When I was working as a Peace Corps language trainer, I remember in my first year with the volunteers, one of them was acting in a way that was not understandable: Lack of interest for the classes, lateness, loud laughing and isolation from others.
Since I had a background in psychology, I was interested in understanding why the reactions. It was obvious his behaviors would have negative effects on his language outcomes and I wanted to help him cope with the challenges he was going through. In the few discussions that I had with my trainee, I realized he was missing home…It is called “homesick syndrome”.
In my second year as a communications trainer, I noticed that many trainees had the same difficulties expressed in different ways: Not eating the country food, sleepless night and lack of interest in the training.
I truly understood what the trainees were going through when I got a job in Uganda as cross-cultural communications trainer. I manifested some of the symptoms I witnessed among the volunteers: Loneliness, tiredness, sleepless nights, loss of appetite. I was shocked to self-diagnose myself with a minor depression. I had to do something about it to achieve my professional goals!
According to the Mh-GAP, these are some characteristics of depression: No vision of the future, fatigue, lack of interest for practical activities, suicide thoughts, body pain, Isolation, loss of appetite and sleep.
Here are some strategies I used for personal cross-cultural management to overcome depression:
1. Focused: I asked myself this question several times: “Why are you in Uganda?” The answers were powerful and energized me to get out of the bed and go to work. I started a daily agenda with specifics goals and, it was nice to achieve something meaningful at the end of each day!
2. Identify what makes you have fun: I enjoy watching movies and listening to music and playing sports. These activities made me laugh, relax and I developed the love for practical activities.
3. Communicate with home friends: Good emotions are nurtured by communication with people you love or feel comfortable with. Keeping a good conversation with them made me feel like they were with me.
4. Start a blog and write your daily challenges and how you managed them: Therapeutic writing is the name given to a writing action in order to cure depression. I started a blog (seed4future.wordpress.com) not with a therapeutic purpose but later, I realized that writing helped me feel good and happy.
5. Make new friends: Whether In the compound or the community, I noticed I could build new relationships. I used the excuse of learning the local language to connect with new people.
I was happy to cope with the new environment after 6-9 months. I slept well, enjoyed the food or spent some days without missing home because I had a new home around me. Apart from my professional duties, I volunteered for disabled people to develop an integrated community project.
The major achievement during that period is the blog I started and which made me reach thousands of people worldwide including you reading this article.
I would like to know how you overcame depression out your comfort zone.
Herve Boris NGATE,Cross-Cultural Psychologist/Communications/Blogger