Archives for October 2013

Like a fish out of water… a general update

Karibu Sana! You are very welcome!

I have been greeted by these words repeatedly for the past 2.5 weeks when people find out that I’ve only just arrived to Tanzania. And I really do feel welcomed–the Touch Staff has been great in making me feel part of the team, Rose (the wonderful woman who does it all at the Touch House) has cooked some awesome Mwanza dishes for me to try, Francis (the 50+ year old man who helps keep the Touch House and gardens running but speaks almost no English) continues to laugh at my Swahili attempts but tries speaking to me regardless. And I’ve slowly started making a couple more friends beyond the Touch House. Life is good 🙂

As a few of you may know, this is my first post (and I think it may be a long one). I’ve held off writing partly because of the bustle and jumble that has been in my life the past couple months and also because I wasn’t really sure how to say what I wanted to say. Moving from Davidson to Ecuador to NY (where I moved twice) to Mwanza, Tanzania was a fun whirlwind but not exactly ideal for letting feelings and thoughts settle into words. Now, I finally feel a little grounded so here goes:

I was a biology major at Davidson, all my summer jobs beginning freshman year were in labs. While I did have to do some “desk work” it was mostly hands-on work. I was fortunate to always end up in labs that were welcoming and did lots of group activities.  Regardless of where I was, I was always moving, doing, and meeting lots of people who I later considered good friends. And then I accepted a job with Touch Foundation. I truly respected this non-profit organization- their projects are based on understanding what the local population needed and they believe that local stakeholders need to buy into these projects and therefore engage them in their programing. They support the Tanzanian health care system by improving a local hospital’s education, and in that way improving the quality (and quantity) of health care workers in the country. They produce tangible, sustainable results. For this and for many other reasons, I accepted the position of analyst with the Touch team.

Working for Touch Foundation is unlike anything I have ever experienced. And to be honest, I struggled with it for the first couple months. Initially, it was pretty much an 8 hour office job. I have a computer that I look at for 98.5% of the time, and reading and reporting to do. I am also now creating consulting power points. Oh.my.gosh. Everything you learn about power points as a bio major is 98% inapplicable to consulting power points. A little painful and a lot confusing.  I felt like a fish out of water. Or like Santa Claus on Mother’s day (whichever paints the best picture for you)… very, very much out of my element. Not only was I creating documents and producing information that I had no idea about, but I was sitting still for hours at a time: 8 to be exact. I don’t remember the last time I sat that long. I felt terrible. I would get up and walk to the bathroom or the kitchen every 2 hours or so just to stretch. Although this doesn’t seem like a huge deal to most people, I would like to let you know that Touch’s office share space with a consulting company and I’m sure some of those analysts didn’t move more than once or twice throughout the day (there was a point at which I questioned if they were real people). My restlessness was noticeable. And my lack of an 8-hr concentration span made me uncertain of how well I would be able to meet Touch’s standards. On top of that, I also happened to start at Touch near the close of the fiscal year. Everyone has a deadline to meet and the jargon and the names of each of the programs become a blur, I kind of envied the water-less fish at times, and I’m sure Santa was much less confused than I was.

But now, in retrospect, I remember the craziness with happiness. Yes, my new job (and of course New York) was a bit of shock at first, but I slowly grew to love the city. It’s actually an introvert’s paradise, and a place where kindness goes a long way. It was also a great time to remember and celebrate true friendships. From dear ones who called and skyped with me throughout the first months (or visited!!!) to the awesome Touch team who, regardless of how busy they were, would also take a quick second to answer any questions or recommend a yummy lunch place. It was a little disconcerting at first, but it was good practice for the switch to the Mwanza. Here, while English is generally spoken, Swahili is often the best way to communicate with the locals and picking it up is (for me) a slow going process. In fact, I may or may not have played charades with a wonderfully patient older woman who laughed when she finally understood that I was lost on my way to the grocery store. I also happened to go from the city that never sleeps to the town that isn’t too safe after dark—I need to be home by 7 PM if I’m walking and take taxis wherever I need to go afterwards. Also, in case anyone is wondering, Mwanza lacks good chocolate.  Regardless, I am in love with this place, and have posted a small portion of Lake Victoria’s shores to help you fall in love with it, too.

