The one month mark

June 8, 2018 | Constanza, Specialization - Psychology, Haïti, Uniterra, Organisation de Gestion de la Destination Nord d’Haïti, Conseillère dans la création de l'Association des Jeunes Artisants de Milot

Hitting the one month mark in my internship in Haiti, I have had the chance to observe, participate and act upon what it means to be a student abroad. When I first arrived, it was a busy first couple of days in Port-au-Prince, we were located in a very nice hotel called La Lorraine, and our days were filled with introductory trainings given by the Uniterra-CECI country team. They were very welcoming and enthusiastic that we had chosen to work in Haiti. In the beginning, there were multiple orientations given that included an introduction of the organization, followed by Uniterra’s overall mandate and then an introduction to Haiti. I must admit, the first week was overwhelming, arriving in a new country and trying to absorb cultural differences, while registering new information, there were plenty things being processed. Then we flew out to the northern department of Haiti, called Cap-Haitian, where we would meet our field team. This was another big warm welcome and a fast-paced transition. It was great to get another perspective on Haiti, going from the capital to a smaller city that was full of color, historical monuments and beautiful landscapes. This was where we would be staying for the next three months.

I decided to do my internship in French, because all throughout my education I did it in French immersion schools and continued my degree in French at the University of Ottawa. I wanted to further apply my oral and written skills by completely immersing myself in a French speaking country, who also have Creole as an official language. Seeing that I would be doing my internship in French, I was excited to challenge myself and work for three months in my second language. Like any new beginnings, it was an adjustment getting used to the continuity of French, it varied because usually in school, you have various lectures in French, you interact with a couple of friends in French, but eventually you finish off using English as the dominant language.

However, in Haiti, it was the complete opposite, I had to make an immediate adjustment in order to keep up. There was also Creole being spoken, and sometimes it would be hard to communicate with others. Despite that, with time you start to realize that the majority of Creole words are similar to French words, and with time, I have gotten used to the language and have even learnt some common phrases. In the field, it has been great working with the Canadian NGO, Uniterra-CECI and the local NGO, OGDNH (organization de gestation touristique du Nord-Haiti), they have given me plenty of resources that would be useful, and have helped me adjust to speaking French. They have been a big aid in my mandate by providing good local resources and bridging the language barrier between French and Creole, when working with the association of young artisans of Milot. My country team from Uniterra-CECI, have also been a big resource in terms of answering questions about my mandate, or any other concerns I may have, and they have also helped me manage my way through certain words that I might not understand in Creole and French.

So far, I have learnt how to navigate on my own through public transportation from city to city, I have learnt to better communicate with my co-workers, the local organization and locals in the community. I am currently writing a proposal for the association of the young artisans of Milot, in order to acquire finance for their project they have envisioned. Overall, it has been a big learning curve, by adjusting and working full-time it can become overwhelming and sometimes isolating, it has been important for me and for others who decide to do an internship, to not be afraid to feel this way, but to acknowledge it and to find ways that bring you comfort and learning how to adapt in new situations. Utilize the country team, they understand your position and are there to help.

For me, it has been important to really leave myself some down time at the end of the day, since speaking French all day takes up my energy, since processing it and then producing documents can be lengthy, especially when trying not to make grammatical errors. But it’s also important to enjoy spending time with co-workers, either after work to grab a drink or on the weekends, they have been my doorway into how to do certain things in the city and how to make it worthwhile. It’s also been great to have weekends off, because it gives me the opportunity to take trips to peaceful sites, visit historical monuments, hang out at local restaurants, visit the beaches etc. It allows me to live within the Haitian culture, by talking to locals, trying new foods, getting acquainted with the norms of the city, it is my way in trying to fully adjust within my new environment. All to say that with this learning curve, I hope to continue growing within my mandate here in Haiti.

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