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For This Peace Corps Volunteer, Once Was Not Enough

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Charlotte Utting (BS, Psychology, '62; MAT, English, '87) had lived abroad as a child and always wanted to return overseas. But life kept getting in the way--until 1980. That's when she decided to join the Peace Corps.

Charlotte Utting in Senegal in 1981.

Charlotte Utting in Senegal in 1981.

"I waited until my younger son turned 18 and then told him, 'You have six months to find a place to live; I'm going,'" recalls Utting, who had been working at the UW since 1954. "I just couldn't wait any longer."

Utting was assigned to a small village in Senegal to help with community development. After three months of intensive training--including language, technical, and cross-cultural training--she was delivered to the village.

"I was scared to death," she admits. "I felt so useless my first year. But I'm not a quitter." Utting experienced a "magical turnaround" in the second year, as projects took off and she felt more a part of the village. She helped organize a women's cooperative vegetable garden, an anti-malaria program, the digging of a well, and a baby-weighing program to promote early intervention for infants. "They already had some of these ideas," says Utting. "I gave them the impetus to take the projects on."

Although she returned to the UW as an adviser in the Department of English, Utting was restless for more adventure. "After six years, I decided that I really had to go back to the Peace Corps," she says. She retired from the UW in 1989 and headed for Cameroon as a specialist in maternal/child health. (After her first Peace Corps term, she had pursued graduate study in international public health.)

When she returned to the States the second time around, Utting landed the perfect job: a five-year term as a paid recruiter for the Peace Corps. She was in recruiter heaven, since the UW currently ranks third nationally in Peace Corps participation. "I think that's due to a combination of good recruiting and a strong spirit of volunteerism in the Northwest," she says. "And Northwesterners' willingness to rough it."

What does Utting tell recruits? "I tell them that the Peace Corps is an amazing opportunity for people who are curious, enthusiastic, and flexible," says Utting. "Although it's not easy work, you get back a lot more than you give."