Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Jason Boog

Buy Travel Wise at Amazon

An interview by John Coyne

I HEARD ABOUT RAY LEKI and his new book, Travel Wise: How to Be Safe,Printer friendly version Savvy, and Secure Abroad from Laurette Bennhold-Samaan who was the Cross-Cultural Specialist for the Peace Corps in the late ’90s. She mentioned that Leki had written a “wonderful book” about travel and since he was an RPCV she thought I might want to review it for the website. I decided to interview Ray as many retiring RPCVs are traveling these days back to their host countries, and elsewhere in the world. Over the last few weeks we have traded a number of emails about his book and travel and this is what Ray has to say.

Where are you from, Ray?

I’m from Chicago. I went to Southern Illinois University down in Carbondale, Illinois, and then Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business for graduate school.

What did you study at Southern Illinois?
Well, my undergrad major was Chemistry. I got an MA in leadership from Georgetown.
But you joined the Peace Corps after college, right?
Yes, chemistry was closing in on me, and I longed to see the world.
And then you came back to do graduate work?
Right. I studied magazine writing at New York University’s graduate journalism school.
And you did, didn’t you . . . see the world that is?
I started as a PCV in Hang Pang, Nepal, from 1979 to 1981; then as a staff member: recruiter, staging coordinator, stateside training coordinator, training officer (Nepal), acting country director (Pakistan) and project director in Poland — so I was on staff from 1982 to 1991.
When you were a Volunteer what did you do, teach?
I was a math and science teacher at Shri Saraswoti Madhyamic Vidhyalaya. This was a remote, rural, agricultural high school. I also helped on a tuberculosis eradication project as a secondary assignment. But I think I made my greatest contribution to the Hang Pang teachers soccer team in a tournament against our archrivals from Therathum — we smoked ’em.
Okay, you finished your tour and became a Peace Corps recruiter?
Yes, in the Chicago Area Office. When I got out of Peace Corps the job market was very tight; this was the economic depression of ’82. I recruited in cities and towns and university campuses throughout Illinois and Indiana. You simply just don’t know what fun is until you’ve done a live radio call-in show in Muncie, Indiana at 5:05 a.m. It was a great job and working with other RPCV recruiters was a riot. After a couple years of that, I had the chance to serve on a CAST – a pre-selection assessment event – and became hooked on the idea of training.
I got a job in the staging office in Washington and directed a variety of pre-departure training events with a wonderful cast of remarkably talented RPCVs, psychologists, trainers, social workers, and other members of the Lunatic Fringe.
Both in Chicago and in Washington, I had great leadership — my bosses were terrific role models for government service — serious, professional, dedicated, open-minded, and effective. I then ran the Stateside Training Program and did programming and training workshops for newly hired Associate Peace Corps Directors.
At the same time, I went to Georgetown to get certified as a trainer. I took a third tour to return to Nepal, with my wife this time, and served as the Training Officer. During that time, they asked me to go to Pakistan to serve as acting Country Director during the summer before the first Gulf War. We then went on to Poland to help that program get up and running.
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