January 29, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bangladesh: The Reedsburg Press: Kelsey Wittenberger served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bangladesh: Peace Corps Bangladesh : The Peace Corps in Bangladesh: January 29, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bangladesh: The Reedsburg Press: Kelsey Wittenberger served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh

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Kelsey Wittenberger served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh

Kelsey Wittenberger served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh

Kelsey Wittenberger served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh

Reedsburg graduate ending term in Peace Corps

Caption: Kelsey and his friend, Anwar, beside one of the many rivers in Bangladesh. This country is 30 percent water-covered in the dry season and 70 percent water-covered in the rainy season. Contributed

By Katy Zillmer

REEDSBURG - The current number of volunteers and trainees in the Peace Corps is 7,733. As of Sept. 30, 2004, there were 289 volunteers from Wisconsin, a total of 4,409 since the Peace Corps was established in 1961.

One of those volunteers, Kelsey Wittenberger, who grew up in Reedsburg, will be completing his service this May. Volunteers in the Peace Corps spend two years and three months serving the organization. Kelsey spent his time in Bangladesh after he entered the Peace Corps in February of 2003, according to his mother, Sue Wittenberger. "He by choice put in for that area of Asia and then was offered that country," she said, adding that when entering the Peace Corps people can't request a certain country, just an area of the world.

"I think it would be a culture shock wherever you went," Sue said.

After Kelsey is finished volunteering in May, Wittenberger said her son may travel a bit, and they expect him to come home in June. But the Wittenberger family may have to wait longer to see their son. Kelsey has applied to be in the Crisis Core, which is available for people who have been through the Peace Corps who want to help out with projects such as the tsunami relief in areas like Thailand, Sue said.
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"It's been hard having him away for so long," she said.

In the Peace Corps, Sue said volunteers live with host families in the beginning in order to get acclimated.

In those three months when Kelsey started in the Peace Corps, he wrote that he learned the basics of the Bangla language, how to teach English as a foreign language and how to function in a bureaucracy. For the following two years Kelsey lived in the city of Barisal. "Living alone in Barisal forced me to adapt," he wrote.

In Barisal, which is a division capital with over two million people, volunteers are the only Western foreigners in this city," Kelsey said in his letters. "I work in a government office that provides training to youth who have completed college (12 years of school) or university (14 or 15) years but have not found employment."

Kelsey described teaching 14 advanced spoken English courses. "It is so much fun to watch my students learn and to hear them use what they have learned outside of class. I really enjoy the way I am respected as a source of information, and I like pushing students to use their English."

The Wittenbergers communicate with their son mainly through e-mail. In one e-mail from June of 2003, Kelsey described living with his host family. That month was spent getting used to eating the food in Bangladesh. "I try to eat things based on a balanced diet, because almost everything tastes bad," he said. He also described his host family having an interest in 70s disco music. "It's a new world," he said.

Killing spiders was another story Kelsey spoke about in e-mails to his family. "I've killed three big ones (at least four inches wide) accidentally since arriving in Barisal. I've dropped my bookbag on one, shut one in the bathroom door and rolled over one once while I was sleeping," he wrote.

"He's talked about how he's considered a white giant. In a city with two million people the volunteers stand out, and he is much taller than Bangladesh people," Sue said.

Though the Wittenberger family gets e-mail from Kelsey, phone conversations have been few and far between. To talk on the phone from Wisconsin to Bangladesh takes many dials to get through, and at times only one or the other person can hear. There is a time lapse, and the connection doesn't last very long, Sue said.

Having her son volunteering abroad has given the family interesting things to talk about, but celebrating holidays is difficult. "The phone conversations would help a lot," Sue said, adding that it is difficult to communicate just through e-mail because there is no voice or emotion to go with the words. But Sue and her family can understand why Kelsey would take on volunteering with the Peace Corps.

"I wasn't totally surprised, knowing him. He's always had a worldly interest," Sue said.

Larry Judge, a teacher at RAHS, knew Kelsey when he was a student. "He's just a very giving young man," Judge said. Kelsey graduated from Webb in 1998 and from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2002.

"He became quite interested, after graduating in economics, in delving into international economic thinking," Sue said.

Her son plans to attend graduate school in the fall. "He has been (through) an interesting process applying for grad school from a country like Bangladesh," Sue said.

When he does return home Sue said she is most looking forward to sitting down and talking to her son and hearing his stories.

"I'm sure he has changed, but I won't know until he returns. I won't realize the impact of all his adventures," Sue said. "My guess is that he's probably learned a lot about himself."

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Reedsburg Press

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