My journey as a volunteer will be mixed with frustrations because of language barriers, confusion about cultural norms, and difficult personalities. Managing the emotional, cross-cultural challenges and stressors of service will allow me to become a resilient volunteer.
Like a rubber band stretching without breaking.
Though American culture and Senegalese culture, language, and social norms may seem vastly different, there are four basic goals of human behavior that remain the same across all cultures. Some days these simple goals may seem difficult or downright impossible to obtain, but through personal resiliency and perseverance they will lead to a successful service.
Empowerment. All human beings need to feel some sense of control, predictability, or power over the challenges of daily living. Like learning to play the piano, if we are encouraged by those around us we will continue to practice even when our fingers don’t seem to cooperate. Likewise, without encouragement, we may simply bang on the keys without producing a single melody. Learning to re-master basic skills, such as showering and talking, may lead to frustrations, but by empowering myself through a daily routine offsets the other situations over which I have no control.
Protection. Everyone needs to have a sense of both physical and emotional protection. As a woman in a Muslim country, I tend to be objectified or insulted and may want to lash out at the offender. Instead of instantly adopting the Senegalese culture, I find myself experiencing feelings of prejudice and cultural insensitivity – feelings that are totally unexpected given my aspirations for joining the Peace Corps. Slowly, as I integrate into the culture, I will feel a greater sense of protection in my new environment.
Integration. Human beings were created for relationships. From the earliest stages of human development, one of the worst punishments a member of society could receive was banishment. Our very survival has depended on belonging to a community. However, for an outsider, integration takes time, patients, and lots of introductions. Although I am surrounded by a supporting American community, by living and working with Senegalese men, women, and children, I have no choice by to integrate and connect with this new culture.
Connection. It is said that without human touch or contact, a newborn cannot thrive. Basic connection to another human being is critical to our emotional and physical wellbeing. If frustrated in our efforts to find solidarity, companionship, and love, we risk “aloneness.” As an extravert, this need for connection is even more prevalent in my journey as I build relationships with those around me.
All four of these goals are obtained separately, but work together to create resiliency. As a ride the rollercoaster of my service over the next two years, there will be many challenges but also great successes. Cycling through feelings of vulnerability and adjustment this journey will be difficult but no less epic.