News: Preparing to work in another culture

Kernah Foster and Jenni Murphy
It is unfair to expect either volunteer or host to work effectively together without preparation.  Palms’ Orientation Course reflects its philosophical view that cross-cultural relationship building is at the core of sustainable development outcomes.  Clearly volunteers preparing for placement in 2011 also strongly believed in being prepared.
Three, Kathy Brick, John Griffiths and Jennifer Ferris, had already completed seven orientations between them since the 70s.  All participated enthusiastically in each and every session.  Kernah Foster (above left with returnee Jenni Murphy), a first timer, gives some insight into her experience below:

“Ten days of intense preparation on working cross-culturally? I thought it would be too much to take, but I soon realised that there is so much to learn about cultural differences, and above all about building relationships for sustainable results. I started to get a much better insight into the Palms philosophy of open hands as the course enabled the forging of strong friendships with others soon to take up an assignment.

Many memorable activities assisted valuable learning throughout the course: the influence of personality on our contributions in the workplace; BAFA-BAFA cross cultural simulation highlighting potential language and behavioral challenges; a field trip encounter with people of a culture different from my own; ‘Seekers of stories’ as a strategy to get to know and build relationships with the people in the ‘new’ culture; and many past experiences from returnees were just a few providing us with invaluable strategies.

None stood out more for me than when I was talking to the returned volunteers.  At first I was conscious of my inadequacy, beginning to wonder if I could do it.  It was like a sudden enormous tremor inside me.  However, special thanks must go to Jennifer Murphy who affirmed me and allayed my fears in so many ways, that I started to feel comfortable about going to Kiribati.

And then at the launching of the Jubilee of Palms’ Organisation was Andrew, another returned volunteer, a chemist turned teacher who offered to help.  Once again I was assured that I am not alone on this journey.  The tremor inside me subsided.  A voice seemed to say: ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you.’  I am again looking forward to the challenges ahead.”

Within a few months, all participants will draw on similar strengths gained at Palms 91st Orientation Course.

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There is both a moral and social responsibility attaching to these experiences of foreign cultures,
and if nothing awakens in our own soul, making claims and demands upon us,
calling us to change the way we live, then we have been merely parasites and invaders. - David Tacey