This is part of the final set of forms. Its designed to give the staff a chance to get to know the volunteers they will be training.
A: The professional attributes that you plan to use, and what aspirations you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps Service.
I am unsure what qualifies as a professional attribute versus, for example, a personal or inter-personal attribute.
I would consider my public speaking ability, my ability to self-motivate, and my tendency towards organization as potent professional attributes. However, I do not have a great deal of confidence that the attributes listed above will function in the same manner in the new cultural context that I will be entering.
Public speaking is a powerful ability of mine, but if my outward appearance engenders feelings that I cannot necessarily anticipate (whether positive or negative) and my own ability to speak is hampered by an unfamiliarity with the language, then this strength (though seemingly advantageous in the context of this particular project description) seems muted. My tendency towards organization may very well manifest in a similar way. Organization, scheduling, delegating, etc. may work very well for me here, but cannot be counted on in a context where time is dealt with so differently (as I have been assured it is in Kenya).
When I consider what my “Professional Attributes” are, I find they are chiefly strategies, skills and habits that allow me to function efficiently in a context where others operate the same way; shared dynamics of an environment where people share the same concept of “Professional.” This is not the environment that I expect to encounter in my service.
Therefore, the attribute that I believe I can most reliably expect to use is my ability to maintain my own plasticity; my ability to step back and re-evaluate myself and my actions. I plan to spend a whole lot of time reflecting on what is really the most important thing that I am trying to accomplish and what actions actually advance that cause, as opposed to what I thought (or think now) was important and how I knew (or know now) to reach that goal.
In regards to my project, I hope that I can do some good. I hope that my project sponsors feel that my presence was beneficial and that I assisted them in accomplishing what they saw as appropriate and important. I hope too that those I work with directly will feel that my presence was positive. I hope that I can help people live longer and better lives, even in some small way.
I do not anticipate enlightening anyone. I do not hope to “civilize” anyone. At the most basic level, an attitude like that seems ineffective; I can do little good if good is defined purely in terms of my own values and beliefs.
I hope, in a broad way, to humanize myself and those I interact with. I hope to be an American that demonstrates that an “American” is no easier to simplistically characterize than a “Kenyan.” I guess I hope to complicate other’s worldview as they complicate my own.
My personal aspirations, what I hope for myself, are simpler. I hope I rise to the challenges put before me. I hope I can hold out my energy and enthusiasm. I hope I stay excited and inspired. I hope that I feel I have benefited myself and others thru my presence and effort. I hope I learn more about myself and refine my vision of who I wish to be and what kind of world I want to live in.
B: Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.
“Meeting expressed needs” is a two part process: comprehension and action. I will need to first grasp what is needed; to understand that for which I am being asked. The second part is putting those goals into action.
Listening is a buzz-word that too often is stripped of its value by its use as a cure-all platitude to any work situation. To me, listening has a deep and powerful meaning and requires serious focus, dedication and effort. In my mind, these attributes seem particularly applicable to the kind of listening that I will need to use in meeting my partners goals. I believe understanding what needs to be done will be a protracted process of grasping those needs and – of equal importance – understanding the context in which those problems function.
I believe that my presence can be beneficial because I will bring a different perspective and a different set of skills. However, this is a double edged sword. If I have not properly grasped the problem, and its context within the culture and society, my perspective and skills may actually hamper my ability to solve the problem. A whole different set of actions may occur to me in facing a problem than would occur to my country partners, this doesn’t mean that the actions that occur to me are better. The may be ineffective or altogether inappropriate.
In a broader sense, I believe the most useful – and necessary – strategy in meeting my country partner’s expressed needs will be patience. These are long term problems that will require long term solutions and the fruits of my work may not even be visible to me in the time that I have to work. I must be content that my day to day effort is on the right track, even if the destination is far down the line.
C: Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.
In terms of a mind-set, I believe that adapting will require me to make daily effort to approach things fresh; to enter every situation as bereft of assumptions as possible. For the times when I fail to do this, I must be prepared to take steps back. I must be willing to apologize and be willing to alter my actions so that they can be effective and appropriate in this new context. I must be willing to stumble and unwilling to stay down.
In terms of a specific strategy in day to day life, I hope that social mores will enable me to use children as a resource. I have tremendous affection for children and treasure time working with them. Moreover, I believe they can be an excellent resource for learning everything from language to customs. Just as they are in the process of learning to be functional adults in a society, so will I be.
D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.
I suppose the first and most vital thing for me is language. I am very motivated to ensure that I have a level of competence in speaking that allows me to communicate clearly and efficiently. In particular, I do not want to turn people off by being unable to understand them or speaking with an accent that makes me difficult to understand.
Beyond that, I want to get an idea of what expectations people will have of me as an American and as a Peace Corps volunteer.
I want to understand how to limit the impact of my presence as a foreigner (or at least be able to use my status as an outsider to help my project, as opposed to having it simply be disruptive).
I want to understand the social beliefs and customs that interact with the problem my project is focused on.
I want to know the history of Peace Corps interaction with the community in which I will be placed.
I want to know how to cook and eat in Kenya, as well as understand customs surrounding food, its preparation, sharing and consumption.
I want to know the taboos. I believe I will be given a fair amount of latitude as an outsider, but I do not wish to have to learn all the customs by embarrassing and humiliating my hosts through error.
I want a basic understanding of the belief systems and regional history (factual and oral) that are appropriate for my community.
I am also very motivated to ensure that I have as full a grasp as possible of all the resources available to me thru Peace Corps and the US government. I am thinking specifically of the invaluable information contributed by past projects and volunteers.
I want an understanding of gender dynamics in the community in which I will be working so that I may both prepare myself mentally for it as well as avoid making myself a disruptive or harmful presence.
I want to understand appropriate humor in the community in which I will be placed.
I’ve no doubt this list will grow as I approach the experience. If you are keeping track, I will happily update you with things I think might be useful.
E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.
I am unsure. I would not be surprised to find all of my current plans for the future scrapped in the face of this experience. The thoughts I have about the future are not specific or concrete at this point. They consist mostly of an idea of how my life would look. At this point the image has little more detail than returning to the US and Chicago and living near my family. However, I would not be at all surprised to find myself desiring to continue work abroad in a government role. I would not be surprised to find myself feeling the need to continue with relief work for several more years.
I would also not be surprised to have this experience change nothing about that image (sparse as it is).
The influence that I am hoping the experience will have in terms of my perspective is more specific and concrete. I have learned (what I consider) a great deal about how the world works. I believe my academic education has given me a good look at how the economics and politics of the world function and how they have developed to this point. I understand (at a broader level) the dynamics that have made some countries rich and others poor, that have moved some toward democracy and human rights and some towards dictatorship and repression.
What I have failed to gain with my education is a sense of my own stake in that world order. I believe that my existence in the US is afforded to me at a price that is too diffused and anonymous for me to grasp. And though I think a direct understanding of the source and cost of the wealth my life in the US affords is too complex to be comprehended, I hope that this experience will at least give me a sense of what others are faced with and what this broader dynamic means to individual people; to people that I will, by the end of my service, care about and know.
I have a sense that as an American, my life has a much larger footprint than it might in other places. I hope to begin to gain a sense of what I want to do with that privilege. How I view it and the processes that produce and maintain it. I hope to gain a sense of what is right or wrong on the world stage. I hope to begin to develop a personal stake in the increasingly interconnected world affairs that play out in the headlines everyday.
I also hope to gain a lifelong connection to a place and a people different – and far removed – from my own.