John E. Roberts (IntlAf’64) has visited 183 countries and aims to travel to the 23 remaining. While his trips were initially paid for through the Peace Corps and the U.S. State Department, these days they’re on his own dime.
Nearly 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy’s call to service inspired John’s Peace Corps application. Shortly after graduation he accepted his first two-year assignment in Somalia teaching and helping build schools.
Once home John thought he wanted to go to law school and enrolled in American University in Washington, D.C.
“One day I walked over to the State Department and they gave me a language aptitude test,” he says. “I studied Vietnamese for the next 11 months.”
During his first tour with the State Department in Hue, Vietnam, the former imperial capital, John worked in refugee relief and a translator. He adopted his daughter, Genevieve Roberts Weil (Math’95), while on his second tour there.
Robert’s assignments provide a lesson in geography as he was transferred from one position to another by the State Department. Whether in Nicaragua, Indonesia, Egypt, Botswana, Liberia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Kenya, his emphasis was on economic development.
“I loved Africa and got sent back to Botswana in 1986. I came home for all the [CU] bowl games,” he chuckles. “I flew from Botswana to London and on to Miami for the Orange Bowl games in 1990 and ’91.”
His most exotic location? Madagascar.
“It’s a fabulous place with its flora and fauna,” he reminisces.
John laughs as he talks about learning the languages where he’s been stationed. Now able to speak nine languages, he remembers struggling with Russian at CU!
The Peace Corps called John out of retirement in 1993 to serve in three more locations. As country director, he added Tunisia, Malta and the South Pacific Soloman Islands to his list of countries he’s lived in or visited. Five years later he came home to Fort Collins where he teaches a course in international studies at Colorado State University.
“I think it’s part of the culture at CU — helping others,” John comments. “It’s been my watchword. Never give up and always help people.”