Friday, October 26, 2012

What's Peace Corps Samoa Training Like?

A one-word answer to describe PC training is “intense”.  I struggled with training in 2010.  The amount of new information combined with a completely new environment as well as having no personal time to be able to process what was going on made it daunting.  This group seems to be handling it a bit better but is still feeling the intensity. 

Group 84 spent one week in Apia, getting the basics and meeting staff.  They arrived in the villages on Saturday, October 13.  They were welcomed with an ava ceremony by the matais (chiefs) of the village and were introduced to their new families.

On Monday, one of my group helped two PC staff member conduct the Water Safety Training.  Tuesday morning started with a Safety and Security session designed to inform them of local laws.  Then came language training, followed by their first cultural training.

During the rest of the week, the trainees arrived at the training fale by 8:00 a.m.  Most were dressed in new clothes (puletasis for the women, lavalavas for the guys) and jewelry when they arrived.  Samoans are competitive and the host families are sewing and buying things like crazy for “their” trainee to make sure they are the best dressed.  They also “help” the women with their hair to make sure they are the best groomed, by Samoan standards.  Braids and buns are everywhere.

Each morning starts with check-in, just to see if anyone has questioned or anything new has come up.  We also let them know the schedule for the day.  After check-in comes language until morning tea at 10:00 a.m.   Language continues from 10:30 to noon, when we break for lunch.  The families either send lunch in the morning with their trainee or deliver it around noon.

At 1:00 p.m. each day we have cultural training for two hours.  That’s what I’m here to help with.  I’m working with the lead trainer on staff to combine theory and the ideal of fa’asamoa with the current reality of what they’ll be experiencing in their sites. 

I’m trying to help keep the sessions varied, interesting and helpful and so far informal feedback has been good, but the evaluations will tell the tale.  It does feel good to be back doing the kind of professional work that I did for years before coming to Peace Corps.

We’ve done sessions on cultural values and compared things that Americans typically value to things Samoans value, and how that impacts behaviors. We talked about specific examples of things the trainees have seen and experienced so far as well as things the Samoans have observed from the Americans and how the behaviors might be interpreted.

The session on non-verbal communication was funny and eye-opening, I think.  We did it as a competition, with teams having to interpret non-verbals that  the language trainers demonstrated.  We went through about 30 different non-verbals.  The group started asking “Really?  How many different ways are there to say you want to have sex with us?”  It’s a Christian country, but they love to laugh and flirt and some of the flirting is very direct.  I got to demonstrate how to turn down an advance, non-verbally.

After two hours of culture training, we have another 30 minute break, followed by language training until 5:00.  By then, the trainees are hot, sweaty and mentally exhausted.  Many, however, stay for another optional hour of tutoring. 

Then, they usually fill up their water bottles and head toward their fales.  Frequently members of their families arrive to walk them home. 

The trainees have homework each night and also are anxious to interact with their families.  Plus, most have a need to take a walk or go for a swim to try to get their bodies as tired as their brains.  Many families have the nightly traditional “lotu” or prayer for half an hour at sunset, followed by dinner and time to work on the homework.  Then, early to bed because some volunteers attend 5:00 a.m. prayer with their families.

The trainees are healthy (except for the minor bug bites, infections, etc.); happy (except for the occasional moments of feeling overwhelmed or homesick) and very, very busy.  It didn’t take them long to realize that “Beach Corps” just means they happen to live on the beach.

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