MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Jet-lag and culture shock

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I think I'm finally recovering from my jet-lag! (Knock on wood.) Now that I've discovered white noise tracks that I can play on my iPod when I go to sleep (to drown out the street noise below!), I'm sleeping a lot better. Today was a holiday, so I slept in and took a nap. I'll have to relate my laundry adventure another time; suffice to say that the little portable washing machine here was not as intuitive as I initially assumed! I'm headed for another early night, which will be nice, since tomorrow at work should be a lot more intense than Monday! (Fortunately, it's a four-day weekend thanks to Eid and the King's birthday. Lots of time to look around Casa and catch up on sleep!) The culture shock is a little bit harder to deal with. I feel quite timid a lot of the time, which is not how I normally am; it's like I've suddenly become extremely shy. Partially, I think I don't want to offend anyone; I'm the newcomer, but it's hard to know what's acceptable. The other part is probably that being a foreigner attracts a lot of attention, and it can be super jarring to have someone yell after you on the street. One guy yelled, "Ça va?" (equivalent to "How are you?", or, in this context, "How you doin'?") after me for a full minute. It's definitely something I've encountered elsewhere, but because here it seems discriminate (that is, because I'm a foreigner, rather than just someone walking by a construction site in NYC), I think I'm finding it more jarring.

It's not just that everything is different; it's that, in this context, I'm different. What I thought was pretty decent French is appallingly insufficient, which has made me - even with English speakers - almost a mute. (My accent is bad, and theirs is indecipherable to me - not a good combination!) I don't know how to be polite; I don't know how to do anything, almost. Sometimes I've even felt nervous about leaving the house, which is so not me, and not reflective of the place I'm in, either - Casablanca is not a dangerous city. But between the language barrier, the stress of moving, jet lag, and adjusting to a new culture, I've felt like everything is out of control. So here's the truth: My French will improve, and my culture shock will get better. Everyone's does. From reading that MEDA sent me to my own research, it's just a necessary phase. I remember going through parts of it when I moved to Baltimore from Calgary, so it's no surprise that I'm feeling it moving from the East Coast to North Africa! The intensity has surprised me, but after a few weeks I'm slowly starting to get my bearings. (Hopefully they'll forgive me at work for doing my best impression of a silent data analyst... I'll stop stuttering eventually.) Here's what I've found the most helpful for combating culture shock: 1. Reach out. Reach out to your family, reach out to your friends. Write letters, Skype, send texts, Facebook - whatever. Some of the websites caution against relying too much on your 'old life' for support, but when I really need to feel grounded, my friends are the ones who provide that. (Love you guys!) 2. Don't hole up. It might be enticing to hide under the covers, but it only delays the inevitable. You will need food, water, diet Coke (if you're an addict like me), etc. Even if it's just for ten minutes, get out of your own space. Say hello to the shopkeepers. Keep your eyes up (unless you are on an uneven sidewalk - in which case, do not do what I did and sprain your ankle!). 3. Don't force it. You will have good days, like I had today, where you get into your project at work and talk to someone you love from home and feel great about the next six months. And you will also have bad days, like I had yesterday, where everything seems impossible. (The things you admit to on the internet... in my defense, I totally felt better afterward!) It's normal. From what I can tell, everyone experiences different levels of this, and nobody is immune from culture shock. It manifests differently for different people - I am prone to worrying, so obviously mine is manifesting in anxiety right now - but it's something that most people experience in different ways. 4. One day at a time. Instead of thinking about how bad you're going to feel for the next six months, focus on getting to the end of one single day. Not only does it prevent self-fulfilling prophecies - I'm miserable because I knew I was going to be miserable! - but it narrows your focus, which makes everything that seems huge and impossible seem smaller. 5. Perspective is important. Six months is nothing. I spent six months transitioning out of my last job! It's not that I want to dismiss this as being 'all in your head', but to some extent, if you're physically safe and your basic needs are provided for, then that knowledge can help to get you out of feeling insecure. 6. Read, read, read. Read everything you can about the culture you're in. A lot of websites suggest doing this before you leave - and that's a great idea - but doing so when you're there can also be really helpful. 7. Go easy on yourself. This is one I struggle with - I really felt like I was "failing" to adjust here, rather than going through the process of adjusting. Give yourself some room to make mistakes or just plain feel homesick, instead of viewing that as some kind of zero-sum loss. Let every day be as clean a slate as possible

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From Waterloo to Dar es Salaam

Just came back from training in Waterloo, ON for my new job. It was a mile-a-minute introduction week to MEDA, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, with a fantastic group of 13 other interns who have placements everywhere from Zambia to Ukraine. Training was far more engaging than I expected as we were introduced to MEDA’s ethos and development programming.

One hears many theories and strategies for the best, most durable means of engaging in development and social change while studying development at school. I was impressed with MEDA’s approach that stressed demand-driven programmes that would be sustainable, scalable and measured by a double bottom line: for financial performance and positive social impact. It is through acting for economic empowerment, inspired by Mennonite values, that MEDA chooses to pursue social justice among the poor.

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International Development 101

I suppose it would be a good idea to tell you what it is that brings me here to Ukraine! For those of you who don’t know, I am participating in an internship sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA is a branch of the Canadian Federal Government, and as the name dictates, it deals with International Development.

People often ask, “What is International Development?” This is a funny question for me, because even though I did my Master’s in Development Studies, I still have a hard time defining it! There are many definitions and debates surrounding development, but I think a practical definition- and the definition most prevalent to my internship, would be that International Development is/are deliberate attempts by foreign actors, working with local partners to assist in the economic/social/political development of a country or a specific group of people.

