Tag: comfort zone

I had the privilege of spending these past two weeks in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, assisting at a conference that endeavored to apply research to education. The Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences brought together not only recognized authorities from around the world, but also an international group of PhD candidates and new professors. They gathered in the small town of San Pedro (population: approximately 5,000) in the middle of the Atacama Desert.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama is surrounded by miles and miles of desert.

There’s something about being in the middle of nowhere that amplifies similarities and fosters connections. We were all affected by dry skin and an unreliable Internet connection, awed by the expansiveness of the desert and the actual number of potentially visible stars in the night sky (San Pedro is one of the best places in the world to stargaze), and afflicted by the earthquake in Japan. For the purposes of the conference, the aura of fellowship encouraged thoughtful discussion about applying the learning and intellectual sharing to the real world. The atmosphere generated ideas, cultivated future research collaborations and motivated each participant to pass on new knowledge to their respective areas.

It was a beautiful example of how the strength of similarities could overcome differences and the beauty lies in getting past stereotypes to experience a true willingness to learn from and through others. There was less identification with divisive labels, such as Costa Rican versus Uruguayan, student versus faculty and scientist versus educator. Instead, the conversation shifted from a comparison about what each person could or couldn’t do to a sense of teamwork with a focus on how people could work together to achieve more than one could on his or her own. We became humbled learners who recognized the essential humanity that bonds us together as part of the same global community.

Achieving openness can be facilitated by a purpose, such as the aim of the LA School, but I believe that this phenomenon can actually happen anywhere. It just requires that you step outside of your comfort zone, outside of the categories that your mind has already formed. The surprises you’ll find can diminish fears, break barriers and, most importantly, construct a sense of connectedness that has the power to lead to positive changes.

Have you been surprised by similarities you share with another? How have you seen or experienced the power of connectedness?

P.S. I made it back home to Huancayo safely and am slowly settling back into the groove of things. Thanks for your patience!

Parenting 101

Recently, parents have confided in Sara and I, asking for our advice on parenting, which felt ridiculous as a 23-year-old who neither has the appropriate experience, nor thinks about the subject often (if at all), nor has formally learned about parenting.

Think on these situations. Imagine what I may have been thinking when asked. Imagine the general sentiment here in Peru – an infinite amount of trust in whoever is introduced as a “specialist” and the possible lack of open conversation or education on the subject of parenting.

  1. Last week my nephew hit my son. Since then my son has been reacting to all new people he meets by hitting them. How do I erase information that he’s already learned from imitating others?
  2. My wife gave my son a bag of chocolates the other day and he started eating the whole bag even though it should have been shared with everyone in the family. So my wife took the chocolates away from him – then, of course, my son started crying. It hurt so bad as a parent to see him cry so I gave the chocolates back to him. Who was right, my wife or me?
  3. What is the best music to let my 2-year-old son listen to? I heard classical music was good for neonatals, but how about young children? The only problem is, my son won’t put up with classical music. He’ll only listen to reggaeton because that’s the type of music that his father loves.
  4. What do you think about those Baby Einstein videos? I heard that they really help to make your child smarter.
  5. My little sister always wants to rush to eat during mealtimes even though we try to explain to her that the potato is still steaming hot, for example. My mom always tells us to rush and cool down the potatoes so she can eat, but I say that we should let her learn for herself (i.e. let her touch the hot potato) or just keep the potato away even though she continues to cry. Who’s right?
  6. My baby sister always enters my room and starts rummaging through and destroying all my make-up. How do I teach her what things she shouldn’t do? How do I break her bad habits?

Me: How should I know?! I’m just a kid! Sheesh!

Wisdom

The first phase of the project has finally come to an end. We have officially conducted sixty parent questionnaires in sixty homes to assess the general development of sixty babies. As we take our first peeks at the data we’ve collected and as we clarify and refine the approach for the second stage of the project (much to the surprise, confusion, and sometimes frustration of Maria and I), I have had more than a couple moments of the “What am I doing here?” sentiment.

There is first the “What am I doing here? I’m not right for this job. You have the wrong impression of me. Everyone has been introducing me as a ‘specialist,’ but that doesn’t mean my textbook knowledge is more valuable than your empirical experience. How can I give you advice on parenting? I’m not even a mother yet. I don’t think that I know enough to teach you anything new or to answer all of your questions properly. In fact, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing at all.”

Then there’s the “What am I doing here? I’m now realizing how massive this project is. How can we interpret the data properly? There is so much more that I need to know. Why do the mothers here behave the way they do? How much of this is attributable to culture? How much of the culture do I have yet to understand? How can I possibly contribute to this project if I don’t understand the people I’m studying? I should have locked myself in my room, reading about Peru, when I had the chance to in Nova Scotia. I should have at least travelled to Latin America before. I should have…”

Of the six different areas of development we evaluated, the most staggering outcome of the infant assessments was a clear deficit in infants’ social-emotional development. This area of development refers to their ability to manage or regulate their emotional and social behaviour in a way that society considers appropriate and acceptable. And this is where it gets tricky – what is “appropriate” and “acceptable” in this context and who decides?

