From Development to Culture Shock to Avatar: a Typical Day at Fall Training

Charlotte Benishek - Senegal


August 23, 2011

Up to this point fall training has equipped the Global Citizen Year Fellows with broad skills required to be successful in our Global Citizen Year, such as mindfulness, self-awareness, and engaged leadership. However, on Saturday we departed from this theme and delved into international development specifically. The day began with a conference call with David Abernethy, a Stanford professor of political science. He concisely outlined basic international development concepts, and as usual, the fellows posed numerous questions. Personally, I believe this is an invaluable component of our training, as we will be exposed to international development on a micro scale in our apprenticeship, but it is also critical that we understand development on a macro scale if we want to understand how our challenges and successes fit into the “big picture” of development.

The other main topic of the day was culture shock. In essence, culture shock is when someone enters into a new culture whose social patterns are very different from those of their home culture. Every fellow will confront culture shock at some point during our Global Citizen Year, and it can be paralyzing if not dealt with properly. We discussed constructive methods of responding to culture shock. Basically, a constructive response to culture shock is reaching out into the new culture and exploring as opposed to withdrawing and attempting to hang on to our own culture. This was a very interesting discussion, as our program managers as well as many fellows shared personal anecdotes about their own experiences with culture shock.

At fall training our days are usually packed with activity, and Saturday was no exception. After dinner we watched the movie Avatar. While most of the fellows had already seen the movie, this time we were asked to consider the movie critically. By the end of the movie many people, including myself, viewed the movie’s message as offensive because it supported the stereotype of native people as “noble savages” who are perfect in numerous ways, yet require a (even more perfect) white man to save them from their problems. Avatar also reminded me of how completely clueless (and perhaps helpless) fellows will be when we first arrive in a the foreign culture of our host country, and how frustrating this might be for our host families. It was a good reminder that we must be patient with our host, but also hope that they will be patient with us.

Charlotte Benishek