July 25, 2002 - Clarksburg Exponent Telegram: RPCV John Wickland remembers life in Colombia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Colombia: Peace Corps Colombia : Peace Corps in Colombia: July 25, 2002 - Clarksburg Exponent Telegram: RPCV John Wickland remembers life in Colombia

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RPCV John Wickland remembers life in Colombia

Read and comment on this story from the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram on RPCV John Wickland and how life in Colombia thirty years ago changed him at:

Peace Corps a life-changing experience*

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Peace Corps a life-changing experience

by Jennifer Biller


WESTON -- Almost 30 years ago, John Wickland set out to change the world. Instead, it changed him.

Wickland joined the Peace Corps in 1972 after earning a college degree in natural resource recreation management. He was sent to Colombia, South America, to offer his expertise in developing national parks in the country.

"I wasn't ready to settle down, but wanted to do something productive," he said. "I was reading a magazine one day and saw an article about the Peace Corps, so I applied."

After his arrival in Bogota, he spent three months with a Colombian family. He learned enough Spanish for basic communication. He took in the culture and even attended a bullfight.

Wickland was deeply affected by what he saw and experienced. Crime was prevalent and poverty widespread.

Most families didn't have cars, he said. Those that did would park them in their living rooms at night to prevent theft.

"The people were either rich or poor," he said. "There was no in-between. It was difficult to see the type of poverty that people lived in."

It was culture shock for Wickland. He couldn't drink the water without boiling it. He washed his clothes in a river. He couldn't watch television to hear news reports, because he didn't understand the language well enough.

"I lost 50 pounds. It was hot, and the food wasn't the greatest," he said. "I ate a lot of rice -- cold rice, fried rice, burnt rice."

Wickland said he enjoyed representing America. For many Colombians, it was the first time they'd seen an American who wasn't on television.

"An American to them was John Wayne in a cowboy hat," he said. "Everywhere I went, people would stare."

After leaving Bogota, Wickland was sent to a secluded area to study the feasibility of making it into a national park. The land was beautiful and the wildlife fascinating. He saw 6-inch grasshoppers with multi-colored wings, enormous snakes, playful monkeys and colorful birds.

While the park never came to fruition due to the area's conditions, the trip was a success for Wickland.

"You will get a lot more out of being there than the people who you're there to help," he said. "It teaches you about yourself and other people and to live with the decisions you make."

Most of all, he learned patience and perseverance, Wickland said.

"It's not for everybody. But I enjoyed every minute, and I'm glad I was there," he said.

"The Peace Corps does a lot of good for the host country and for the person going over there," he said. "It helps people learn about what Americans are like, too."

Wickland was born and raised in Weston. He lives in Bridgeport and is an insurance agent in Weston.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or by e-mail at jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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