UConn Alumni speaks of experiences in Peace Corps
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 23:02
An event honoring “leadership in action” featured Peace Corps alum Larry Kahn on Thursday.
Kahn, a 1974 graduate from UConn’s psychology department, talked about his experiences volunteering around the world for Peace Corps — an organization that was formed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, who coined the famous phrase: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Kahn listed the three main goals of the Peace Corps: to help people of “interested countries” meet their needs, promote understanding of American culture, and promote understanding of the culture of the people that are being served. Essentially, the goal of the Peace Corps is to help create bridges of cross-cultural understanding. “This experience has had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kahn said.
While in Philippines, Kahn taught English at a state college while living with a host family. One of the most striking examples of a cultural difference that he noticed is when he was offered to include a very large fruit as part of his lunch: Since Mr. Kahn had already packed his lunch, he didn’t take the fruit. He was shocked at the response his host father gave. He told Mr. Kahn to share the fruit with the others if he wouldn’t be able to finish it himself.
“I don’t know if I am an atypical of an American, but it wouldn’t have crossed my mind, to take it and share it,” Kahn said.
Sharing holds a great cultural value among the people of the Philippines and can even unify people from different economic levels and encourage them contribute to the community. Kahn recalled singing in a choir, and coming together with children of the street to paint desks for their school. He said he felt a sense of community that he thinks that people do not get to experience in the United States.
While he was there, Kahn also observed that the people of the Philippines are very social and seem to share everything that goes on in their lives. They do not really have private lives, contrary to people in the United States, Kahn said. He believes that the solution to fixing problems in our community is to learn from other communities around the world.
“The key to solving problems such as school shootings, which have become quite common in the U.S, is to share,” Kahn said. He believes that sharing things that create discomfort within people’s lives is a way for people to release their worries and receive community support.
Kahn believes that the most useful way to solve problems is to create bridges of cross-cultural understanding that can help people from both sides learn about each other and use what those lessons to better their own communities.