At the risk of my first post sounding like a sappy Oscars speech, I want to start off with a few thank you’s to Kate and Nick for making the training a mix of sessions for our general microfinance knowledge in addition to things that will directly apply to our fieldwork, for making it an enjoyable time with Boston outings, but most importantly for the wonderful group of trainees they allowed me to spend the week with.
On Tuesday, after our AUSA client visits (or as I like to remember it, our delicious cupcake visit), we had a session on Intercultural Training, in which we shared past experiences and concerns about encountering norms of different cultures, since we are all about to be thrown to a certain extent outside of comfort zones. I’ll confess now that at the time, I didn’t place much value on the intercultural training session, but I felt differently about it by the end of the week.
Last week was the first time I’ve spent such a large chunk of time with Chinese people who have lived mostly in China, and I learned something valuable from them in an unusual way. English may not be their first language, but I came to like and respect the way they spoke it more than I do a lot of native English speakers, myself included. I think that sometimes people use far too many words to express thoughts, oftentimes in an attempt to sugarcoat their actual thoughts. Our Chinese Ambassadors, Han Shao and Weiwei Pan, on the other hand, always spoke in a manner that was both sincere and direct at a level far higher than I have ever been accustomed to.
Looking back on the list of valuable things I learned last week, I rank this bit of intercultural training highest. In our upcoming blogging of client stories, all of us Ambassadors have been instructed to, albeit carefully, “tell it like it is.” We’ve learned that microfinance, or any intervention in the lives of people struggling to sustain themselves, can be very dangerous. No matter how much benefit the intervention provides, it must also take responsibility for the harms that it unintentionally and indirectly produces.
The point I’m trying to make (perhaps with too many words) is that writing about it objectively can be difficult, and I will strive to do it in the upcoming weeks with the kind of simultaneous conciseness and honesty that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing from my new Chinese friends.
My next post will begin client storytelling in Mumbai, but before I sign off, I want to thank Kate for working way too hard to make my blogging possible (who would have thought the brown kid would give you the most computer trouble?!) and last but not least for the gracious hospitality of the coolest married couple I know, Mrs. and Mr. Firth Bard, who I look forward to seeing again in three weeks at our India Ambassadors reunion in Mumbai.