Coaching the Fellows in Ecuador

When people ask me what I do for a living, sometimes I say I am the Program Manager for Global Citizen Year in Ecuador. Other times, I say I am the secretary or messenger for GCY in Ecuador (which is also true!). But, often times, I like to tell people that I am a coach. Here in Ecuador, they automatically think of a sports coach. No, I am not a coach for the local fútbol team. They seem disappointed. But then I tell them that I am a personal, professional, and life coach for the nine GCY Fellows who have chosen to spend this year with me here in Ecuador. Sometimes they are impressed, but often times, they are confused. Let me explain.

Within the professional and personal development fields, coaching falls somewhere between counseling and teaching, in that it provides personalized support and attention to the Fellows in a way that a counselor might, but it also provides the tools and accountability that a teacher would in the classroom. During the 7 months the Fellows are here in Ecuador, I provide one-on-one coaching twice a month to each Fellow. Personally, the coaching is the most gratifying part of my job. But it’s also very challenging. In my view, being a successful coach for the GCY Fellows requires three main skill sets that I can tap into during a one-on-one coaching session: patience and compassion, expert question asking, and direct experience in the field.

As you might imagine, as the GCY Fellows engage in their experience abroad, working with local organizations and living with local families, they confront significant challenges that lead to both ups and downs. As a coach, I must be prepared to listen, patiently to their stories as well as offer compassion and understanding as they describe their very personal, emotional experiences that color their interpretations of Life. Providing a non-judgmental sounding board to the Fellows is a huge part of what I do as their coach.

But to limit my support to simply listening would be to leave the Fellow in a similar position as the one in which he or she came to me, maybe feeling just a little better for having expressed his or her feelings.  Therefore, an effective coach is also an expert question asker. And this is probably the most difficult skill set to actually acquire. As a coach, my role is not to provide solutions to the challenges the Fellows face, but rather it is to get them to a place where they can identify possible solutions and feel ownership over a personal plan of action. (I hope that the metaphor about teaching a person to fish comes to mind right now.) One of the biggest areas for personal growth during a Global Citizen Year is in a Fellow’s sense of self-responsibility and maturity, in understanding that no one (especially one’s parents or Program Manager, for that matter) can resolve her issues for her and that she must do what’s necessary to make the most of any situation. As adults, everyone faces difficult situations at work, at home, with friends, and no one is going to resolve those issues for us. Yet, when someone asks us the right questions that help us see those situations in a different light – maybe from our boss’s or friend’s perspective– and require us to think about what I can do to make the situation better, we are better equipped to be proactive and more effective at finding a reasonable solution. As the coach, therefore, I try to ask the right questions that put the Fellows in the driver’s seat of their personal and professional experiences while abroad, and, ultimately, when back in the US, as well.

Finally, my personal experiences as a former exchange student, volunteer, and professional in international development in Ecuador help me understand and provide insight into the complexities and specificities of many of the experiences my Fellows are having this year. For example, just last month, one Fellow was feeling frustrated that the project he was supposed to work on hadn’t actually started yet, nearly two months into his time with the local organization. While his organization was keeping him busy with other responsibilities in the office in the meantime, he was anxious to start his “real” work. In fact, the project had not started yet because the funding had not yet arrived – a typical dilemma in the development world. Therefore, his frustration provided an opportunity for me to help him understand these very real aspects of working in international development, drawing on my own experiences of many delayed project due to limited or tardy financing. It also provided an opportunity for me to help him see just how valuable and necessary the other, maybe less glamorous, work was to the organization. This personal experience may not provide answers, but it definitely provides perspective on some uniquely Ecuadorian or development-related issues the Fellows are facing.

For all of these reasons, my job as a coach to the GCY Fellows is the most challenging and rewarding component of my position as the Ecuador Program Manager. Now, after nearly 5 months of working with the Fellows, I am seeing obvious and inspirational signs of personal growth. Their sense of confidence and responsibility in making the most of their experiences here in Ecuador is what stands out most. Being a part of that transition is an honor. But more importantly, it is an obligation as we support the Fellows in becoming Global Citizens with the capacity, self-awareness, and action-oriented mentality to take on both personal and global challenges, head on, in search of meaningful and effective solutions.

So, no, I do not coach the local fútbol team, nor does it interest me. But, sure, give me a team of Global Citizens any day!