October 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - China: Writing - China: Columbia Missourian: Hickman alumnus Peter Hessler visits from China

Peace Corps Online: Directory: China: Special Report: China RPCV and Author Peter Hessler: October 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - China: Writing - China: Columbia Missourian: Hickman alumnus Peter Hessler visits from China

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Hickman alumnus Peter Hessler visits from China

Hickman alumnus Peter Hessler visits from China

Hickman alumnus Peter Hessler visits from China

Hickman alumnus visits from China

By Gabriel Sesmas

October 27, 2004

Peter Hessler recalls driving through a blizzard in China: Looking out his car window, he saw truckers trying to thaw out their fuel lines with lighted flares.

“There’s a sense of adventure living in China,” he told an engaged English class at Hickman High School. Hessler, who graduated from Hickman in 1988, spoke at his alma mater on Tuesday about the importance of traveling to learn first-hand about different cultures rather than just reading about foreign lands in textbooks.

He also discussed his career as a writer and offered advice to students hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Hessler is in town to accept an award on Thursday from the Columbia Public Schools Foundation Hall of Leaders Recognition, which honors outstanding alumni.

George Frissell, the head of the English department at Hickman, invited Hessler to speak to his “Classical Ideas and World Religions” class. The class was familiar with one of Hessler’s National Geographic articles called “Chasing the Wall.”

Hessler’s work is shaped by his experiences in China where he has lived since 1996. As a member of the Peace Corps, he moved there to teach English literature and American culture to Chinese college students.

“My job was to give the students a window into America and the outside world,” he said referring to China’s isolation and lack of understanding about the American culture.

Hessler warned the Hickman class that using textbooks as their only source of information about other cultures is problematic.

He read aloud an excerpt from a book titled “Survey of Britain and America” that was used as an educational resource for Chinese students.

The book, he said, had a political agenda. The excerpt addressed such issues as social problems in America and blamed “capitalistic society” for all of America’s ills.

“One of the reasons that I read this for you is just to tell you that anything you read or hear, you shouldn’t necessarily believe,” he said. “This includes things in your own textbooks and things that I’m telling you. There’s never any substitute for personal contact and personal experience.”

The students questioned Hessler about China’s government, culture shock and how he became a writer. Hessler credited his Hickman English teachers and Princeton for fostering his interest in writing and developing his writing skills.

Hessler said he knew he wanted to be a writer at age 16, and he encouraged the class to imitate authors and to think about the decisions those authors made with their writing. Hessler also explained that his experiences in China have greatly influenced him as a writer.

“One of the best decisions I made was going into the Peace Corps,” he said. “I don’t think a writer can write well without material.”

Kelly Quad, a 17-year-old Hickman senior, thought the discussion was beneficial to her and the class.

“It was very informative about a part of the world that we don’t see,” she said. “Hearing it from someone who has been there, and who is an American, really helped show the importance of other cultures.”

Peter Hessler


Graduated from Hickman High School in 1988. Attended Princeton, 1988-92, where he majored in creative writing and English. Attended school at Oxford in England, 1992-94, where he earned a second B.A. in English language and literature.


Works as a freelance writer and contributes articles to the New Yorker and National Geographic. He published his first book, “River Town,” in 2001 and is currently writing a second about his experiences in China.

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers
The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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PCOL sits down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.

Plus the debate continues over Safety and Security.
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Governor Schwarzenegger praised the Peace Corps at the Republican National Convention: "We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children." Schwarzenegger has previously acknowledged his debt to his father-in-law, Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, for teaching him "the joy of public service" and Arnold is encouraging volunteerism by creating California Service Corps and tapping his wife, Maria Shriver, to lead it. Leave your comments and who can come up with the best Current Events Funny?
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Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and can you come up with a Political Funny?

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Columbia Missourian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - China; Writing - China



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