming of the Peace Corps from the steps of the Student Union at the University of Michigan. David had not been pleased that America had become involved in the Vietnam conflict, and he thought that the Peace Corps would be a better way to serve his country. When he enrolled, he knew that his mother was worried for his safety, and his father was concerned that the Peace Corps might be too allied with other U.S. foreign policy agencies; nevertheless, they supported their son’s decision. In late June of 1966, David left for Atlanta for a two-month training program, including preparation for teaching ESL. The training took place in an African American community, where he lived and attended classes at Morehouse College. He began to learn Igbo, a language spoken in Eastern Nigeria where he would be assigned. Part of his training included community service, and while training, David found time to start an improvisational theater group, worked on Julian Bond’s Congressional campaign, and with three talented neighbor musicians formed a band in which he played rhythm instrument called a pogo cello. After a week back home, David and other PCVs flew to Nigeria and spent the night at the University of Lagos. The next day they flew to the Eastern Nigeria capital city, Enugu, and David was from there driven to the village of Azia, near Ihiala, his assigned location. He began teaching at a proprietary boarding school compound that, very common in Nigeria, was a long row of single-story, zinc-roofed, cinder-block classrooms. The school’s principal told him he would teach Form Six, the highest level, in which students were preparing for the all-important West African School Certificate exam, but he persuaded the principal, since he had never taken that exam, that it would be best for students and the school if he taught Forms One and Two (middle school-aged students) for which his Peace Corps training had prepared him. Each weekday David taught 50-minute classes, one after another, from early morning until a morning break, which he regularly enjoyed at home. He returned after the break to teach more classes until the teaching day ended at 2:00 p.m. David lived in a one-bedroom cinder block house with a zinc roof. It had a bedroom, parlor, kitchen, and bathroom. In the evening the school’s generator provided the whole compound, including his house, with electricity. In the rainy season, rainwater was automatically collected off the roof into an underground cement cistern. Throughout the year, the water was pumped by hand to a storage tank on the roof. In the house was a water-operated toilet, sink, and in the late afternoon at least, a hot shower. The kitchen had a kerosene stove with an oven and a kerosene refrigerator. In his first week at the school, several teachers had urged that David retain a cook steward, which was affordable, but not what he had expected he would need to do. He was surprised at his household amenities, having a cook steward, and that he was given a car by the school’s proprietor to use as he saw fit. This had not been how he had imagined that he would live as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After ten months there, because of impending civil war in Nigeria between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Eastern Region were evacuated. A Peace Corps jeep arrived at the school compound one day, and David was told that he had just thirty minutes to collect his things and leave. He traveled by canoe across the Niger River and by land to Lagos, and then flew to Accra, Ghana where he was reassigned, by choice, to Liberia. He flew from Accra to Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, where he taught in the government-sponsored junior high school. The school was a two-story structure on a main street downtown. In addition to teaching, David created education resources used by Peace Corps teachers in other parts of Liberia and he trained new PCVs. He lived in Monrovia, in a house on the beach, yards from the Atlantic Ocean. He taught in Liberia for two years at the junior high school and at the University of Liberia. Together with his neighbors on South Beach, he created a tie and dye cloth cooperative that helped them improve their incomes. David felt that his service in the Peace Corps made a significant impact on his life, and he returned home a changed man. He realized he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives here in the United States and he wanted to teach in an urban setting. He informed the University of Chicago that he would not be pursuing a doctorate in English literature and instead joined a Teacher Corps M.Ed project hosted by University of Massachusetts Amherst that included African Studies, competency-based and affective approaches to teaching. While in this program, he and other Teacher Corps volunteers lived and taught in public schools in Worcester, MA. David taught high school English, including African literature in English, and he developed an interest in working class students who were not being well served by traditional public schools. To learn how to address their needs he went on to do a doctorate in education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in which he focused on public alternative schools. After completing his doctoral degree program, he helped to create, and was hired to be the principal of, an alternative public school located in Waltham, Massachusetts that was designed to serve high school dropouts from public schools in four towns. After a career in alternative education, and then in adult foundational education, including as the Director of the Adult Literacy Resource Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, David served as a contracted advisor, curriculum developer, professional development specialist, and program developer for national and international programs serving at-risk/out-of-school youth in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Northern Cyprus, Afghanistan, South Africa, Liberia, and Haiti. He is currently working part-time, writing and providing research and evaluation services. He is an active member of the Friends of Liberia, started many years ago by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. He serves as a volunteer on its Education Committee and as a leader in adult literacy for its Family Literacy Initiative in Liberia. He is also a member of Friends of Nigeria.
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Rosen, David Interview by Donald C. Yates. 08 Mar. 2022. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Rosen, D. (2022, March 08). 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.
Rosen, David, interview by Donald C. Yates. March 08, 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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