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Pat Alter

After earning her BA in sociology from the University of Denver, Pat Alter joined the Peace Corps and served as a volunteer in health education in Paraguay from 1970-1972. For the past 31 years, she has lived and worked abroad as a Foreign Service spouse and librarian, accompanying her husband Bernie, also a former PCV (India 1967-69), on postings to Pakistan, India, Thailand, Canada, Hong Kong and Korea. While posted in Toronto in the early 1990s, she earned her master’s degree in library science. Since their return to Washington, D.C., she has worked at the Arlington Public Library. Pat and Bernie have two sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.

She can be contacted through this site:


I was in high school when I first heard about President Kennedy’s Peace Corps. The idea of living abroad and helping people appealed to me. In my final year of college, I met a graduate student who had served in the Peace Corps in India. With his encouragement, I applied, requesting to be sent to India to work in family planning. Peace Corps offered me Paraguay working in health education. No matter. I took it. The graduate student wished me well, gifted me a tape player along with tapes of music we both liked and promised to write.

My group trained for a summer in Escondido, California, with a couple of Spanish immersion trips into Baja, and then flew into Asuncion and onward to our sites. Mine was Pilar, a town of 12,000, located on the Paraguay river, a long day’s bus ride from the capital, Asuncion or, way more exciting, an hour’s flight by DC-3, sharing the space with smuggled cigarettes and landing on a grass runway. I was assigned to the Regional Health Center and lived on my own in a tiny rented house. For my second year, I was moved to a much smaller health center, in the town of Itacurubi de la Cordillera, 1900 inhabitants, located along Paraguay’s main road to its border with Brazil and a mere two hour bus ride to Asuncion. I lived that year as a paid guest in the home of a widow and her cousin. I enjoyed my work in both towns, adapted to life without running water in both and without electricity in one, made Paraguayan friends and traveled every chance I got. On one trip up north, far off any paved road, we stopped in a small general store and were surprised to see an American Mennonite woman in 19th century dress standing behind the counter, selling hardware and home baked cookies.

The graduate student made good on his promise to write and even flew down to visit me midway through my assignment. When I returned to the US, I threw my readjustment allowance into the travel kitty and joined him on a six month trip overland from Europe to India, a nine month Hindi language program and a three month trip back home through Asia. We’ve been together ever since, through thirty-one years of foreign service postings.