I as I will be going to Zambia in February, I have decided to make my blog into a place where I will update those back in the US of my travels. To start things off, I have posted my aspirations statement which is something I needed to write to introduce myself.
24th of February 2008
A: The professional attributes I plan to use, and what aspirations I hope to fulfill, during my Peace Corps services.
An attribute I envision being one which will often fit with tasks needing completion is leadership by example. I see it advantageous for me to know how to carry out something I have proposed or to find knowledgeable others who can work with me in carrying out the goals I have conceived. Then, not simply to tell a group what I recommended, but also actively start the process and make sure they understand what I suggested. At the same time I need to insure that I am not doing the task for the group. I also see it essential that groups are more productive than members acting alone. To make sure this is the case, I will try to resolve any conflicts that may arise and to make sure members of a group are carrying out the tasks that suit them best.
During my time in the Peace Corps I hope to better learn how to interact with and lead as wide and diverse an array of people as possible. But more importantly I hope to understand how, to not only lead people, but to have them become my friends and I theirs.
B: My strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.
Two strategies I see as vital to working effectively to meet, possibly opposing, needs are flexibility and compromise. I have found that if you can work with partners in a friendly cooperative manner and not grudgingly, much more gets accomplished. The challenge is being flexible and making compromises without loosing sight of one’s initial goal. This will be even more difficult in a new country and culture with new ways of thinking. Therefore before making final conclusions, I will listen carefully to what others have to say and then base my decisions on the wisdom of many.
C: My strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background.
I grew up and went to high school in the midst of white middle income suburbia. My environment was one where everybody had similar looks and a similar economic background, even if we didn’t all have exactly the same beliefs. Therefore even going to college was somewhat of an eye opener. Although Hampshire College is not the most ethnically, or economically diverse school out there, it does have a wide range of religious and societal views.
A specific example of an interaction I had comes from my second semester at college in a class I took titled “Introduction to Media Production.” From the title, I figured it would be a fairly straightforward establishment of the skills needed to make video, audio and still photography. However, the professor had a different interpretation: a look into the underpinning philosophy of media. The instructor came from the essence of urban – inner-city New York, he was black, and he was gay (all things I had had little exposure to in my upbringing to this point). These were things that he felt made him stand out and he wanted to be different, regardless of what the issue was. Therefore class discussions were often loaded and intense. Because I still thought to some extent this class would be a hands-on look at the technical details of producing media, I found it somewhat frustrating when our first assignment was to write a paper. The subject was based on fairly incomprehensible essays by a writer of media production, on the correlation between translation, adaptation, and illustration. I wrote the paper with a somewhat satirical tone, and when I started on it, I had only intended to get it done as quickly as possible. However, when I finished it, I realized that I had just clarified almost all of my philosophies in two pages, and to this day it is probably a paper I like most. As the class moved on, I tried to understand the professor’s views, and I realized that they were not that different from my own, only they had different roots, and a different context.
This class also made me realize that you very rarely get from an interaction or other occurrence what you expected. However, if you let yourself be open to new ideas, very often it is when the surroundings you find yourself in are entirely foreign, that you grow the most. That is one of the primary reasons I applied to the Peace Corps: because I knew that I will be immersed in perhaps the most unique and original experiences I will ever encounter.
D: The Skills and knowledge I hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve my future community and project
a. Learn a new language – although a great deal of the time from now until I go over seas will be spent familiarizing myself with the various Bantu derived languages in Zambia, as I have never learned another language and my retention of new words is slow, I suspect that this will be one of my bigger challenges during training
b. Learn about agriculture specific to Zambia – as I am sure agricultural practices are very different in rural Zambia then in industrial north east US – both because of climate and technological resources available – in order to be able to help meet the needs of my communities it is important I understand how their present and potential infrastructures work.
c. Learn the business structure of Zambia and how it differs from the US – as things like becoming a corporation or LLC in the US are managed on the state level, I see myself needing to learn how, or whether, someone can file so that individuals have limited liability – something even more important for agricultural businesses in drought prone areas. I also see learning the tax system in Zambia and whether there are ways of getting tax discounts for small businesses in their infancy as being important.
d. Learn the resources that are available and how best to utilize them – in the “your assignment” booklet I was given, it seems a large part of my job will be to bring these resources to my communities, and that the more resources I am aware of, the more help I can be.
e. Learn cultural differences from Zambia and the US – never having lived in a substantially different culture or class, it is important that I understand the new environment I am living in.
f. Learn what technologies are available and best suited for rural Zambia – as it can play a crucial role in either helping or harming the environment, I need to understand what if any technologies are currently available in my communities and what ones can be easily utilized that would benefit both the local people, the environment, and the economy at large.
E: How I think Peace Corps service will influence my personal and professional aspirations after my service ends.
The truth is, I don’t know. I suspect that I will have a lasting connection to Zambia and Africa, but I don’t really know what that connection will be. I joined the Peace Corps because it is a new adventure in my life. At the very least what I would like is to form friendships and bonds that will last forever. I would also like to start a business when I get done with my time, and as every step of my life has shaped what my business will be, so I am sure will this.