Two of the things that are most important about predep are meeting the other Professional Fellows from across the country, and learning what you need to know to make your placement a success. When you first find out that you have been selected, you have skype calls with the other ProF’s but it’s just not the same. You also go through a series of readings, videos, and websites as long as discussion questions to help you learn more about development, EWB, and the country you’ve been placed in. However, there is also a full week of pre-departure training in Toronto before you leave for Africa, and it was a great experience.
However, predep isn’t all about lessons and sessions, there’s also a bit of free time to do fun things, explore the city, and bond with the other participants. Walking home one day we walked past the set of Suits (cool!) and even got a Harvey Specter business card! We also had drinks and played cards at the hotel, went for Thai food, and made a couple “family” meals back at our dorm. On Friday night we went to Dundas square for a free concert series and got some free sunglasses, plus saw the cutest couple ever dancing. 🙂
Another important aspect of predep is making sure you have everything you need, and that everything is settled back in Canada before you leave. For me that meant making sure all my banking stuff was in order, that all my school meetings were settled, and that I had downloaded the latest and greatest of North-American TV onto my hard-drive, lol. It also involved buying a first-aid kit, picking up a mosquito net, and even trying on motorcycle helmets (at first I thought this was a joke!) that I would have to cart with me half-way around the world. Unfortunately, I had brought wayyyy too many bags to Toronto (see last post) so I also had to sort through what would come to Ghana with me. With the help of Megan and Alexis, I tried to make rational choices about what would be appropriate (“Don’t bring white, you’ll never keep it clean”, “Can you actually wear tank-tops there, okay maybe some for under other shirts”, and “Amanda, do you really need 7 different cardigans, choose 3!”), and ended up with a sprawl all over our shared kitchen, and a large bag of clothes to send back to Ottawa with my family… phew! It was really hard for me to make the decisions, but in the end, I’m glad I did!
Most days we had training from about 9am to 6pm in the EWB Headquarters, and there was a range of different types of sessions, including: discussions, lectures, case studies, acting out scenarios, creating diagrams on flip-chart paper, and one-one-one coaching sessions. Some of the most useful sessions included a talk/discussion about power and privilege (especially as a well-off white person headed to Africa) and a terrific (but terrifying!) session on tropical insects, parasites, viruses and diseases (yay…).
On Saturday night, I took a little break from training because everyone was in town. My mom and her bf, Gord, were in town for the National Finals of Art Battle, which is a really cool live painting competition, where each artist has a canvas, acrylic paint, and 20 minutes to create a masterpiece! My sister, Shannon, was in town for training for her new GIS job, and Steve was in town for school stuff. So Steve met me at training, we checked into out hotel, we grabbed some dinner, and headed to the arena to meet up with my fam-jam. We had a great time at art battle, with lots of catching up, talking about great (and not-so-great) art, and plenty of food and wine! Afterward we went for a late night snack and more drinks, and then walked them back to their hotel. We didn’t get back to our hotel until about 2am and we passed out right away. I’m glad Sunday was an easy day at training!
(I also took a little break on Wednesday night to see some of my girls from undergrad who live in Toronto now… It’s crazy to think I won’t see most of these people again until 2015!)
It was great to get to see Steve a few more times before I had to hop on a plane, and it was great because he was already in town to see family, friends, and take care of some school stuff. We stayed in a *cough* lovely *cough* hotel for the night of art battle, and said our goodbyes in the morning. But it turned out that I had a long lunch on Monday and he had some free time downtown so we got to go for coffee then too, which was lovely! 🙂
In the end, I learned a great deal about myself and how to be prepared. Although the training wasn’t as specific as I had imagined (“Uh, so what am I actually going to be doing everyday while I’m there?”), I think these general sessions were even more useful, since they would be helpful in any situation where I found myself, and I will be able to figure out the right thing to do on my own. I also made 7 great new friends, who I’m hoping to stay in touch with, and will definitely see at the EWB National Conference in January, when we can all get together to share our respective experiences.