In regards to my work, this last week my 8- hour days were a little easier, and I was more productive during those hours than before. Bodies and minds really do adapt to their new settings, if you give them a chance. I also really like the Tanzanian Touch staff where, while work gets done, there is teasing, and people are really helpful and kind. And that constant worry about whether or not I’m doing things well was finally soothed yesterday. I’ve been recently working on an project that required that I organize a workshop. Although I usually run things by my “manager” before and after projects (I’m still learning), we didn’t actually get to talk before the workshop. Later in that day, he turned to me and told he had completely forgotten about the workshop. He said he was sorry about forgetting and then said. “I guess that I know that you get things done, so when I knew you were doing the workshop, I stopped worrying about it.” Ahhhh words of confirmation! People, don’t ever underestimate words of confirmation.

Summary of post:

1)    Feeling like of fish out of water is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes it’s uncomfortable at times, but uncomfortable keeps you moving and learning and fully appreciating the times when you do get some air.

2)    Mwanza is beautiful and Touch Foundation work is challenging, but fun.

3)    Words of confirmation. They’re wonderful and best when sincere and unexpected

Enough rambling for the time. This was a quick update and I’ll be posting more structured blog entries soon. Asante sana!

Four Roommates After Davidson

Four Roommates After Davidson

Amelia (3rd in line) with her senior roommates.

We say life at Davidson happens in a bubble. Well, for the class of 2013, that bubble has burst and we have been sent floating or crashing into the real world. Maybe it is not that dramatic. We certainly all have different journeys.

In this post, I will fill you in about the paths my roommates and I have taken post-Davidson. Thanks to Davidson’s expert roommate pairing, we stayed together all four years and became as close as sisters despite not having met before becoming Wildcats. Our journeys reveal great diversity of experience and perhaps some surprising similarities.

After graduating with a Theatre major and Arabic minor, I spent the summer abroad in Mexico working for a non-profit organization called Amigos de las Américas. I worked around the clock in very tight quarters with my co-workers. My co-workers and collaborators were passionate, Spanish-speaking youth leaders. I supervised high school volunteers, most of whom were U.S. born.

Now, I am in Boston, a new city for me, and am happy to report that at The Theater Offensive I am once again part of a driven, passionate, hard-working cohort committed to making the change we want t

o see in the world. The Theater Offensive, or TTO for short, is a theatre committed to its mission ‘to form and present the diverse realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lives in art so bold it breaks through personal isolation and political orthodoxy to help build a more honest, progressive community.’ A Davidson Impact Fellowship endowed though the Williamson Trust afforded me this opportunity.

In both jobs, the mission-driven work has fulfilled my need for connection to the communities in which I live and work. Nonetheless, no job has everything. This summer, I suffered from artistic withdrawal. Now, I see multiple performances every week. Amen. Still, the one thing I miss most from my summer is speaking Spanish everyday.

Each of my roommates has work experiences tethered in some was to my own and to their Davidson course of study.

My roommate in Atlanta, who studied English and Theatre, began working soon after graduation in a new city close to home.  She researches and produces articles and infographics for publications that inform regional utility companies about industry trends. Like me, she spends most of her day at the computer. While she found a job with the types of tasks she was looking for ie. writing, editing, layout, she did not find an organization whose mission fulfilled her.  I compromised on the tasks in favor of the mission.

Four Roommates After Davidson

Map of the roommates’ current destinations.

My roommate in Charlotte, who studied English and Economics, is in a new city close to our Davidson home. After talking the summer to rest, she began working in consulting. Her work hours are comparable to my hectic summer schedule, especially Mondays through Thursdays when she cranks out work in an Ohio hotel with her co-workers. Like both of my work environments, hers is composed of mostly young people with shared goals. Though the structures of her organization are driven by competition, she has found ways to make sincere connections with her co-workers. A few weeks ago, she learned that another analysts’ grandparents speak the same Chinese dialect as her own grandparents.

