Tag Archives: Duke University

Learning Moves Online

Champa and I have been learning online lately.

We used to attend classes “in person” with our local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Since we returned from our Peace Corps service in Moldova two years ago, I’ve studied topics ranging from foreign policy to science fiction films.

That ended when the coronavirus pandemic cut short this spring’s schedule. The OLLI program at Duke University and others nationwide have been scrambling since then to provide classes online.

Next Avenue just published this article I wrote about what’s been happening. Next Avenue is one of my favorite sites, produced by Twin Cities PBS “to meet the needs and unleash the potential of older Americans.” You can read the article on their site, on the Forbes website, in this PDF file or below.

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Africa in the Attic

One of the world’s great private collections of West African art was hidden until recently in the Durham attic of two returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Reggie and Celeste Hodges. Now they’re donating to North Carolina museums many of their hundreds of masks, statues and other precious objects. It’s a remarkable story, which I tell in this article just published by WorldView, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association.

Click to open a PDF copy of the article.

Learn more at Reggie and Celeste’s website.


Two Talks in Durham

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Champa and I are coming home for a short vacation with our family. While we’re in Durham, we will be giving two presentations about our Peace Corps experience:

  • A private talk for Duke University friends at 4 p.m., July 10, Office of News and Communications. RSVP (required) to Sakiya Lockett.
  • A public talk  at 4 p.m. July 11 at the East Durham Regional Library, together with Chris Cardona, a returned volunteer (China) who is the local Peace Corps recruiter. See the poster below for details.

Earlier during our visit we will be joining returned volunteers from the Philadelphia area in marching in that city’s Fourth of July parade. If you’re watching in front of Independence Hall, check out who’s carrying the flags for Moldova and Nepal.

Please come join us if you are in the area!

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Graduation Season

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, which I used to spend every year at Duke University’s graduation ceremony. As the head of the news office, I wrote the story Duke posted on its website shortly after the ceremony ended.


Now I am halfway around the world as a Peace Corps volunteer, yet lately I’ve been thinking about graduations again, particularly about my own Peace Corps “class,” pictured above.

Most volunteers serve for two years, with a few extending for a third year and some leaving early for medical or personal reasons. The volunteers who came to Moldova one year before us are now getting ready to transition to the next phase of their lives. A new group will arrive shortly before they leave.


The departing volunteers recently had their “close of service” conference. That’s them in the group photo above, along with some staff. They are wonderful colleagues who remain committed to their communities, but they are beginning to disengage. Some have been accepted at graduate schools. Others are looking for jobs. Many are planning trips before they return home. Some just want to return to their families.


Meanwhile, my own group is no longer the bright-eyed incoming class that gathered nearly a year ago in Philadelphia, above, and then flew on to Chișinău. We have now lived through a cycle of seasons here. We can speak the language at least somewhat, ride a crowded microbus and teach a class.

When the new group arrives in a few weeks, they may regard us as wise and experienced, just as I viewed our predecessors. Peace Corps plans to whisk them off to an orientation session for several days. Some of my colleagues will mentor them.

So much of this reminds me of what I saw at the university.

I enjoyed Duke’s graduations. I was always happy to snap photos for families as I left the stadium, even though I needed to race back to my office and write a long story in an hour or so. My biggest challenge was at my last graduation, when the main speaker gave a rambling talk with few usable quotes. I had to sidestep it and focus on other things.IMG_7689

I missed only one of Duke’s graduations during my 14 years there. In 2008, I went instead to the ceremonies down the road at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where my son was graduating. I experienced his event as a proud parent, reminding me that although graduations had become routine to me, they felt different when they touched me personally.

Similarly, the transition now under way at Peace Corps Moldova may feel routine to the staff here; I don’t really know. But for me, it is new, albeit familiar. For almost all of those who came with me, there is only this year and next. We are the ones now at the center of the transition. When Mother’s Day rolls around next time, we’ll be the ones preparing to graduate.