September 13, 2003 - MIT: John W. Baggaley spent two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova working with entrepreneurs, and small business owners

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Moldova: Peace Corps Moldova : The Peace Corps in Moldova: September 13, 2003 - MIT: John W. Baggaley spent two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova working with entrepreneurs, and small business owners

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John W. Baggaley spent two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova working with entrepreneurs, and small business owners

John W. Baggaley spent two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova working with entrepreneurs, and small business owners

This month's featured classmate is John W. Baggaley, a management science major Sig Ep, who spent two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova working with entrepreneurs, small business owners, nongovernmental and international development organizations. After working as a consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Boston for three years, he is studying law at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wis. He was interviewed by Lajos Molnár about his life after MIT.

John, where are you from?

I grew up in Visalia, Calif., a small town between Fresno and Bakersfield. This is where Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" was set. It's a big agricultural region: grapes, oranges, walnuts, almonds, tomatoes, cotton, dairy, peaches, etc.

What did you study at MIT?

I was course 15 and 24. I got my BS in management science with a concentration in information technology, and I got my minor in philosophy. My favorite classes were 1.00, 14.02 (Macro Econ), 15.351 (Innovation Tech Management), 15.568 (MIS), 24.221 (Metaphysics), 24.231 (Ethics), 24.611 (Topics in Philosophy), and an Ontology class I took at Harvard (the prof. was an MIT alum). I despised both 8.02, 3.091 and some course 6 probability class that my brain won't let me remember.

I've heard that you have done something very exciting since graduating...

Yes, I have. In fact, right after graduating, I joined the Peace Corps. If I remember correctly, we graduated on June 6, so only four days later, I jumped on a plane and flew to Chicago, where I met up with folks from all over the United States for a few days of training. Then, on June 12, I flew half way around the world, and on Friday the 13th (yes, very ironic), I landed in Chisinau, Moldova.

I spent just over two years in the Republic of Moldova working as a US Peace Corps volunteer. I spent my first three months in health, cultural, and intensive Russian and Romanian language training. I then spent a year in Comrat, the capital of Gagauzia, working with entrepreneurs and small business owners. I then spent a year working in Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) working with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and international development organizations.

Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?

There's a story in Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamazov" where (roughly) a selfish woman dies, goes to heaven and is judged. Her guardian angel convinces God to give her a second chance because she once gave an onion to a poor man. This got me wondering about my own life. If I died, would I be proud of the things I'd done? Had everything I'd done been simply a matter of selfishness?

The Peace Corps seemed to offer me an opportunity to do something for other people. In particular, when I found out about their business development program in Eastern Europe, it seemed like it would be a great opportunity to put all of the skills I'd been developing over the years towards a cause other than myself.

How did you end up in Moldova?

I didn't really have a choice on where to go. Typically, prospective Peace Corps volunteers can request a region, but the regions are really the size of continents and the Peace Corps just ends up matching your skills with their various needs in different countries. I got matched up with Moldova because they had a need for people with business and NGO experience. Moreover, I studied Spanish in high school and Spanish is pretty similar to Romanian, the national language of Moldova. (It's a little ironic that I ended up speaking Russian.)

What kind of assignment did you do?

I was an Economic and Organizational Development volunteer. In my first year I worked in a business center where I helped entrepreneurs develop business plans, I helped put together a conference on independent press, and most importantly, I let Moldavians know that not all Americans are evil warmongers and that we really do care about the poor--which of course is what they were all told back in Soviet times. Back then Americans were "little yellow devils" and "evil capitalists." (Yes, the Peace Corps is all about America trying to make friends with former enemies.)

In my second year, I was an advisor to an NGO in Chisinau that had received a contract to execute an information distribution and archival project for international aid agencies. I also spent a semester at the State University teaching moral philosophy.

Tell me more about Moldova?

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. A former Soviet Republic, Moldova is nestled between Romania and the Ukraine. Historically, they were the seat of Bass Arabia, the kingdom established by Stephen the Great around the turn of the 15th century.