The last, but not least of our group, who studied Psychology and French, returned to France to teach elementary school English after spending a summer lifeguarding and saving money in her home town. This year, she will wear the many hats of teacher, explorer, tutor, babysitter and grad school applicant as she takes full advantage of this gap year of adventures.

 

Three emerges as a special number for commonalities in our post-Davidson lives.

Three of us speak a language other than the one we speak at home in either our current or summer work.  Three of us spend most of our time in front of the computer. Three of us are keeping personal blogs. Three of us have more free time than we did at Davidson.

Three of us are paying off student loans. Economically, we have landed all over that map. The roommate in France and I are living somewhat comfortably rather than scraping by due to the generosity of our parents and relatives. The flip side of this is that the expectations set for us in terms of quality of professional dress and overall expectation to be fancy are low. The inverse is true for my other roommates.

Three of our jobs have a proposed end date and although all of us are working toward general goals for the future, I’m not sure any one of us could tell you exactly where we plan to be in five years.  I mean to say where in the geographical sense as much as in the sense of where we might be on these “paths”.

 

For now, we are all grateful to be employed using skills we developed as Wildcats. That makes any day a great day.

Perspective in CLT

Perspective in CLT           When I originally started brainstorming for this entry, I was so certain that I would write about transitions. I mean, it was so obvious. Here I am: a recent college graduate, in a city that I’ve never lived in before, with bills, loans and rent to pay. Oh my! I had always heard comfortably from a distance the scary stories of life post-grad, but I never thought it would all become so real. I suppose that’s growing up though.

But as days passed by and my time here at Communities In Schools got underway, I found myself welcoming this period of change as my own and the laundry list of worries didn’t seem so major anymore. More so than that, my time here at work helped me find my true inspiration for writing this post: perspective. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my incredible organization.

Communities In Schools is a national non-profit dedicated to addressing the dropout epidemic that plagues our education system today by surrounding students with a community of support. Within our offices here in Charlotte, I work closely with our Director of Research as an Enrollment Coordinator. That means that every student who is served by CIS-Charlotte at some point passes through my cubicle, and with our site coordinators in over 40 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, you could guess that I see quite a few files. It’s certainly tedious work, but I really do enjoy it.

Within my first couple weeks on the job, the entire CIS-Charlotte staff got together for our annual in-service, which was honestly the best introduction to the organization that I could have ever asked for.  Over those two days, I heard first-hand from site coordinators about the students that we serve and learned about the tremendous hardships that these students call reality.  It was so great to have this initial experience because it gave me so much perspective as to why I spend day in and day out dissecting data and examining spreadsheets. Those just aren’t numbers on the screen that I’m looking at, it’s our kids, and it still helps me remember that they are always at the heart of everything we do.

This in-service was also so impactful for me because it not only gave me professional perspective, but also, personal. During our programming discussion, one of our high school directors was talking about a big educational event coming up that was aimed towards the parents of our students. She explained that the event would be a sit down dinner that highlighted tips to parents on how to carry a conversation with their children.  This simple, yet essential objective really stuck with me because it made me remember the times when I would get so aggravated with my mom when she made me tell my family about my day during dinner. Of course the rebellious teenage version of me could NEVER understand why she insisted on asking every day. I mean, come on Mom! English was onlyyy at the same time everyyy day! What I failed to recognize was how lucky I was to even have dinner with them all together.

It’s funny what perspective will do to you.  CIS has reminded me to be grateful for every little thing that I have, even if it does seem as trivial as recapping my day to my family. That’s what this fellowship continues to teach me. I can’t help but smile as I sit here and write this because once again Davidson gets the last laugh. I may have graduated last spring, but this college will always help me learn even if it isn’t in a traditional classroom setting. I still to this day believe that I learned my most important lessons from the people that surrounded me on campus, not through textbooks or JSTOR articles, and I am so happy that through the generous funding of the Davidson Impact Fellowship I am able to continue to learn from the people here at Communities In Schools.

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