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Welcome to Simferopol!

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I made it…. I’m in Ukraine! From the emergency row seating on the 9 hour flight, to my pick up at the airport, everything about my trip was smooth sailing! A little piece of traveller’s advice: Ask for emergency row seating, it’s like free first class!

Because my flight arrived so late, it was decided that I should spend my first night in Simferopol in a hotel so that I could rest and recover from the long trip. Special thanks to my supervisor Irina’s mom for coming to pick me up from the airport and taking me to my hotel! The next morning, my first full day in Ukraine, my supervisor -Irina Antonovskaya (the Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project) came to pick me up and take me to my temporary apartment.

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Managua - Take 1

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Bienvenido a Managua, Nicaragua

I am finally on the ground and life is buzzing with change, challenge, and adventure. This is definitely not my first time landing in a new country with a completely foreign environment in front of me, and quite frankly, this time is actually easier than some in the past, as when I stepped out of the arrivals area to confront the herds of taxi drivers and seemingly best of new friends, I had the advantage of some familiarity with the language, which was not always the case many times before. I was meeting Kathy, my fellow co-worker and intern with MEDA in a hostel/guesthouse that was supposedly located somewhere near the office of MiCredito. The first taxi driver did not take my proposed price and insisted on double, but I soon found the chosen cabby to help me complete the journey into the city for the reasonable fare of 10 USD. When we finally pulled up to the hostel it was clear that I was expected by the owner, as the moment I stepped up to the gate (as most every place is gated in Managua, either communities or single dwellings) she immediately exclaimed: "Adrian?" with a very inquisitive tone. Once inside she pointed to where Kathy was and I snuck up to surprise her for a grand reunion and hugs :) The next day was my first set of waking hours in Managua, as things look quite different when you can see them in plain daylight. The city is completely disorganized (like many developing nations' cities), but the addresses here are fairly difficult as well, as there really aren't any. Almost all directions and addresses point to a general reference of where you are going. e.g. two blocks south of the "virgin roundabout", 1.5 blocks east of here, and then 2 houses more to the south with the house on your right hand side. This is the address of said house you may be trying to find. Needless to say, when things are already extremely confusing, this doesn't facilitate the matters much. The streets themselves are always a good way to get a sense of the noises, the smells, and the scenery, that constructs a well-rounded feel of the city. Some characteristics are notably similar to other places I've been, but certain aspects that I experienced here are not as prevalent around other capital cities in Latin America. The mule-drawn carts were one scene I haven't seen a whole lot of before, and the level of handy craftsmanship in constructing wheelchairs using plastic patio-chairs.

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Carb overload



Last night I had dinner with E., the other intern currently here (C. will be joining us in September!). It was iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast at the end of each day of Ramadan. The food was delicious, but one thing that was different was the number of bread-based food items served to us in this enormous meal! Here's a picture of courses 3 and 4:

Pictured left: Course 3: Savory bread; course 4: dessert bread

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What is it that you do, exactly?


I think everyone in international development has been asked that question, and almost everyone dreads it! People have an idea of aid work as handing out rations to starving children (usually the ones in those old school Sally Struthers commercials) while wearing khaki. The truth is, though, that there are a ton of different paths you can take in development. The one I've chosen is monitoring and evaluation, and the internship I'm currently doing is in impact assessment.Impact assessment is exactly what it sounds like: A way to evaluate whether a program is working as intended. It's part of the "Monitoring & Evaluation" (M&E) (and sometimes "Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning") umbrella. Though some development firms only include M&E as required by the terms of reference in their government contracts, many are moving toward more rigorous in-house methods in order to track and improve program effects. (Since the 2008 recession, government agencies like CIDA, DFID, and USAID are also requiring better M&E from bidders on grants and contracts, since M&E can improve program efficiency.)How can you tell if something's working? Well, in my case, data analysis is an essential part of impact assessment. The project I'm working on right now is an evaluation study of MEDA Maroc's training programs. These programs - most notably the 100 Hours to Success training course - are meant to improve youth access to financial services. In September last year, about a year into the program, they gave surveys to clients who had participated in training programs, asking about a range of topics the programs had covered, such as savings, loans, and employment. They also asked about how the clients and their families had changed in the last year; for example, had they bought a refrigerator? A car? Had their monthly household income increased? This kind of data, can tell us a lot about possible program effects.A lot of it is descriptive statistics - anyone who's ever taken a research method course knows the drill on that one! But you have to be smart about what you run; you can't just describe a couple of variables and get useful information. One of MEDA's particular focuses, for example, is gender; when you ask, "What did people think about this program?", you also want to know, "What did girls think about this program?" and, "Compared to boys, how did girls perceive this factor?" You want to know what girls in urban areas thought versus girls in rural areas; you want to disaggregate the data as much as possible so that you know as much as possible. Part of data analysis is turning over rocks in the data set, looking for results that are unexpected or interesting.(If you're super nerdy, like me, that's the fun part. Other than making beautiful graphs in Excel.)Numbers can tell you a lot, but you also need the other side of the coin - qualitative data in the form of open-ended questions, focus groups, and case studies. It's really important to get as much depth as possible; although I believe in the power of quantitative data for giving a big-picture overview of a population, I also think that letting clients speak for themselves, and offer suggestions and solutions that work for their lives, is an integral part of delivering sustainable development solutions. Mistakes aren't always as clean-cut as delivering spoiled food to a refugee population; sometimes, experience shows us that minor tweaks or additions can have a lasting impact on program effectiveness.Anyway, that's a little bit about my job! When we talk about statistics, just remember that they're only as good as the person doing them.Until next time...

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