Squid? I don’t understand… A week of training before my placement

This past week I’ve been attending SKWID (pronounced like “squid”) in Ottawa. For those not in the Cuso International family, that stands for Skills and Knowledge for Working in Development (I think…?). Basically, it’s 5 days of training at Cuso’s office in Canada before you head off to your placement. Our group was about 20 people who are heading to 9 different countries to work with various projects for different durations. It was amazing to hear so many diverse perspectives! Read below to find out more about what we actual did over the course of 5 days.

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The whole team that attended (and facilitated) the SKWID workshop – July 8-12, 2016, Ottawa, ON.

Of course each day started off with a review, with some lunch and breaks throughout the day. For the most part, we started at 8:30 each morning and finished by 5 pm (though some days we did get to leave early). Some people travelled all the way from the Maritimes and Vancouver to attend this training. It was really easy for us, because we just hopped in our car each morning and headed to the Cuso office instead of work.

Day 1

  • Introduction + Objectives – Of course, every training session begins by getting to know the others and the purpose of the session.
  • What is Cuso International? – – Since we would all be working with Cuso, we learned a bit more about their policies, history of the organization, and way of working around the world.
  • Meet with Advisors – Each region has an advisor that helps with those going on placement in that area (for instance, ours covers all South American countries). We met with our advisor to discuss outstanding forms, visa information, travel logistics, submitting receipts, and other details that were specific to us.

*During lunch I had to quickly head over to the clinic. Thankfully it was only a 5 minute walk away. I had 2 things to do: Get the results from my TB skin test (negative, of course), and figure out where my dizziness was coming from when I laid down.  The doctor diagnosed me with Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) which is basically an inner ear problem that causes you to feel like your spinning, kind of like if you had way too much to drink. His prescription was to watch a YouTube video and cure myself.

  • Travel Q+A – We met with the travel coordinator, who explained various logistical details including who we needed to communicate with, what volunteers and Cuso are each responsible for, and which expenses could be reimbursed.
  • Monitoring + Evaluation – We got a brief overview of Cuso’s type of monitoring and how it can be used throughout our placement to track progress and identify challenges.
  • Cultural Concepts – We started having a discussion about various cultures and how we interact with those that are different from ourselves (including how we evaluate new situations where we might find ourselves without being judgmental).

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Left: Sarah teaching us more about Cuso International. Right: Steve finally gets the chicken and waffles he’s been craving for a few weeks!

*After class, I was starving, so we went out to Lonestar for fajitas and margaritas (for me) and waffles + chicken with beer (for Steve). We had festival tickets for the entire Bluesfest, but due to the crappy weather and lack of good band that night, we decided not to go. Afterwards my cold (and vertigo) was really bad so I went home to try the Epley maneuver (which worked for me right away – yay, no more vertigo!) and sleep, while Steve went over for drinks and games at a friends house.

Day 2

  • Intercultural Communication – Continuing from the previous afternoon, we explored more around the various ways that people in different parts of the world, or with different personalities, might communicate, and different tools we could use to communicate with other effectively.
  • Power + Privilege – Always an intense topic, we explored how power and privilege can impact various relationships (both social and professional). We also discussed how our privilege of being Canadians (possibly wealthy, white, well-educated, etc.) is seen in other countries.
  • Development Context – We talked about international development in general, and discussed various problems within the system, as well as current best practices when working in other countries.
  • Introduction to Participatory Facilitation – We learned about the importance of involving community stakeholders in the process of a discussion, and how this can benefit a project.

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Decked out in rain gear, we had a blast at the Lumineers concert!

*It was the third night of Bluesfest and still raining, but we had a full festival pass and wanted to make the most of it! So we grabbed our rain coats and headed to the LeBreton Flats to see the Lumineers. They put on a great show and we had a lot of fun! They even brought their instruments into the crowd to jam in the rain – including a cello, very cool! Afterwards, I headed home to sleep (still sick), and Steve went out for drinks with friends.

