Fieldset
To the newbie

i received an email over facebook from a soon to be expat. what's your advice for a new guy he said? something akin to'waaa?' was my initial reply. but, heh, with the arrival of our new mental health officer, it's something that's been on my mind anyway these days...

i received an email over facebook from a soon to be expat. what's your advice for a new guy he said? something akin to'waaa?' was my initial reply. but, heh, with the arrival of our new mental health officer, it's something that's been on my mind anyway these days... so after getting over the shock of being asked for advice, i thought about the things i've heard from other people in the field - and the advice that made a big difference for me. i came up with my top three tips for a first timer:

1/ 'be prepared for anything.' before arriving in the project,

chances you received reports from the field.  this could include

the project proposal with objectives and strategies.  it could

be the handover document.  you may even get to read a blog or

some communications docs.  if you are like me, you'll use these

documents to try to somehow peice together a picture of what you

are about to walk into, looking for clues to complete the images

in your head, and perhaps you will think you know what you're

getting into.   and if you are really like me, you will still

end up gobsmacked when you arrive and are confronted with

everything, promptly forgeting all that you've read, and end up

still spending your first few days in a haze as you try to make

sense of the world again.  this is normal.

2/ 'don't make any big changes your first month in the field.'

really really take your time getting to know the program and

your own department.  if you listened at the door of the new

expat training, this is one thing you would hear repeated often

- and there's good reason.

when you arrive in a project full of ideas and energy and

passion, it is so easy to pinpoint all the things you think are

wrong, or inefficient or not logical.  this is  a good thing, it

promotes improvements and progress in the project... but it's

best not to push through right away.  it's so useful to take

lots of notes, ask lots of questions, keep your energy high, and

allow some time to find out why things are they way they are.

there could be good reasons, or perhaps outdated reasons... but

usually there is a reason that is not immediately obvious. part

of working for msf is finding new ways of solving problems and

dealing with issues (ways that can best suit the context,

population, resources etc etc).  you're not in kansas anymore

and if you don't know the context, you may repeat old mistakes.

so listen, ask questions and give it time before plowing ahead

with your brave new program.  you're going to have to be

creative and flexibe in your approach, and this time allows you

to be best prepared.  you don't want to reinvent the wheel only

to find out your beautifully streamlined program can't hold up

to the potholes and wadis.

3/ as hinted at, the last big advice is 'be prepared to suspend

disbelief'.  there have been so many times i said to myself,

there is no logical way this can work... my canada brain was

like 'what the hell are you trying to pull off?? this is not

gonna happen!!!' but here's the catch, it did work.  somehow, we

all make it work.  and it may even make sense eventually... as

long as you don't think too hard about it.