Peace Corps
Thai 27
Susie Becker Cooper

Susie (front left) with election team in Montenegro 2006
My first year, I was in Nonthaburi, where I taught at the Girls’ School (MS 2,3,4) + a coed MS 5 class, and lived with Mona Melanson, who taught at the Boys’ School. We first lived in a tiny house behind my school - with the cemetery just behind. The school custodian/guard lived next door and guarded the place sitting on his steps with a rifle at night – while packs of wild dogs roamed the area. It was not an auspicious location. We said to PC, move us or we quit. They did - to the opposite extreme - a wooden house in traditional Thai design - nagas and all -surrounded by a lotus pond - in a compound with another house rented by a German family whom we rarely saw. We had our breakfast served to us and ate dinner and played scrabble with the family in the evenings. Due to a lack of support by the school administration, I was moved the second year to Sri Ayudhaya School downtown in Bangkok, across from the Florida Hotel. I lived that year with two volunteers from other groups in a duplex. Besides Mona, during PC, I saw Barb Thomas, Renee, and the Bangkok gang who used to stay at Ernie’s house.

After Peace Corps, I traveled to Nepal, went trekking with Joyce Wagner, and remember becoming deathly ill in Pokhara – spending several days in a sort of infirmary – I think Vance and several others were there. A Philippines’ RPCV whom
I ‘d met in Bangkok met up with me in Nepal, and we traveled by motorcycle down the Raj Path, and across northern India to Agra and Delhi. I went on by myself to Greece, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, meeting up with him (and the bike) again in Paris, then going on together to England and Scotland. The romance ended when we returned to the US.

I went home to California, but soon returned to DC where I’d gone to college, and taught ESL while living with Renee and Barb Thomas the next year. Then Renee and I set off in an old station wagon for a cross-country trek, ending up in Phoenix, where the car died. We took a greyhound bus back to CA and met up again with Barb who was then living in Berkeley.

I applied and got into the U. of Hawaii for grad school, but never got there, having taken a fateful detour to Chico, where I met my ex-husband, and a group of Thai graduate students. We got married, and I ended up staying there, where I got my MA in Pol. Sci. with my thesis, “The Evolution of Thai Student Political Power.”

After Chico, we spent some time living in Southern California, then returned to the East Bay, where my daughter, Liana-Marie Elena, was born in 1978. The following year, we moved to New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia, due to his job. Liana grew up there in a wonderful 300 yr. old town founded by Quakers.

The bad marriage got worse, and ended up in a bad divorce. The next several years were difficult as I was a full-time mom who suddenly became a single full-time working parent.

In the years since Peace Corps, I've been a greenhouse assistant - (tomatoes and roses), substitute teacher, middle school teacher in a private school, Jazzercise franchise owner and instructor, RPCV group leader & NE Regional Rep., National Peace Corps Association board member, probation child support investigator, juvenile probation officer, choir member, juvenile court specialist, proposal editor, volunteer coordinator, Appalachian service project member, international election supervisor, international election observer.

I've been in the Oval Office with the President (not this one...), eaten dinner with Kazakhs in a yurt, sat with juvenile offenders in a jail cell, traveled with locals through tunnels without lights in mined post-war Bosnia, made bread in a newly opened bakery in a Serb village in Kosovo, shoveled coal, picked potatoes, negotiated with mayors and legislators, advised judges, defused a potential riot at a polling center, (not here) and driven armored vehicles... among other adventures…

After nearly 14 yrs. with the Superior Court. in NJ, I left in 2000.
Since then I have worked as an independent consultant - a little USAID work - but mostly election-related missions for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with colleagues from a multitude of countries.

In 1996, I was on team that supervised the first post-war elections in Bosnia.
Since then, I've been in Bosnia 7 times, also Albania (traveling in military vehicles with an Italian police bodyguard at my side at all times) - Kosovo - where I participated with US Airborne troops in extraction (urban rescue) exercises, while supervising the pre-electoral phases in my region. Last year, I worked in Botswana and South Africa, Kazakhstan and Ukraine - before and during the "Orange Revolution."

As I suspect is the case with many, both my parents have died. The hardest was the very painful loss of my dad after his difficult journey with Parkinson's.

Susie's daughter, Liana, and grandson, Sebastian

On a joyous note - I have discovered the wonders of grandparent-hood with two-year old Sebastian, and I love it! I am currently in Atlanta, (primarily because Liana and Sebastian live in GA) volunteering for CARE, singing in a choir, job searching, writing, and waiting to discover what the next chapter will be.

I’ve stayed most in touch with Renee. But over the years I’ve seen Barb Thomas, Mona, Joyce, Kevin & Vance, as well as running into Barbara Waldschmidt (Theobald) and Grace once.

I continue to meet wonderful people wherever I am. While life has thus far not brought me material riches, I am rich in friends – around the globe. My progressive case of wanderlust – (probably worse because it was suppressed for so many years, keeps me interested in going just about anywhere but Iraq.)