Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, February 28

Emotional States of Volunteerism

The bullet points of this outline are directly copied, or paraphrased, from a Peace Corps handbook, entitled A Few Minor Adjustments, I got just before leaving. And although I read it then, its meaning is a lot more personal now. My personal thoughts are added in parenthesis.

Chapter One. A New Country.
(At this stage you are adjusting to:)
A) The Climate.
B) The Food.
C) The New Community.
D) The Loss of Language.
E) The Lack of Amenities.
F) The Loss of Routines.
G) At this stage you feel: alone, culture shock. (Outside of that, I personally would include: frustrated, bitter, hungry, sick, and depressed.)

Chapter Two. Pre-Service Training (PST) Experience.
A) Strangers.
B) Not in Control. During training, your time- and, indeed, your life- are not your own.
C) Living with a Host Family... is a constant adjustment.
D) More... is More. (Someone once said during our training "We're always on" meaning there's no end of the day, and going home from work to what is familiar.)
E) Guilt. (Here is where they say I felt guilty for hating the process because everything was just for me. But truthfully I had so many other emotions that this never happened for me. Was I cold hearted, or just exhausted?)

Chapter Three. Settling In.
A) The vanishing Americans. (I think they mean the revelation that I'm now alone.)
B) Talking Points. Another surprise you may have during settling in is to discover that your language skills aren't as good as you thought.
C) Culture Lab. (If PST was a lab in which to experiment with trial and many errors, that lab is now gone along with the people who were so forgiving.)
D) Cooking? No One Said Anything About Cooking! Another discovery that awaits you during settling in is how many things were done for you during training, things that you now realize you've never had to do in-country. (Cooking, laundry, shopping, etc).
E) The Culture of PST. (A daily routine that is now over; time to make yet another new one.)
F) Slow Starting.
G) Where Are the Hardships? (This isn't true for me either. While I joke that I'm in the Posh Corps, I still recognize that there are challenges of a different nature that I may NOT have initially expected, but I am now dealing with.)
H) But This Isn't What I Expected! (Didn't I just say that?)

Chapter Four. A New Culture.
A) Culture As Behavior. (Culture is expressed through behavior.)
B) Intellect and Emotions. Information is a tool, a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for successful adjustment. You can understand the notion intellectually and, at the same time, fail utterly to appreciate the true meaning.
C) Predicting the Behavior of Host Country Nationals.
D) Accepting Host Country Behavior.
E) Changing Your Own Behavior. Effective PC services requires not only that you predict and get used to host country nationals, but that you adjust your own behavior so that you don't offend them. (Easier said than done.)
F) Cultural Sensitivity. (I don't have to like it, but I do have to live with it... and not step on any toes.)
G) Can I Still Be Me? ...when being you may not be appreciated or understood in the local culture, you will have to stand your ground.
H) The Possibility of Friendship. (Where does culture stop and one's personality begin?)

Chapter Five. The World of Work.
A) Culture: A New Ingredient. (As if a normal new job wasn't enough to deal with, add a new country's culture.)
B) Common Culprits.
i) The Concept of Power. (The US is a low power distance country where, in general, rank isn't pulled, special status doesn't exist, and people work independent from bosses. Senegal is the opposite, a high power distance country.)
ii) Cultural Dichotomies. (The American view: treat everyone equally and then anyone can achieve their desires. Senegalese version: treat those closest to you better than others; doing all you can takes you only so far, and the rest is a matter of good fortune.)
iii) Direct and Indirect Communication Styles. (They are way too many difference to get specific.)
iv) The Pace of Events. (Picture that story about the tortoise and the hair... I'm the tortoise right now.)
C) Trust Me. The issue here isn't whether you're liked or appreciated or whether your credentials are adequate or whether your intentions are good. Its a matter of trust and credibility, which can only come over time.
D) Adjusting On (and to) the Job.
E) Structural Challenges. (What exactly is my job description?)
F) Agents of Change. You like to think that when you leave your host country things will not be quite the same as you found them.

Chapters Six. The Peace Corps Experience.
...You seek a profound encounter with a foreign culture, a series of experiences that change forever the way you think about the world, your own country, and yourself. You expect to be challenged, to have your patience and your mettle tested, to be pulled, pushed, or otherwise forced into new ways of thinking and behaving. (Their point is that given this, don't spend all your time with other ex-pats and minimize this experience.)

Chapters Seven. Coming Home.
A) The Notion of Home. Neither the place where you left off nor the person who went overseas exists anymore. (Home is where the routine is.)
B) How Nice. Your self-esteem isn't helped when no one seems especially interested in what you've been doing for the past two years. (Maybe this blog isn't such a good idea...)
C) A Face in the Crowd. (I'm not the only white person that people want to stare at?)
D) Back to Normal.
E) Back to Work.
F) Home Alone. (There is no neighboring volunteer, who just went through the same thing yesterday, to call when I'm totally freaking out.)
G) The Stages of Readjustment.
i) Excitement and Joy.
ii) Get On With Your Life. (The idea of moving back into the old life, and won't that diminish what I've just gone through?)
iii) Make Your Peace.
H) Think Back.

Needless to say, I'm somewhere in the middle of Chapters 4, 5 & 6. And I'll probably be there for the next year and a half. But I do remember from my study abroad program that Chapter 7 was pretty hard too. But then again, I've always said that Italy was the best thing I've ever done with my life. So I guess Peace Corps will be competing for number one on the list now.

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