Member Spotlight: An Interview with Steve Hunsicker

by Lynare Robbins

Global Ties Miami is proud to feature member, and veteran Peace Corps volunteer, Steve Hunsicker, in this month’s Member Spotlight. It is a timely interview as the Peace Corps celebrated its 60 year anniversary on March 1st of this month.

When asked about his background, Steve says “We moved around when I was growing up. I went to high school in Lexington, Virginia, and college at West Virginia University and started my television career in Tallahassee in 1984.”

He spent 23 years running local television newsrooms in Gainesville, FL; Harrisburg, PA; Honolulu, HI; Chattanooga, TN and West Palm Beach, FL. As a news director he was responsible for all the local news programming aired by the TV stations that he ran. “In my last position, as Executive News Director in West Palm Beach, I had to oversee more than 8 hours of live news programming every day on two TV stations.” He says that a lot of the time is spent on making editorial decisions about what goes on the air and what doesn’t. “During my career, I got to cover the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath, I covered the Pope and Presidents, the Super Bowl, the World Series, Space Shuttle launches, political conventions and of course- plenty of hurricanes.” Steve says that he believes that storm coverage during a hurricane is one of the most challenging things that a local news station faces.

In 2007 he left television to become a Peace Corps Business Development volunteer in Tonga. Part of his job was to help Tongans either start a new business or improve an existing business. “I did a lot of workshops but what I enjoyed most was working one on one with the business owners.” Steve describes most of the Tongan business community as being small “Mom and Dad” businesses, but he did work with a few larger companies like the government owned phone company and a large grocery store. “I worked with a micro lending program that gave loans of up to $1000 US to help people start businesses. The interest rate was between 20 and 23%, but what was really great about this program was that if the business owner made all of their payments on time, 100% of the interest was rebated back to them at the end of the loan. It was a great incentive to work hard. One business owner I worked with took that money and used it to further expand her business.”

Afterwards Steve worked as a Peace Corps staff member for 8 years, as the local Miami Recruiter. When asked how important he thinks organizations like the Peace Corps are in our world today, he says “I think that one of the biggest problems we face as a society is that we don’t take the time to get to know others and to understand different perspectives. Just because we do something one way, it doesn’t mean it is the only way or even the correct way. There is a lot of mistrust between people, organizations, countries, politicians, etc.” Steve says that he thinks that any way that we can encourage people to talk with each other and get to know each other, the better we will all become. “We won’t always agree, but having an understanding of why someone does something or believes something that is different than our views, can really help us to all get along and work to solve mutual problems.”

Steve explains that during this time he began working with the Peruvian TV show “Peruanos en el Mundo.” “We travel the world to find Peruvians who live outside of Peru and ask them to introduce us to their adopted country and tell us about their life overseas. I’ve traveled to 32 countries with the show since 2015.” Peruanos en el Mundo airs nationwide in the USA and Canada on the Sur Peru cable network.

Although he retired from the Peace Corps in 2018, Steve continued to work with Peruanos en el Mundo and wrote a book about his Peace Corps service and co-authored a travel book about Tonga. “During the pandemic, I completed another book called “One Photo — One Story” where I select one photo from every country I have visited and tell the story about that photo.” Steve explains that he looked through the thousands of photos he had taken over the years. “In my early days of traveling, I took a lot of photos of buildings, churches, and landscapes. My more recent photos are much more about the people I’ve met or of something that I’ve done with local people. I don’t care about all of those early photos and don’t remember many of the places. But the ones with people, those are the ones I remember. I like to think I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve met. And I feel fortunate I have had the opportunity to go to so many different places.”

While conversing with Steve about what the 21st century could look like, as our world transforms with technological advances impacting industries like the Peace Corps and media outlets, he says that there will clearly be major changes. “I’m sure both (industries)will adapt, likely into something that we wouldn’t recognize today. I think that eventually, the current business models for the media will not survive.” He references a recent statistic regarding the number of subscribers to the New York Times. “I saw recently that the New York Times has had its best year ever in the number of subscribers. People want information that they can believe and I think are willing to pay a small amount for it. There will also always be a market for people who only want news that fits their beliefs, but I think the real struggle is for the media who want to provide accurate information and less opinion.” He says that Apps like “NextDoor” will likely continue to grow in popularity. “People want to know what is happening around them. And the big media no longer have the resources to adequately cover hyper-local issues.”

In terms of the Peace Corps, he says it will also change. “I have seen many cases around the world where foreign aid from USAID, EU, World Bank, China, Japan, etc is not only counted on by the locals as a source of revenue, but it doesn’t go to the places where it is needed most.” Steve says that the same is true for many NGOs. “A donor says ‘I want to see more hospitals built and I’ll pay for it.’ So now, instead of providing perhaps much needed medical services, the NGO pivots and builds hospitals. But then there are no doctors or nurses to staff it. The Peace Corps doesn’t provide money, it provides expertise, which I think is a good thing. If you want to learn English, it is great that you can have a native speaker teach you for two years. However, I think that the Peace Corps also needs to reform itself to make sure that the manpower it is providing is what is needed in that country. Is it necessary for people to learn English or are there other skills that would be more beneficial?”

After having visited 63 countries, Steve shares that the most pressing issue that thought leaders in the world should be focused on is getting people to talk. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled somewhere and someone will say “Be careful! It’s not safe there!” And most of the time, the person has never been there. It’s just based on a perception. I’ve met wonderful people all over the world and have had very few bad experiences. If you take the time to talk with people and if you open yourself up to others, you will have amazing experiences. People are people and we all really care about the same things. We just have different backgrounds and different perspectives.”

When asked to identify his favorite travel destinations, Steve says that he doesn’t have an answer as he has enjoyed almost every place where he has been. He provided the following links to two of his favorite travel stories. One is a recent story and the other is a story from 1985 when he made his first ever solo international trip. “I think the common thread in both is getting to meet people I would have never met if I stayed home.”

Speaking of meeting people, as a member of Global Ties Miami, Steve says that he found out about the organization through his affiliation with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida. “I like meeting people from other places in the World so it seemed like a good fit.” He says that the International Visitor Leadership Program is an important program because it gets people to talk and to learn about each other.

To see the world through Steve’s travel adventures, all of his books are available at http://books.stevesadventure.com.

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