PST is the name given to the 9 to 12 weeks of orientation and training that all PC Volunteers around the world receive between Staging (in the US) and their 2-year assignments “at site.”
While it contains all of the elements you would expect of a new-employee orientation and training activity, the broad range of trainee backgrounds and the even broader diversity of assigned projects makes Peace Corps’ PST an amazing web of subject matter, physical and mental exercises, stresses and joys. Many current and returned PC volunteers claim that PST is the boot camp of the program and the hardest 2 months of their entire experience. I don’t doubt that.
PST training is broken into 5 main categories: Language, Cross-Cultural, Medical, Safety & Security and Technical. All 33 trainees in our Group 43 jointly participate in the first four categories and we break up into our 2 different sectors for the technical sessions: Community Economic Development (CED) and Community Health and HIV/Aids Project (CHHAP) – otherwise known as the Business and Health teams.
Language usually entails 2-3 hours of small group instruction each morning. Each of us was to learn one of 6 “local languages,” determined on the basis of where in the country we will live and work. I am learning Afrikaans.
Cross-Cultural has focused on the differences between “normal” or “common” behaviors in the US and Namibia in sensitive areas such as living with our host families, personal relationships, religion and parenting. The Traditional Cooking Day was a nice way to experience the range of tribes, languages and cuisine of the country.
The Medical sessions have covered Vaccinations, Malaria Prevention and Mosquito Nets, First Aid, HIV/AIDS/STI prevention amongst other topics.
Safety & Security training has briefed us on Harassment, Sexual Assault, Bystander Intervention and Transportation.
The most interesting has been the technical training for the 17 business trainees in CED that has included a wide variety of activities. From formal lectures by PC-Namibian staff and guest speakers to walking around town introducing ourselves to the neighborhood businesses, our most productive learning has come from hands-on work. For example, we designed and conducted two series of business skills training workshops: a “practice” round with our language instructors (many of whom are budding entrepreneurs) and a 4-day, 20-hour workshop for 60 small business owners from around the area. Topics included business plan development, bookkeeping, marketing – I worked with a team of three to present on costing and pricing. We have also been partnered with other local owners to conduct one-on-one consulting and will be hosting a local trade fair called Market Day for these same partners to sell their goods and promote their services in a big event open to the community on June 4th.
All of this has been quite effective in acquainting us with the communications and management styles of Namibia. The issues with which they deal are usually the same ad those faced by American business people at home: finding new customers, maintaining consistent quality, attracting and retaining trustworthy employees, making time to work “on” their business not just “in” their business, etc. But they are often combined with a number of factors that are quite unique: limited formal education, lack of familiarity with so-called “basic” concepts such as hierarchical organizational structures and ratios/percentages. I have attempted a few times to jump in with “proven” solutions to stated problems, only to step back with humility when I realize they don’t easily translate into the local culture(s). It will be a big challenge for me to stay in “observation mode” and away from “solution mode” for longer than I am used to.
All proof that we will be learning as much as we’ll be teaching in our time here!