“We’re Here To Make The World A Better Place”: The Idealism Of A Peace Corps Volunteer In Liberia

Michael Arden


Mike Arden grew up north of Chicago. As a young boy, he enjoyed an “idyllic” childhood, spending his time with friends, exploring his neighborhood, and participating in the Boy Scouts. In high school, he began to feel that he did not belong to any particular social group, and suffered from low self-esteem. Yearning to find his identity during the turbulent era of the 1960s, he was “involved in concerns” about Civil Rights and Vietnam, and submitted “Conscientious Objector” paperwork. After graduating from New Trier High School in 1970, he attended Lawrence University for a few years before taking a year off, and finally finished college at Lake Forest. By that time, he had decided to become a librarian, following in the footsteps of his uncle. In 1980, he graduated from Northern Illinois University with a master’s degree and became a professional librarian. Still restless, he yearned for a career overseas, hoping to become a librarian within the Department of Defense. The Peace Corps offered non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs, and served as a vehicle towards his goal of overseas travel with the DoD. Feeling the “loneliness of the crowd,” he felt that the Peace Corps could also fulfil his desire to go abroad and be part of a tight-knit group. He volunteered for the Peace Corps, and was assigned to Liberia as an English teacher and Librarian. In Liberia, he spent much of his time in Monrovia, River Cess, and Bomi. Completing his two-year tour in late 1985, he returned to the United States. He took a job with the Department of Defense as a Librarian, and is currently assigned to West Point. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his educational experiences, and his search for an identity. He describes the idealism of the Peace Corps, and the adventure of serving in Liberia in the early- to mid-1980s. He discusses his relationships with other Peace Corps Volunteers, Liberians, and third-country nationals he worked with. He situates his experiences within the context of Liberia in the 1980s, to include Thomas Quiwonkpa’s failed coup attempt in November, 1985. Finally, he ends by reading two of his journal entries and a poem he wrote in Liberia, and provides advice for Cadets at the Military Academy.


topics Peace Corps Humanitarian
interviewer Kate Alfin
date 03 September 2019


name Michael Arden
institution Lawrence University; Lake Forest College; Northern Illinois University
graduation year 1980
unit Peace Corps
specialty Librarian