Having a partner-in-crime
When we’ve talked to previous Fischer Fellows, many of them mentioned, “You guys are really lucky you’ll have each other through this experience.” I always nodded my head and agreed, because I did agree, but I don’t think I understood back then how important it would be.
From the beginning, Nick and I have been in it together. Even when we explored volunteering abroad prior to us both working at West Monroe, we were always going to do it together. We researched, prepared, and presented as a team. Even in the beginning stages, it was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of or brainstorm thoughts with. And the logistics of packing up our lives into boxes for six months, I can’t imagine doing all the preparations by myself. I gained a lot more respect for all of the Fellows who jumped into this crazy but rewarding experience alone.
But all of that seems like a cake walk until you arrive in the country and to the non-profit that you’re going to be working with. The first challenge is the language. Chileans don’t speak Spanish, they speak Chilean Spanish. And whatever word you learned for “avocado” or “strawberry” or “traffic” is completely different here. Having two people to comprehend what the mechanic, or waiter, or grocery clerk said has already been really helpful. Sometimes, you just have bad Spanish days. And some days you have good ones. But having someone there to navigate the language (and hopefully not have a bad day the same day as you) has proved to be invaluable.
So once you get past that, it’s the idea that you’ve plucked yourself from everything you know and what you’re comfortable with and placed yourself in a new, strange bubble with all new “coworkers”. It’s like the first day of work all over again, trying to navigate how an organization works and what processes you need to follow. It was extremely helpful having someone there to help determine “okay, so what do we need to do now?” Nick experiences this every time he starts a new project, through the nature of his role. So in those first few weeks, I was able to take a backseat role and take in the information while Nick covered all the bases with questions and information gathering.
Once we were able to get into the weeds of our work, there were a few other ways that having someone there was valuable. First, you have someone there to hold you accountable. We tell each other what we’re hoping to accomplish a certain week and can make sure we both reach our goals. Not only that, but we can give each other thoughtful feedback on the projects we’ve been working on. I am always asking Nick for thoughts on the videos I’m creating, or the product tag design, and he has a different point-of-view and can point out things I haven’t thought about. Likewise, I can give him some thoughts or help brainstorm ideas for how to improve the store experience, review emails for potential funds, etc. Sometimes we’re able to give each other advice on how to handle situations with people at Chol Chol; like how we should communicate something to Susana or questions we should ask Viviana or Yasmin.
Beyond working at Chol Chol, in every day Chilean life, it’s helpful to have someone to speak English to. As simple as that may be, constantly using your brain to translate from Spanish to English, comprehend, then translate from English to Spanish, and speak it back can be exhausting. If that was constant thing, I’d probably be a lot less productive in the evenings and need some time to rest the ol’ noggin.
But what is a benefit could also be seen as a negative. If we didn’t have the crutch of speaking English to each other, our Spanish would probably be much further along. But we still have three months to make some progress. 🙂
Something that also might be seen as a negative is the social element. If I were doing this alone, I’d probably be a bit more willing to try to make friends or put myself in situations where I could meet more people and have opportunities to experience truly Chilean things. But something to also consider is that I’m 32 and a bit of an introvert, so I might be a bit lofty in the idea of me truly immersing myself in the culture. Nick, being a true extrovert, would probably already have his network of friends by now, haha.
However, I don’t think that has held us back from experiencing Chile. We’ve definitely done our fair share of exploring and experiencing Chilean things together. We’ve been together for over 6 years, so it’s hard to think about doing any of this without him. Nick has always been the one to say “let’s do it!” when many would say “I’ll pass”, and I think that’s opened a lot of doors for us here to get to do some incredible things. Going through those experiences together almost helps validate them, and say, “Wow, how cool is this?!”
Would I be more integrated and closer with the other members of Chol Chol? Maybe. I get that having two people to try to include (that speak very little Spanish) may be harder than just one. Would I be trying to have more conversations about what they like to do, what kind of music they like? Sure. And that’s going to be a focus for me going into the second half of the Fellowship.
There’s also the obvious benefits, like safety. Having someone there to navigate tough situations or spend the night in airports is a definite plus. And I know it puts both our families at ease knowing we have each other here.
At the end of the day, I hope more Fischer Fellows have the opportunity to apply with one or more other people. Whether they are team members, a West Monroemance, or just friends through WMP, the effectiveness for the organization is exponential. I don’t think I could have been half as effective as I am here without having someone to help drive our goals for the Foundation and hold each other accountable. It’s a mutually beneficial situation, and I’m glad to be experiencing it!