Today I attended the monthly meeting of the Dakar Women's Group who setup a guest speaker. It sure was timely.
This fluid group of women (as families come and go from Dakar) is described by DWG as a dynamic group of 200+ members from 55 different countries. They come together to make friends, have fun, discover Senegal and its people, and create avenues to raise money and give to local charity. There is no question this group plays a critical role in helping newcomers adapt and integrate to the Dakar lifestyle and today was no exception.
Here we are settling in to hear Tricia (speaker and member) ready to talk about managing "The Emotional Well Being While Living in Dakar" or as she also put it "Celebrating the Journey". Tricia is from Trinidad and is a trained and practicing Psychiatrist, working Mom, and wife to a Senegalese man and has been in Senegal for 8 years.
Here is a synopsis of what I captured and took away.
Tricia started off by conveying that we tend to focus on the destination and we need (while easy to say) find ways to get more relaxed and try to stay in the present. Which is why the group is so important as a place and community to reach out to. She indicated that for families coming to Dakar - this might be the first time you are following your spouse, perhaps given up a career elsewhere to make the move so it's important to "have a goal" and one example was to learn the language of the host country. If you already know French - learn Wolof. Maybe you have a skill you can teach others? What's important is to pick something that you can assign yourself to saying "xxxxx is what I am going to do today".
She brought up the concept of "The U Curve" related to culture shock which (I'm adding this here) - is defined as “the trauma you experience when you move into a culture different from your home culture” (Chaney, Martin, 2000, p.154).
What this curve is about is the process of adjusting to the foreign culture you have just entered and there are 4 stages - I've taken this image from the Munich Business school to illustrate what she covered. You start off high (1), hit depression (2), level off (3) and rise back up (4)
When she went through these I was recalling to myself - there was no "honeymoon" to start - it jumped right to "crisis" - and in some way I suppose (looking back now) - perhaps it was the way it was supposed to be - not having the "honeymoon" up front because we could not be diverted. We had to stay focused on all the things that had to get accomplished in the 10 day deadline we put upon ourselves . Believe me I had plenty of crying moments while at the hotel - as we went through the exercise of finding a place to live, getting the bank account, being accosted by vendors selling only one thing at a time, the whole taxi negotiation process, the heat, the heat, the garbage, the poverty, the heat and the congestion. There was no fascination in that at all - only confusion and anxiety! And at the time wondering "what the heck did we just do"
However I'm delighted to say I can now pinpoint myself between Phases 3 and 4 with touches of 1 - and with certainty stage 2 is over (I suppose until I get back to Berkeley - there will be a reversal). She did indicate that most of the time you do come out of it yet some get stuck. Phase 2 would seem a tough phase to get stuck in.
The beauty of Tricia's presentation - you looked around and knew that everyone in the room and in this group as a whole has gone through it. Tricia's message was one of comfort. And I'm glad to know this group is here to build and develop relationships with while at the same time staying committed to delving into the host culture with the enthusiasm (and limiting the asking of "why") knowing Manning, me, Parker and Addison have a very defined time here. Tricia wrapped up with the following:
Be Flexible and Use Humor.
Every Day is a New Day.
Find your passion.
Celebrate the Journey!