Friday, November 03, 2006

Personal public relations

I'm bursting with ideas for this village and not a single one will work.

It's a slow process integrating into a foreign community where no one can speak to you and no one understands your mission. Unfortunately, I've had to learn this the hard way over the past few months. Although we were told that the first six months of service would be a difficult time of adjustment I must not have thought that the 45 years of Peace Corps procedure applied to me. Finally, my project manager came to visit and she very carefully explained (for the 100th time) why I was getting so frustrated: "You're not being patient enough."

She asked me, "if I moved into a small town in Ohio and knocked on a stranger's door and told them: 'Hello! I'm here to change the way you do things in America!' What do you think would happen? They'd call the police, right?"

She's right, I can't expect the villagers to adopt my ideas, want to change, or even want to meet me the very moment I come here. It's not a fair expectation. I guess that's why they give us 2 years to serve.

So now I'm doing some personal PR. I've introduced myself and explained my purpose for coming in all of the classes and at the parent teacher meetings, they published an interview with me in the school newspaper and they are letting me give a seminar on Monday at the Youth Action Club meeting. I am going to parties, events and a wedding tomorrow all with the intention to let people know who I am.

My program manager explained: "You come here with your own mission and the PC mission in your mind, but what about the people who have lived here their whole lives? Don't you think that they have personal thoughts about how things should be? Traditions? Methods of their own that they think work just fine?" Kitch Kitch (little by little) things will come together....I pray...

7 comments:

Rebecca said...

Glad to hear from you again, Sarah! I work on a research grant where we are trying to change school philosophy to focus on non-academic barriers to learning as well as academic barriers. The biggest lesson we have learned is exactly what you are saying...you have to get "buy-in" first. The school or the community needs to realize who you are, respect you, and trust you. Once you have this, the door are wide open!

Keep working hard!

v said...

In the Armenian community there is an interesting intermixing of attitudes towards foreigners (and I don't mean the word "foreigner" in a bad sense). Any outside guest will be treated with utmost hospitality, you'll be invited to share the most cherished food reserves kept for "high guests", but at the same time Armenians are very cautious when this guest tries to change things. And this is rooted deeply in the nation's history: for millennia the more powerful and militarily mooded neighbors tried to change the way Armenians were, be it their religion, their language, or customs, most of the time without sparing any means. Thus the average Armenian has well-developed and very rigid psychological defense mechanisms against the changes that are being brought by an "otar".

During my few years of teaching I came to appreciate one way an idea can be sold to a person - let him buy it himself by reaching the conclusive concept of the idea on his own. For example instead of "don't eat too much fat", which with high possibility will be ignored, one can try to explain the effects of fat on the organism, the implications for health, the good sides of a limited fat diet, and let the person himself reach the eureka of "hey, I shouldn't eat too much fat!" (enter that boy's quote here about the unworthiness of the 5-minute-pleasure on the theme of STD's). This approach makes people accept the change as an internal process of thought, and not as a tool of outside pressure. Hope this is of some help...

Anonymous said...

Sarah,
Patience is a very hard lesson to learn. It's one that most of us spend a lifetime trying to accomplish. Hang in there and BE PATIENT -- remember your first year at college???? Once you were patient you were able to move forward.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

Your Uncle and I have lived in New Jersy three years now and can't seem to grasp all the differnt nuances in how people think/act etc. right here in the USA! Sounds like you have regrouped your thoughts and are on a path to gaining trust and understanding. Hang in there...

Aunt R.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sarah,

The Navajo in Arizona have a view that goes along the lines, "Progress is the enemy of tradition." This is a little simplified, but the Navajo have been changing gradually, and some Chapters more quickly than others.

Find a couple of Armenians who will give you the insight you need to understand them more, and where they are coming from. I found that by showing that I was more interested in learning Navajo lifeways first, that I was able to recruit their interest in 20th Century lifeways later (that was back in the 1980s). Then you can use your smile and your genuine nature to gain trust.

Been thinking about you lots.

Hugs, Uncle Paul and Aunt Nancy

Carly said...

SARAH!!!! I just go home from Thanksgiving dinner and AGAIN...as i do almost everyday... saw your going away present that i never sent you! i've been thinking about you so much lately and wishing i had a way to contact you but tonight i decided to be a woman of action...so i googled you! and found this blog off of a capitol newsletter...yes yes, i am quite crafty : ) i am so thrilled to be able to write to you!!! i hope you had a blessed thanksgiving...know that i am so thankful for you and think of you often, and please send me your address as well as email address. you are a beautiful woman!!!! love always despite the many miles, carly