Day 3

  • Building Bridges – We practiced coping with some of the challenges that can occur when we’re thrown into a new cultural situation that we may not be experts in yet.
  • Cultural Adaptation – We learned various coping strategies for adapting quickly, as well as some of the things that can go wrong, and how to avoid them.

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Left: It was really interesting to see Steve in a group setting. I was really impressed by his ability to take on a leadership role, even in a new group and focusing on a topic that he wasn’t an expert in. Right: Alexis and I acted in one of the cultural scenarios.

  • Expectations vs. Realities – We discussed how it’s important to have realistic expectations of a placement, and how each project may be different from what you anticipated. Being flexible and “going with the flow” is always recommended.
  • Meet with country representatives – In the afternoon they brought in representatives of each country where people were travelling. Most of the representatives were born or had ancestors from that country, so it was really interesting to hear their perspectives. We got a chance to sit down with them and ask all of our burning questions (which can’t all be answered on Wikipedia unfortunately…)

*We had an easy night in. After having a few people over to view the apartment, we made dinner, and watched Avatar (since we had just seen Toruk by Cirque de Soleil, and Steve had never seen the movie it was based on).

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Each day we started off with a review of everything we learned. One day, Alex and Mark (who are going to Peru) created a Jeopardy style game to quiz us about what we learned the previous day – it was really fun!

Day 4

  • Practicing Participatory FacilitationWe got together in small groups to practice some of the various participatory methods we had learned about the day before. It was a great chance to work in groups and actually practice what we were learning to gain some skills and confidence.
  • Gender + Social Inclusion – We learned more about Cuso’s stance on GESI (Gender Equality and Social Inclusion) as well as various methods and tools for including these important considerations within our placements.
  • Safety + Security Sometimes scary, but always necessary. We learned about our biggest risks in other countries and the best ways to avoid those risks.

*We went out for drinks and apps at James Street Pub with the other volunteers headed to South America. Then we checked out Craft at Lansdowne, so the out-of-towners could try out some local craft brews. Of course, we picked up a few groceries at Whole Foods so we could get our parking validated as well. 🙂

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Left: Talking about corruption. Right: The green dots indicated our level when we began the course, and the red dots indicate where we ended up by the end. You can see that we all feel like we learned a lot, and feel a lot more prepared for our placements!

Day 5

  • Conceptualizing Corruption – Corruption can be big or small, and can impact individuals, governments, and corporations. We learned a few strategies for identifying and coping with corruption in our placement countries (and in Canada as well, since it can be found anywhere).
  • Conflict Management – Conflict is going to happen in every environment. So it’s good to learn new ways of coping with different types of people, and some methods for how to create a space for dialogue in a tense situation.
  • Fundraising + Public Engagement – Fundraising is never fun, but it was great to meet with the fundraising team to brainstorm and discuss various ideas for engaging with our community. If you would like to donate to Steve and I, you can check out our story here: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=3478478&langPref=en-CA
  • Final Reflections + Feedback – This was a really great wrap-up session where we gave feedback on the course but also acknowledged other participants for their great contribution to the success of the week.

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Left: A jam packed schedule of training! Right: The bulletin board in our building with our apartment poster. Thankfully, now that we found a sub-letter, we no longer need to promote our apartment!

*After a long day we had an even longer night! We went out for drinks with a few other participants that didn’t need to catch trains or planes right away – perfect day for a drink on the patio of Pub Italia. Then we rushed home to sign a sub-let agreement (woohoo), which took a lot of stress off. Then I ran over to the mall for tooth pain gel for Steve, and grabbed some dinner to bring home – totally forgetting we had dinner plans with good friends of ours who were just back from Zambia! Thankfully they were very nice when we showed up super late, and we still got to see them, which was lovely.


Overall, it was a really great 5 days. Although I am completely exhausted and didn’t really get a weekend off to relax, I’m so glad I was able to attend. It was a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and build a support network. It was also a perfect way to learn more about Cuso and our placements. Thanks to the facilitators for putting in so much hard work to make it a success! 🙂

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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One Response to Squid? I don’t understand… A week of training before my placement

  1. Pingback: Preparations | marleeinmyanmar

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