Moldova is primarily an agrarian society. What industry they had in Soviet times has disintegrated. Their large cooperative farms have been broken up and the people are in large numbers returning to subsistence farming. Moldova is the kind of place where you find doctors and physicists driving cabs and family members selling kidneys in Turkey to buy refrigerators and such.

Despite the depressing times, Moldavians take a lot of pride in their agriculture. During Soviet times, Moldova, along with Georgia, was the Nappa Valley of the Soviet Union. Every family in Moldova makes their own wine, vodka, and cognac. Belly Eist ("White Stork") is still a famous brand of cognac among Russians today. Moldova is also home of the world's largest winery, Cricova. It's an old limestone mine that was converted into a winery a couple hundred years ago.

Temperature wise, it's hot and humid in the summer and very cold and snowy in the winter. Since they have central heating for the entire city, and it doesn't get turned on until late November, it can be very cold inside. My clients rarely took their coats or fur hats off in my office. When typing, I wore glove liners. I also wore eight layers of clothes.

What was one of your most memorable moments in the Peace Corps?

I traveled to Bran, Romania, with a bunch of friends to celebrate Halloween at Dracula's castle. (Incidentally, Dracula was a real person. His name was Vlad the Impaler. In fighting the Ottomans, he tried to intimidate them by impaling the heads of his enemies on tall spikes that he placed along the roads. "Drac" in Romanian means "Devil" and the ending "ula" is the feminine definite article. So "dracul" means "the devil." I don't know where the "a" came from.) The Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania every year host a party at the castle in Bran to celebrate Halloween. Volunteers from as far as Macedonia to the Ukraine come to party it up for a few days. Everyone brings the national drink from their country. We brought plastic gas-cans filled with homemade wine and vodka.

Bran and the Carpathian mountains in Romania are absolutely beautiful. It's well worth the experience, but not full of creature comforts and certainly, only for the well-seasoned traveler. But then again, all of the best places are like that. ;-)

I also remember taking a trip with friends to Turkey. The train ride took three days. We had to pack all our food because there was no stopping and no food sold on the train.

My friends in Comrat owned a nightclub called "Freedom." I have many fond memories of that.

How did you keep in contact with friends and family?

I kept in touch with my family through e-mail, believe it or not. I brought a laptop with me. The phone lines were so bad though that often it would take me half an hour or more just to get a connection.

I had a girlfriend before I went over to Moldova, but it proved to be impossible to stay in touch, and alas I have no idea what's happened to her. I kept in touch with friends some, but that was hard too, as I missed out on a lot of things that happened while I was gone (weddings and such). I couldn't exactly just pick up the phone and call people and I certainly couldn't afford a ticket to fly home and visit. (I got paid the equivalent of $100 per month in Moldovan lei. That was an average Moldavian's monthly income, so I was just getting by, by Moldovan standards.)

Because I had e-mail, however, I was able to keep in touch with a bunch of Sig Eps. We have an e-mail distro list that is pretty active, so I was able to keep in touch with a lot of my MIT friends and keep up with what was going on.

How did your experience in the Peace Corps reflect on your MIT education?

I found that MIT prepared me really well in some respects. I found that I really understood business and economics better than most of my fellow volunteers. However, after graduating from MIT, I found myself with an attitude that I could solve anything. Sometimes, this confidence came in very handy. However, my experience in Moldova also taught me a lot of humility and respect for experience, something I really lacked.

What's next in your life?

Well, last summer, after three years at Deloitte Consulting in Boston, I left Boston for Madison, Wisconsin. Right now, I'm in law school at the University of Wisconsin Law School. While I did well at Deloitte, I didn't find my work inspiring. So, I decided that I wanted a change of career, something more along the lines of what I was doing in the Peace Corps. That is, something like despite that fact that I didn't make any money, I was really proud of what I was doing and I felt good that I was at least trying to make a difference. I should graduate from Wisconsin in 2005.

This summer, I will be in Washington, D.C., working at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberty issues, and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values." It should be a good time.

Well, thanks for your time and best of luck with the future.

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Story Source: MIT

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