Training before leaving for a foreign posting
To discover the submerged part of the iceberg of differences
This article first appeared in the Montmorency International newsletter, Volume 2, Edition 1, May 2005.
The Canadian Foreign Service Institute's Centre for Intercultural Learning conducted a training course at Collège Montmorency on August 19 and 20, 2004. This preparatory workshop was for people working on "development of health competencies" and "functional rehabilitation for victims of the Casamance conflict" projects in Senegal.
There are many obvious differences between Quebec and Africa, both in how things are done and in terms of values and interpersonal relations. However, these seemingly obvious differences are actually only a fragment, like the tip of an iceberg. The dozen people taking part in this training were thus seeking to improve their intercultural effectiveness through theories and simulation exercises. The group was made up of teachers and officials from the Montmorency and Sherbrooke colleges and two graduates of these institutions who were preparing for volunteer work in Africa.
The training was given by Déogratias Bagilishya, a Canadian of Rwandan origin who works as a psychologist at the Montreal Children's Hospital and an immigration consultant. He explained the four natural adaptation stages people go through when they go to an unfamiliar country and must interact and work there with the people. They are the honeymoon, culture shock, acclimatization and adjustment stages. Mr. Bagilishya presented the symptoms connected with each stage and the strategies for getting from one stage to the next. For a lot of people, moving from stage to stage is a difficult process and many give up. The differences between Africa and Quebec include their collectivism as opposed to our individualism, their sense of hierarchy versus our egalitarianism and their formal relations and rituals as compared with our informal relations. "[translation] through role playing, we came to understand why some situations were very destabilizing for us because of barriers of language, conflicts and values…" notes participant Lyne Hébert, who teaches physical rehabilitation techniques at Collège Montmorency.
Another valuable aspect of this training was invited guest Fasal Kamouté, who shared her personal intercultural experience. Ms. Kamouté is an educational research professor from the Université de Montréal.
This Senegalese-born Quebecker recounted her adjustment to Quebec and the intercultural shock she experienced when she went back to her native country with her husband and children after having lived here for over 10 years. The participants were very pleased with this part of the training, which was very informal and more intimate, as Lyne Hébert indicates: "[translation] Fasal Kamouté comes across as a product of her community, she has dual citizenship, but also a dual culture, so she was in a good position to understand what might surprise us."
Group of training course participants surround Fasal Kamouté and Déogratias Bagilishya of the Canadian Foreign Service's Institute's Centre for Intercultural Learning