From 1968 until 1970, William Hershey served as the only Peace Corps volunteer in a small Ethiopian town. Hershey taught seventh and eighth grade students the English that they would need to continue their educations and brighten their futures. He became part of the community, eating the local food and doing his best to communicate in Amharic. He also navigated cultural gaffes — having his house stoned by disgruntled students, angered at being assigned to cleaning the outhouses, and nearly sparking international trouble by clashing with a player from a rival school during a heated basketball game. Decades later as a journalist, he used his once-in-a-lifetime Peace Corps experience to reflect on immigration, global goodwill and the hope the United States should share with the rest of the world.
About the author
William Hershey spent more than 40 years reporting on Ohio politics and government at the local, state and national levels. He was the Washington correspondent for the Akron Beacon Journal and Columbus Bureau Chief for the Beacon Journal and the Dayton Daily News. He is the author of three other books: “Mr. Chairman: The Life and Times of Ray C. Bliss” (with John C. Green); “Quick & Quotable: Columns from Washington, 1985–1997” and “Profiles in Achievement: The Gifts, Quirks and Foibles of Ohio’s Best Politicians” (with colleagues). He was a major contributor to coverage that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for the Beacon Journal staff for reporting on Sir James Goldsmith’s attempted takeover of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
Praise for Taking the Plunge into Ethiopia
Enlightening, entertaining and best of all inspiring, “Taking the Plunge into Ethiopia” shows us the life-shaping power—and the challenges—of Peace Corps service. Bill Hershey’s experiences give us a fascinating backstory to his long and distinguished career in journalism. It’s an admirable and absorbing adventure that encourages all of us to live a life of purpose and meaning.
—John R. Kasich, Republican, served in the U.S. House from 1983–2001 and as Ohio governor from 2011–2019
The US Peace Corps is probably the best foreign policy program of our government! We don’t give money; we give our people. William Hershey, a great writer, and former Peace Corps volunteer, tells us why!
—Tony Hall, Democrat, member of U.S. House from 1979–2002, representing the Dayton area; United States ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, 2002–2006; and Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand
William Hershey, part of a team of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists for the Akron Beacon Journal, has written a must-read trip through recent American history by way of Ethiopia. Part memoir, part political commentary, “Taking the Plunge into Ethiopia” is a sobering look at the second-largest country in Africa as well as our own. Imagine having a teacher who doesn’t look at all like you, who speaks a language very different from your own, who has to be reminded of what each hand is for (eating or wiping) but one who shows up every day prepared to teach you in the most engaging way possible. Would you be happy to be in his class? This is the tale of that young man’s quest, sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic. It is also the story of the impact of that experience on the now-older man. At times comedic, sometimes provocative, and always thoughtful, it is a fascinating read in terms of understanding where we’ve been and where we are today in our own country and in the world.
—Cynthia Nelson Mosca, president of Ethiopia and Eritrea Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and author of “Letters from a Wondrous Empire: An Epistolary Memoir”
Column by Michael Douglas in the Akron Beacon Journal