2011.03.01: March 1, 2011: The two years that Donna Fiebelkorn spent in Nepal from 1979 to 1981 as a Peace Corps volunteer were the richest of her life

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The two years that Donna Fiebelkorn spent in Nepal from 1979 to 1981 as a Peace Corps volunteer were the richest of her life

The two years that Donna Fiebelkorn spent in Nepal from 1979 to 1981 as a Peace Corps volunteer were the richest of her life

"There's a whole new generation that needs to know the Peace Corps exists," she says. She and other members of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Western Michigan will celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary by telling their stories and talking about the service they love. "Sometimes I forget how different my life has been," Fiebelkorn says. "Not everybody gets the chance to work - and live - with people who think differently, live differently, speak differently." She was in second grade, living near Detroit, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy told a crowd of University of Michigan students gathered outside the Michigan Union in the fall of 1960 that he dreamed of establishing the Peace Corps. "My cousin was in that crowd," Fiebelkorn says. "I grew up with the idea of the Peace Corps." For four years, she taught school before she got a good case of the wanderlust. "I remember thinking: Now what?" she says. The answer was the Peace Corps, her childhood dream. "I wanted to experience a different place," Fiebelkorn says. "I wanted to have the challenge of being somewhere very different." Nepal provided just such a challenge. It was a six-hour walk from the airport to her village. It was another four hours to get to the village where the closest Peace Corps volunteer lived. Still, Fiebelkorn committed to the Peace Corps' two-year tour of service, knowing that she could ask for an extension if she wanted to stay. "I wanted to know what the world was all about," she says. "There's more to the world than just the U.S.," she says. "Besides, I think you need to go to some of these other places to get a better appreciation of the the U.S. is and what it is not." It is a philosophy she's followed for more than 20 years.

The two years that Donna Fiebelkorn spent in Nepal from 1979 to 1981 as a Peace Corps volunteer were the richest of her life

Peace Corps service molded life of Muskegon educator

Published: Tuesday, March 01, 2011, 6:14 AM Updated: Tuesday, March 01, 2011, 8:17 AM

Muskegon Chronicle By Susan Harrison Wolffis | Muskegon Chronicle

Caption: Donna Fiebelkorn, today the dean of education and human service at Baker College in Muskegon, spent more than 20 years in the Peace Corps, including serving in Nepal in 1979.

She taught English in Nepal, the lone American in a tiny village set high in the Himalayan Mountains.

Her school was remote. The people, desperately poor. The conditions, primitive. She lived and worked with no running water, no electricity, little food, few school supplies.

But the two years that Donna Fiebelkorn spent in Nepal from 1979-81 as a Peace Corps volunteer were the richest of her life - and the experience set her on a course that not only took her to all ends of the earth, it influenced who she is today.

"The Peace Corps is woven into who I am," Fiebelkorn says. "It's in me ... it's the thread of my life."

Now the dean of education and human service at Baker College in Muskegon, the 57-year-old Fiebelkorn spent 20-plus years in the Peace Corps, either as a volunteer or paid staff.

"Every Peace Corps volunteer will tell you we get more than we ever give," she says. "It's the most amazing experience."

Fiebelkorn, who calls Whitehall home these days, will talk about her Peace Corps experience as part of a panel discussion at Baker College Wednesday night.

"There's a whole new generation that needs to know the Peace Corps exists," she says.

She and other members of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Western Michigan will celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary by telling their stories and talking about the service they love.

"Sometimes I forget how different my life has been," Fiebelkorn says. "Not everybody gets the chance to work - and live - with people who think differently, live differently, speak differently."

She was in second grade, living near Detroit, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy told a crowd of University of Michigan students gathered outside the Michigan Union in the fall of 1960 that he dreamed of establishing the Peace Corps.

"My cousin was in that crowd," Fiebelkorn says. "I grew up with the idea of the Peace Corps."

On March 1, 1961, then-President Kennedy signed the executive order to establish the Peace Corps as an independent agency to promote peace and friendship.

