We’re currently at Mission Training International, near Colorado Springs. We’re two weeks into a three week training course. It’s very difficult to describe what this course is about. The course addresses the issues which arise when one transitions from their home culture to another culture. Everyone has experienced this to some degree, whether starting a new school, moving to a new area, or hanging out for a little too long with your in-laws. I didn’t mean my in-laws, but other peoples’ in-laws.
Everyone here is headed towards overseas work: China, North Korea, North Africa, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Honduras, the list goes on and on. The thrust of the course is the challenges, chaos, mistakes, and blessings of moving from my home base, my culture, my comfort zone, my language, to another culture, language, etc. All this while trying to function on a team, learn a new language, be effective in whatever work you’re doing……
We were read a letter from a guy who had been working in France for twenty years, Princeton grad, fluent in French, who felt that after all that time, he was only functioning at 60% effectiveness. With all the unspoken, undefined cultural cues, he felt he could never function in France as a Frenchman. Multiply this with the variables of African vs western culture, race, tribal differences, poverty, and language barriers, and the move to working and functioning in Kenya seems a little intimidating.
We were told to write the words “As is” on our name badges. You know the dollar store, where they have the row of slightly flawed, imperfect items? As is… If you decide to buy “as is”, there’s an understanding that the item isn’t perfect, but it’s probably functional, and you’re stuck with it. And we have to accept that we enter another culture, “as is.”
To better understand our own “as is”, we’ve been taken on a roller coaster ride of self-examination. I’ve never really been a fan of too much self-awareness. Not a comfortable place to be. So we’ve been going through individual and group exercises which identify our conflict resolution styles, examining where we go under prolonged, severe, stormy stress. Load of fun. I had Ann stick a fork in my eye for a little variety of pain. The basic idea is that you can identify your style, your preconceptions, your fears, your flaws, and then choose not to be a victim of them. You can be intentional, aware, of your entry posture and likely tendencies in your new culture.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more stressful, we were put through a simulation. In case anyone reading this might one day be here, I won’t go in to details. But think about your worst nightmare, hostage setting, separated from your family, executions, bombs, etc. Brutal. And we’re paying for this!
Overall, one of the most transformative, educational, grown-up things I’ve ever been through.
I’ve applied for college, med school, residency, hand surgery fellowship, and a marriage license, and I’ve never been through such a thorough and exhausting application and preparation phase. Our hope is we leave here better prepared to function in a foreign culture. The challenge is this: how much of your belief system, your comfort zone, your preferences, your language, your food, your clothing style, your preconceptions, are you willing to leave behind, to enter and become a real functioning part of another culture? To the extent that you can abandon yourself, and become Kenyan, you will function more effectively in Kenyan culture. But in the end, we’ll just be “as is”. Bwana asafiwe!