Some examples of questions I had a difficult time consolidating:

  1. One of the questions on the social-emotional questionnaire asks something along the lines of: “Can your baby calm him/herself within a certain period of time if you leave his/her side?” We found that a decent chunk of mothers responded no to this question, but we also noticed that many mothers didn’t seem to be worried that their baby could not “regulate his/her emotions” as we would say in child-development-speak. “No, of course my baby can’t be without me,” was a classic answer. At the same time, over 90% of the mothers were amas de casa (housewives) who spend almost 100% of their time with their babies. Is it so surprising that their babies are not accustomed to being alone?
  2. Another question asks if the baby ever puts a banana to his ear, pretending it’s a telephone, or puts some other object on top of his head, pretending it’s a hat. I clearly remember one mother’s answer – in a tone suggesting that she was a little offended – which, to me, explains a common attitude towards pretending/imagination here, “If my baby knows it’s a banana, why would he use it as a telephone?” This strikes my “chicken and egg” curiosity – is this attitude a result of the living situation or does the lack of pretend play (which links to creativity) speak to the way people live here?
  3. During some of the interviews, Maria and I would sometimes notice violence being encouraged. “Go hit the pig to scare it out of the house.” “Throw something at the dog so it’ll stop eating out of the garden.” This had implications for one of the social-emotional questions that asks if the infant or child is ever violent towards other children or animals. But being commanded to be violent towards animals in this way doesn’t necessarily imply an inherent violent nature, neither at this age nor in the future.

The question, then, is whether we can make solid conclusions about the infants’ social-emotional development if it may be considered acceptable and appropriate, at least in some of the towns we visited, for babies to be unable to regulate their emotions without their mothers, for babies to not engage in pretend play, and for babies to show occasional violence towards animals.

Part of me feels a little disillusioned – I knew I couldn’t come here and be a hero, but I’m now recognizing a small part of me that wanted to save the world. There is the temptation to say, “This is how it works where I come from. You’re doing it all wrong. You should do it this way,” and to be harshly honest, I have met my share of development specialists who harbour this attitude. For this reason alone, I’ve found that it’s so important for me to say “I don’t know” and to not be afraid of admitting it. I’m not sure what’s best for you. How can I tell you that the North American theories of parenting are best, let alone that they apply in this context? I can’t make the conclusion that you don’t love your child because you don’t spend a lot of time with him/her – your priorities are drastically different and I respect that needing to survive can be more important than finding time to play with your child.

So, I have come full circle back to the approach I knew I should have had from the beginning – ultimately, this is about sharing. It’s about taking advantage of what little time we do have here to exchange preoccupations, thoughts, and ideas. I learn from you as much as you learn from me. I dispel some of your unawareness of the importance of play, for example, and you teach me the importance of simplicity and working hard. Your knowledge is just as valuable as mine if not more valuable. I am honoured to absorb your wisdom.

Insights

Ohmigoodness! Thank you so very much for posting comments, guys! It totally makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (i.e. I really feel the support).

Today we began a two-day workshop with a facilitator from the Canadian government’s Centre for Intercultural Learning (CIL). All internships funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) have this two-day preparatory workshop, but most only have these two days before being sent off to their host countries so I’m glad we have an entire month to get in the groove. I’m so happy to have these opportunities to discuss cross-cultural issues, especially because I feel a little bit like the underdog without a background in international development. It’s especially exciting to engage in discussions with the other interns because they’re so well-traveled, well-read, and have well-developed opinions but are still very open-minded.

We played a card game in the beginning that really initiated a lot of discussion. First, we sat in three groups and each group got a set of instructions to the card game – unbeknownst to us, each of three groups received a different set of instructions. During the game, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other and the trouble started when we had to rotate players. Without communication, the “new” member of each group had to figure out that there were different rules at their new table. It was supposed to be a microcosm of dealing with intercultural issues and it was interesting to see the different approaches people had. Some were laid back and just went with the flow even though they were confused that the rules were suddenly different and some tried to implement the rules of their original table even though everyone else at the new table were playing by a different set of rules.

I remember that at my table, one of the girls was trying to show us her way of playing the game even though the rest of the members of the table were playing by a different set of rules. I had the urge to take over and explicitly show her the rules of the table, but another guy at the table took a different approach before I could act. He has a really laid back personality and compromised by splitting up his “winning” cards between himself and the other girl to appease her. It was such a simple act that I hadn’t even thought of. I guess, sometimes, the best thing to do is to take it easy. There isn’t only one right way to do things and we certainly can’t be going to Peru with even the slightest attitude of superiority, assuming that our methods are somehow better than their existing way of living. No matter how many times I am reminded of this, I seem to continually catch myself in moments when I am subconsciously trying to enforce my beliefs, opinions, or ways of behaving. It helps that I am continually humbled by the other interns in this group.

I was talking to my sister yesterday night and realized that the tension and anxiety I’ve been feeling (and probably the reason that I’ve been having a hard time sleeping) is because this whole experience is really outside my comfort zone. Engaging in discussion on issues I’m really not familiar with, trying to delve deep into my limited life experience to produce relevant and insightful comments (this rarely happens). Being a “group member” almost 24/7 as we are always in a group during class, meals, and all the activities the interns organize afterwards whether they’re playing soccer, going for walks, chatting in the common room, or having Spanish conversation sessions.

But she also helped me realize that “the only person being hard on me is me.” All of the interns are inclusive, supportive, encouraging, understanding, and just downright nice. I guess I will only grow and change by stepping outside of my comfort zone in these ways.

It is a challenge every day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t be able to wake up every day and face that challenge. I always find running to be a good microcosm of life for me. Whenever I head out for a run in the morning, there are so many excuses running through my head, so many reasons I could conjure up to justify going back inside (it’s raining, there’s a stone in my shoe, a blister’s developing, I already ran yesterday). And while I’m running, I’m fighting the whole way to not stop before the length of time that I’ve set for myself. And the majority of the time, I get through it, and sometimes I’m even able to push myself further and run faster for a couple intervals. It seems that I have to have more faith in myself when it comes to daily life as well.

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