Final Pre Departure Training…

16 Aug

The week of training in Toronto was very intense and rewarding. Each day our team of six Pro JFs walked from the EWB House along College Street to the U of T for full day sessions led by Brian McGee under the supervision and support of Eli Angen. It was Brian’s first time leading pre-departure training and he did an amazing job, as did Eli and all of the other full-time staff from EWB National Office who led sessions throughout the week. Some of the topics included: the Rural Livelihoods Framework, Safety & Security, Rural Agriculture, Interviewing Skills, Culture Shock, White Privilege, and more…

The week felt a little bit like drinking from the knowledge fire hose, which I love. Here are some of the highlights that stick out for me:

  • Our sessions with the co-CEOs of EWB – George and Parker. We met with them separately and they were both very open in their answers and generous with their time. George met us in the evening one night and I think we ran from around 7pm to about 3am! He tackled tough questions like whether or not it is possible to have a work life balance has a CEO and how the Professional Chapters fit in with EWB’s long term plans along with the Student Chapters and our Africa programs. The conversations with George and Parker really got me thinking about the similarities between the challenges with our programs in Africa and in Canada. Both are about innovating changes and then scaling them up. I am excited to see how I can apply my training and experiences in Africa to our in Canada programs when I return.
  • I found the sessions on Culture Shock extremely valuable. We learned how the emotions of volunteers normally follow a curve:
    • Unconscious Incompetence – otherwise known as the ‘Honeymoon Period’ when volunteers are full of enthusiasm and unaware of all the cultural mistakes we are making.
    • Conscience Incompetence – after a while, we begin to notice all of the little ways that we don’t fit in, but there are so many that it is overwhelming. This is when people can get a bit depressed.
    • Conscious Competence – turning the corner, volunteers begin to work at fitting into the culture around them. It takes conscious work, but people start to build momentum.
    • Unconscious Competence – after a long while (probably much longer than my four month placement), people can get to the point where they no longer have to think about fitting in.
  • There is also Reverse Culture Shock when volunteers come back to Canada. I’m actually more worried about this than Culture Shock when I am in Ghana. Apparently it can be quite difficult to adjust back to life back home because of the changes we will go through.
  • The concept of putting ourselves into Dorothy’s shoes (a typical rural farmer), utilizing a Livelihood Analysis to better understand the options available to her, and then incorporating our outside knowledge strikes me as logical and valuable. A livelihood is comprised of the capabilities, assets & activities for a means of living. A sustainable livelihood means not depleting assets over time.
  • During the discussion on White Privilege, one of the returned volunteers estimated that a white woman is roughly equivalent to a Ghanaian man in the social hierarchy. Apparently I will have an advantage (or disadvantage depending on your perspective) because of my physical size (6’-2”) and my age (is 34 old?).
  • We had an assignment to interview people on the street and at local businesses about the availability and role of financial services for people living in poverty in Toronto.  Several hilarious misunderstandings highlighted the challenges – like the taxi driver who mistook “pawn shop” for something (we’re still not sure what – maybe a restaurant serving prawns?).  It was quite a bit of fun and we followed up at the end of the week with a simulation / case analysis set in Zambia where we interviewed some of the returned volunteers.
  • Finally, several of the sessions over the course of the week and working with my teammates really highlighted and reminded me of some personal challenges that I have been working on that are likely to be much more critical when I am in Ghana. One of my strengths is quickly assimilating information, brainstorming ideas and then getting people excited about them. However, often I don’t take the time to test assumptions and gather all of the necessary information. This causes some trouble and often makes it difficult for me to engage other people during my work in Canada where my assumptions and knowledge of situations are typically quite good, but in Ghana my assumptions and knowledge will be much, much lower. So I am going to work extra hard to be patient, open, and curious. I will ask questions until I am as confident that I can be that I understand the context of a situation adequately.

Thanks again to Brian, Eli and the entire EWB National Staff for an amazing week!!!

And then it was time for the last step of my preparation…

DSC00673 DSC00678

Apparently shaggy hair and stubble isn’t as cool in Ghana. 🙂

2 Responses to “Final Pre Departure Training…”

  1. Penny Heaslip August 19, 2010 at 12:20 am #


    Safe journey. Loved your insights about how you might react and fare in a new country. All the best Penny

  2. Monica August 19, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    Mark, you sound ready for the experience ~ patient, open and curious, maybe add a sense of humour and find joy in the small successes along the way, eh?

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