Orientation is going really well. I'm not typically a "get-to-know-you games" kind of girl, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. I've already met some really incredible people, both SALTers and IVEPers. Mennonite Central Committee holds a joint orientation for the SALT (Serving and Learning Together) program and IVEP (International Volunteer Exchange Program). Basically, SALTers are Americans or Canadians going to other countries, and IVEPers are coming from other countries to volunteer in either the US or Canada. Each SALTer shares a room with an IVEPer from the region of the world where they will be going. Its a great chance to get the "inside scoop" on where you'll be living, have someone to answer questions about the area, and, for many, get a head-start on learning the language. Because the Middle Eastern program and the Eastern European program are both so much smaller than the African, Asian, and South American programs, they are combined into one region. I have a wonderful roommate from the Ukraine who will be spending the year in Ohio. We have a lot in common, and we've already become great friends.
As you'd expect, spending the week with 100 people from about 40 different countries has been a little overwhelming, but it has also been a really incredible experience. The sheer number of languages spoken and cultures represented here has been really amazing to see. Everyone is in the same boat right now; we're all away from our family and friends, and we're all getting ready to begin our year-long adventure. One of the staff members pointed out that there will be few times in our lives when we'll sit in a room with 100 people and have so much in common with every single one of them.
The different orientation sessions have been very helpful; they cover everything from living with a host family and how to adjust to a new culture, to how to set goals for your time there and the history and mission of MCC. The director, Eva, leads most of the sessions, and she sure doesn't sugar-coat anything. She spends time addressing worst-case scenarios, which is nerve-wracking but helpful. She has been the director for 11 years, and definitely understands the process of this SALT year, so she can speak to things like culture shock and give us an idea of what we'll be dealing with. Some of her most helpful advice has been on lowering our expectations. She keeps encouraging us to set reasonable goals for ourselves, and to realize that we won't change the world in a year. Overall, I feel like I am much better prepared now than I was 4 days ago.
One of the best parts of orientation so far has been meeting the other people going to the Middle East. There are four of us: two to Palestine, one to Jordan, and one to Egypt. We all seem to be very different, but I think that we'll really enjoy our time together. Orientation goes until Thursday, and then we fly to Jordan for language training! Next up: Orientation, part 2!