Monday, May 25, 2009

Adapting to a new culture

"All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and
hope." ~
Alexandre Dumas Père

Imagine if you can the following scenario:

You are moving. You are going to a country in sub-saharan Africa - as time draws nearer you find out its Kenya. What do you to prepare yourself for the changes you'll encounter? Would you research information about the country's history? The policital situation? Economic situation? Langauge(s) spoken? Food? (Etc.?)It seems to me that no amount of information you can find online, in books, or even by talking to people currently in country can trully prepare you for what is to come. Certainly, the more information you gather about the place you are going, the better informed you will be about the situation. But information alone is cannot prepare you for the challenges you'd face.

At the staging event before flying to Kenya, we were advised to get on the plane with pockets full of patience and a sprinkle of humility. Patience, flexibility, and an open mind have proven to be by far the most helpful tools I brought to Kenya with me.

Back in the states I was used to having a very fast paced lifestyle. After all, "time is money," right? However, stepping off the plane in a forgein country, the first thing to do, if you haven't done so already, is to adjust the time on your watch/cell phone/other electrnoic devices. But aside from just moving the hands on the dial to change the hour, you also need to change your perception of time. In my community, even though I may arrange to have a meeting with some one or a group of people at a certain hour - lets say 10 am - it's unlikely that either myself or the other parties involved will be on time. Usually I will be about 10-15minutes late from talking with people on my way to the meeting location. Even then, I'm early.

Being flexible makes you a more valuable asset no matter which job you hold. This holds true even for volunteers. flexibility gives me the opportunity to help the community in more than one way. Instead of just teaching computers and providing technical assistance, being flexible means looking for other opportunities to get involved with the community: providing advice on income-generating activities, helping organize a community clean up, teaching English, providing business & record keeping advice/training, the possibilities are endless. However, the possibilities are only there as long as my flexibility is maintained.

Open mind:
Having an open mind to new things and new possibilities is likely the best thing to do when a change is coming. Whether that change be moving to a new country for a few years, or a new job, keeping an open mind has helped me to be perceptive of the challenges and also the opportunities for personal growth.Keeping an open mind can be a challenging task on some days when I wake up and just think to myself "I want to go back to sleep." Even still, I try to keep an open mind and see what happens during the day. Each new day brings new people to meet, new animals to look at in wonder, new insects to inspect, and unknown new challenges.
As long as I keep these tools ready, I know I will be able to overcome any challenge that comes my way.

P.S. Friends and family are welcome to visit and see for yourselves how things are like. If you'd like to visit just let me know in advance :-)
Also, comments on blog posts are greatly apprecaited and encouraged ;-)

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