Fiebelkorn, whose father was career military, flirted with the idea of joining the Peace Corps as soon as she graduated from high school. But when she spoke to a recruiter, she was advised: Go get some skills. So she went to Michigan State University where she earned a teaching degree.
07peace-corps.jpgDonna Fiebelkorn

For four years, she taught school before she got a good case of the wanderlust.

"I remember thinking: Now what?" she says.

The answer was the Peace Corps, her childhood dream.

"I wanted to experience a different place," Fiebelkorn says. "I wanted to have the challenge of being somewhere very different."

Nepal provided just such a challenge. It was a six-hour walk from the airport to her village. It was another four hours to get to the village where the closest Peace Corps volunteer lived.

Still, Fiebelkorn committed to the Peace Corps' two-year tour of service, knowing that she could ask for an extension if she wanted to stay.

"I wanted to know what the world was all about," she says. "There's more to the world than just the U.S.," she says. "Besides, I think you need to go to some of these other places to get a better appreciation of the the U.S. is and what it is not."

It is a philosophy she's followed for more than 20 years.

Before she finally packed her bags and headed home to the United States - if not forever, at least for now - Fiebelkorn also worked in the Peace Corps as paid staff in Nepal. From 1979-1989, she spent seven years in the country she lovingly calls "Shangri-La."

Fiebelkorn met her future husband in Nepal, an American working in agriculture, although the marriage ended in divorce. They adopted a baby girl in Nepal, born to an unwed Tibetan woman. The daughter, now 23, is named Liana Kalsang Dolkar Fiebelkorn Kaplan - Liana, for short.

She became her mother's traveling mate as Fiebelkorn went around the world, and back again.

From 1990-91, Fiebelkorn was a training consultant in Sri Lanka, working volunteers in places most Americans have never even heard of. In the summers of 1991 and 92, she was a program developer in the East Caribbean. She did tours in San Francisco, recruiting volunteers, and in Washington, D.C., working on a fellowship program in between stops overseas.

In between Peace Corps duties, Fiebelkorn earned her master's degree, then her doctorate at the University of Vermont

After Krygyzstan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in Central Asia, Fiebelkorn went there in 1995, training teachers, working as a consultant.

"There's something everyone in the Peace Corps asks, and that's: How do you work with people who are not you? How do you work with someone who's different from you ... when the rhythms of life are so different?" Fiebelkorn says.

She's had years of practice.

From 1999 to 2002, she served as the deputy director of the Peace Corps "post" in Kiev, Ukraine, a city with 3 million residents. After the former Soviet Union dissolved, more Peace Corps volunteers - teaching English, helping set up businesses - were in Ukraine than any other country. It was Fiebelkorn's job to pare down the number of volunteers as the need lessens.

"I cannot believe how fast the world changes," she says.
M0301PEACECORPS1Courtesy photoDonna Fiebelkorn in Nepal in 1985.

She was in Kiev on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States. The memory of the Ukrainian citizens' kindness - friends, coworkers, neighbors - still moves her to tears.

No one knew who was safe that day.

"The first question we ask is: Can our volunteers be safe here?" Fiebelkorn says.

Recently, several former Peace Corps volunteers reported that they'd been raped while overseas. Fiebelkorn has never been assaulted, although she was "grabbed" once on a street late at night when she was walking home. She screamed, and the man ran off. But she knew a woman in the Peace Corps who was raped, and a man who was murdered.

"Safety and security are always a concern," she says.

In 2003, Fiebelkorn - who moved back to Michigan to be near family - took a job at Baker College in Muskegon and for the first time in her adult life, settled in, settled down.

But there are reminders everywhere in her home of where life has taken her: paintings, furniture, tea mugs, photographs from the first day she stepped onto Nepal soil.

Today's Peace Corps volunteers are just as apt to be HIV/AIDS health educators as they are English teachers, she says, but the intent is the same as it was in 1961: One of peace, one of friendship.

"That's what we're there for," she says. "That's who we are."




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: March, 2011; Peace Corps Nepal; Directory of Nepal RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Nepal RPCVs; University Education





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Story Source: Michigan Live

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