Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Site Selection - It is getting Real!!!

The site selection process is a significant Peace Corps “ceremony”, and I believe it is done the same way in every country where the Peace Corps is located. The staff will make up an outline of the country. This is generally done on a Gym floor. For our selection, it was done outside in a large parking area. Then the staff will put pieces of paper in the appropriate location with the names of the town - - not the names of the volunteers going there. With 62 of us, we needed a large place draw the map, and then fit all of us on it.

Individual names are called out, and staff members give you a rose, and lead you to the paper with your town on it. You then stay on that spot until all of the other volunteers have been lead to their towns. The ceremony and the process have some important implications.

You have to remember that none of us have cars. No volunteers anywhere in the world have cars – or can drive cars. You will rely on public transportation. In most countries this is much better than in the USA, but it is still slow. Standing on your town card in it’s approximate geographical location within the “Bulgarian map” is important. You want to know who is located in the same region as you. Those volunteers will be the ones that you can easily reach on public transportation. So… you want to know who they are, and start working on how you can get to them. You also want to know where your PST training site mates are, and how long it will take to reach them. Since it can take one day to travel from one side of Bulgaria to the other – especially if you are going to or coming from a very remote location, you may not be able to see some of the friends you have made during PST. It can also cost 20% of your monthly allowance to do a round trip across the country. The ability to get to other volunteers can become important – especially around holidays.

So - - That is the ceremony process. However, there is an enormous amount of work that happens long before the actual ceremony. That is where the Peace Corps staff comes into the picture. OK - I have mentioned the Bulgarian Peace Corps Staff in earlier blogs, but I think I need to say a lot more here. This group of approximately 20 people is amazing. They are smart, considerate, caring, professional and wonderful people. Let me give you a couple of examples.

We arrived in Bulgaria May 20th. We had been traveling all night, and most of the day.
A few of the 62 new trainees had never been out of the country. We were all tired, anxious, and a little stressed. As our feet hit Bulgarian soil, our first challenge was getting through customs. Many customs locations are large, confusing, chaotic places with long lines, multiple signs, etc. And the language is different. As we entered the large area, there was this women at the door to greet us, and tell us what line to go through, and what to do after that. And she was saying it in ENGLISH. I remember thinking “Wow, this is helpful!”. I was heading for the correct customs line when it dawned on me that “this women” was the Bulgarian Peace Corps Director – our new Boss! She was on the other side of the customs “booths”. She was the first person we saw from Country Peace Corps. She was there to greet us practically when our feet touched Bulgarian soil, and she was helping. I know the symbolism of the PC staff being there to help did not hit me then (I was tired), but it has since. Because the entire Bulgarian Peace Corps staff is the same way.

Yes – there are peace corps rules that have to be explained, and followed. Yes they sometimes seem to be overly concerned about our safety (but maybe they should). But I have still been very impressed. These 20 staff people have to choose the sites for all 62 of us. This decision will impact every aspect of our lives for the next two years. And they have 4 weeks to learn as much about all of us as possible in order to try to make the best possible decision. And the staff works hard at this. Lynn and I feel like most of the staff knows us VERY well. And that includes everyone from the country director down to our language trainer. I have a feeling like they are checking on us (or maybe ranking us like they do at West Point) almost every day. I don’t mean this negatively. Site selection is THE CRITICAL first decision. If there is not a good match, then the volunteer’s effectiveness may be hampered. Or worse – the volunteer may terminate early (ET) and return to the states. And if this happens, then all of the year-long preparation to get good sites with Bulgaria will have been wasted. So it is important for the volunteers, and for the staff.

The site selection decision was made on June 12. That meeting is with most of the staff, and I believe everyone can have some input on each of the volunteer’s site selection. I have assumed that it is very similar to the annual performance reviews that are done in corporate America. But there are some key differences. At work, management is just trying to rank employees and decide if they are going to get a 2%, 2.5% or 3% raise. Maybe there is some discussion about possible promotions for a few folks. Here in Bulgaria, the PC staff is trying to put a large matrix of critical items together to make a life-changing decision. They have selected “counterparts” (the partners we will work with for the next two years), sorted through the requests from towns in Bulgaria asking for help, worked hard to get to know all the volunteers, and now need to make the decisions.

With all my six sigma background, I have imagined massive spread sheets, projected on the walls with all of the critical factors ranked and sorted. I’m sure it is just a matter of ranking items, and the answer will just “spit” out the end of the excel file. -JUST KIDDING- – In Fact I am SURE that is probably NOT the way Peace Corps does it. Maybe some day I will find out just how one of these site selection meetings are run.

In the meantime, all I know is where Lynn and I are going are going one of the largest cities in Bulgaria (but I’m not sure if I can tell you exactly where in this blog – yet). Much more about all that, and our site visit in future blog entries.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the updates Lynn and Mike! I'm living vicariously through you as I plug away in my office in front of my computer. The views looked great, and the home-grown produce sounded yummy! Mike, I was laughing at your curiousity re: the placing process, it reflects your recent time in corporate America!

Anonymous said...

FYI, meant to sign off on the the last post as Marc. Sorry about that :-)

Anonymous said...

The pictures and updates are great. Keeping in touch is important. Glad to talk to Mike today. The scenery does look gorgeous. Glad that the grueling schedule has not impacted your joy at being in Bulgaria and in the PC. Thinking of you. Paula & Ken

Anonymous said...

We continue to read with great interest! We just love all of the pictures - it makes it real for us. It sounds like you are both looking forward to your assignment location - in the city!
Estelle & Bill

Deena said...

Hello Mike and Lynn! It's been great to read your blog... brings back some very fond memories of my PC BG days. Can't wait to hear where you are going! Plovdiv? Varna? Burgas? Russe? It sounds like you are having a fabulous time. Makes me think about planning a trip back to visit. Summer and autumn in Bulgaria are a wonderful time... hope you continue to enjoy it! Please send my greetings to Zhana Zagorova if you see her.