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Critical Periods in the Life of an Organization Volunteer

August 10th, 2010

Note: The original uses the name of the Organization directly, and some Organization-specific acronyms. I have elided these for the sake of generality.

You will note that the behavioral reactions listed below all tend to be negative. This is NOT meant to imply that your [Organization] experience produces only difficult, unhappy emotions. It’s just that when you’re feeling "on top of the world," you don’t look for changes. Given, however, that [Volunteers] spend their two (or more) years in a foreign culture, the likelihood of ups and downs is more common, and normal. This diagram was put together by a group of [finished] volunteers in Senegal in the mid-1980’s; it is applicable wherever you are. Take care of yourself!

Month Issues Behavior/Reaction Interventions
1
  • Depart from home
  • Arrive in country
  • Disorientation
  • Health
  • Self-concsiousness
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling incompetent
  • Nervous about personal changes over two years
  • Team-building encounters
  • Social events
  • Establish routine
  • Maintain link with home
  • Develop interests, positive habits
2
  • Too much structure
  • Too much routine
  • Group constancy
  • Fatigue
  • Impending assignment
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Easy irritation
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Explore independence
  • Visit other [Volunteer]s
  • Make plans for first three months
  • Visit new site
  • Establish relationships with [Volunteers] and staff
  • Gather skills for immediate use
3-6
  • Assignment
  • Separation/solitude
  • Uncertainty of role
  • Fright
  • Frustration with self
  • Loneliness
  • Weight/health changes
  • Homesickness
  • Uselessness
  • Develop in-country correspondence
  • Host visitors
  • Visit peers, other [Volunteer]s
  • Establish links: NGO’s, services
  • Technical research for future use
  • Language study
  • Establish routine, sense of "I"
  • Hobbies to do "in public"
  • Simple projects: garden, trees
7-10
  • Slow work progress
  • Language plateaus
  • Cross-cultural frustration
  • "Culture shock"
  • Comparison with others
  • Overzealousness
  • Homesickness
  • Uncertainties about adaptation/abilities
  • Reunions
  • Cards and letters home. Resume forgotten relationships
  • Talk with 2nd year [Volunteer]s about experiences
  • Simple projects: crafts, meetings, classes
  • Consolidate friendships, language, etc.
  • Review this sheet on changes
11-15
  • Mid-service crisis
  • Doubt about program, role, self, government
  • Various failures over time
  • Reflection: disillusionment, confusion in resolving frustrations vs. victories
  • New trainees arrive
  • Holiday/vacation break
  • Impatience with self, program, system
  • Blame on the program
  • Constant complaining
  • Lethargy
  • Haughtiness with new trainees
  • Holiday planning/mini-vacation
  • Review work plan — set new goals
  • Plan vacation
  • Celebrate one-year anniversary
  • Develop new recreation options
  • Write long-lost acquaintances
  • Explore better in-country relationships
  • Return to language study and practice
16-20
  • Increased/more defined work pace
  • Project work
  • Awareness of time constraints
  • Realization of own limitations
  • Post-[Organization] considerations
  • Hyperactivity or apathy
  • Procrastination
  • Self-recrimination
  • Resignation
  • Disappointment
  • Downgrade achievements
  • Over-identification in behavior
  • Visit new volunteers
  • Physical activity: "Get in shape"
  • Focus on relationships at site
  • Re-examine goals and time frame
  • Apply for GRE, write grad schools
  • Explore work possibilities locally or in-country
21-23
  • Prepare for [finishing]/post [Organization]
  • Depression about perceived government
  • Anticipated separation
  • Demanding work pace
  • Consideration of extension, post-[Organization] options
  • Acknowledgement of unmet goals
  • Monument building
  • Withdrawal into work details
  • Panic
  • Procrastination
  • Frustration with self
  • Moodiness
  • Vacation/travel
  • Review work plans/assess feasibility
  • Plan "closing out" and follow-up
  • Work with counterparts on same
  • Collaboration with 1st year [Volunteers]
  • Consider post-[Organization]: resume, calendar
  • Give quality time to relationships/friendships
23-27
  • Trauma of departure
  • Concerns about social re-entry
  • Bridging new and former identity
  • Redefinition of career
  • Redefinition of host-country based on relationships
  • Fright
  • Confusion
  • Alienation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Giddiness
  • Impatience
  • Obsession with planning and scheduling
  • Check on trends, US popular culture with new trainees
  • Do self-analysis: identify factors of self and work gratification
  • Work on self-image
  • Shop for arts, crafts, souvenirs
  • Write friends, make social plans
  • Post-[Organization] travel plans
  • Transfer skills and knowledge to trainees
  • Arrange for gifts for host family

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