Traveling: Social Worker
For only 2013, the 34-year-old Frank Con, Social Development Specialist from Vancouver, managed to visit 11 different countries, and in total on his account more than 60. Frank speaks five languages, teaches at Columbia University, acts as a social development consultant for non-governmental organizations and in parallel manages its own organization Global Potential, leading leadership training programs for young people from low-income families. In his interview, Frank told how he simultaneously lives into several countries, knows the world and helps people.
– How did you start to travel?
– My first real journey was a trip to Copenhagen. I’ve never been anywhere before, and it seemed to me an excellent idea. I met a bunch of new people from all over the world and realized that I could travel. Then I was more interested in a cheerful life, complete adventures, and to a much lesser extent – the problems of social inequality. I grew up in a fairly rich country, in Canada, and then traveled by Europe. And of course, I have never been in developing poor countries. And so I got a volunteer and brought a group of Canadian and Australian students to Central America. During the trip, I realized that in the world there are deep systemic problems of inequality and poverty. But most importantly, I realized that my personally my example is an example of a minority that is not suitable for the true situation of things.
I began to realize the problem of social inequality in America and the difficulties with which you have to deal with representatives of different nationalities. During his studies in the magistracy, I worked on the exchange in Western China and in Peru, and after the issue moved to live and work in India. And after almost ten years of international experience, I was ready to organize my own organization Global Potential.
– Tell me about Global Potential.
– It all started with a little office in my bedroom in Brooklyn. Now we have offices in New York, Boston and Paris, our programs operate in Haiti, in the Dominican Republic, Senegal and Nicaragua.
Global Potential is a youth leadership organization. We train young people from low-income families to study to cope with difficulties such as discrimination, poverty and social oppression. We teach them to become leaders, develop a circle of communication, give the opportunity to travel around the world. We send them to small villages in Central America, where they live and work with a local community.
Participants of our programs – Young people from Brooklyn, Bronx, suburbs of Boston and Paris. And the families with whom they live and help, are people from small villages. They help to build schools, develop curriculum for children, develop links with local culture. Our organization is not about rich West, helping the poor. It’s about two sides, both with their difficulties, mutually helping each other and support each other.
– How this experience helps the participants of your programs?
– We carefully track the result. Participants are better learn at school, respectively, the chances of entering the university and get a scholarship. They become more responsible in public life, produce a solid civil position, leadership qualities, self-confidence and their ambitions.
– How did you attract all these countries to work? I had to fly myself?
– When we just start working in the country, I fly there myself and establish relationships, getting familiar with families. Every time I attend from 20 to 50 different families. In general, I was more than 60 countries. I work with young people not only as part of my organization, but I also spend training for students and teachers in Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Thailand, China, Uzbekistan.
– How do you adapt to the change of mentalities?
– here again it is necessary to remember my specialty of a social worker. I have to listen everywhere, watch and learn. And this is exactly what I do: I listen, I study, I observe and develop my cross-cultural skills. In social work it is important to learn to recognize and understand the strengths of every person or group of people. And it often turns out to be the best way to find communication with a person. Instead of focusing on things like "Oh, you live in such a poor country, I’m so sorry for me," you need to look for strong and positive sides: "What are your beautiful trees, what you have beautiful music". Language also plays an important role. I speak five languages -angali, Spanish, French, Chinese and Creole. And it helps a lot in working with people of different cultures.
– where you usually stop?
– I always live in families, very rarely stay in hotels. In every village, in which I am going, people are always very happy to meet me. And sometimes not to offend anyone, have to stop immediately in several families in turn. In the same way, you can try the most delicious local food. I must, of course, are often laughing: they say, I have several families in every village.
Easy to be accepted as a guest and get unforgettable impressions. But I actually become a member of the family? I do not think. Although there are several families with whom I have already familiar for more than ten years and which I regularly visiting. For them, I am more family member and friend than just a guest. I am a very big guy, tall, shoulder. And of course, I am very different from others and it is easy to notice me in the crowd. For many families, this is a whole event when a big white man stays in their home.
– How to change your views on life, what skills you purchased?
– I learned a lot. Learned to catch shrimps sitting in a wooden canoe, learned to plant vegetables, beans, coffee – In general, my knowledge of agriculture is comparable now with the knowledge of the avid farmer. In Haiti, we built walls of stones to prevent erosion. I know now how to make different local species of alcohol – from sugar cane, from palm. The main thing that I learned is to find a way out of any situation, even when it seems that there is no way out. I trained myself always say "I can".
– What features of different cultures you can remember?
– What seems to me very different in different cultures – this is a understanding of personal space and physical contact. In most Latin American countries, touch is considered normal: in society it is customary to hug, kiss, sit very close to each other. In many areas of Asia, in the Middle East and Central Asia, the situation is absolutely opposite. We must always keep a certain distance. But it is interesting that physical contact between men is often widespread in these cultures. For example, in Korea or in African countries, men often hold hands, whereas in North America it has an absolutely different context. So, I’m used to staying hands with men, the often deeply surprising my friends in Canada.
– Tell some story from the trip.
– I know the two least desired professions in the world. I never tried them yourself, but often watched. Women’s profession in India – go for a cow and catch her feces before they fall to the ground. Feces are also considered holy and should not get dirty. Men’s profession on Haiti – after the cow was killed, a hole in the chest of an animal is done, a man leans his mouth to this hole and begins to exhale air. Women beat cow sticks, and he continues to inflate her for half an hour while the skin has not separated from the body.
– What are you seeing the pros and cons in your work?
– I have a very exciting job, and sometimes she is more reminding vacation. I like to be able to travel and know that in many points in the world you have friends and friends. This is a unique feeling – to understand that all people in the world are connected with each other. Of course, the main lack of my work is that it is low-paying. I work 80 hours a week, and I am a volunteer at full rate. But I also teach in several universities. I work at the Department of Social Practice, I teach social work, international social development and political economy problems. I love to teach and get for it good money. I advise several non-profit organizations, for me they also pay. But I can’t get any money for work in my own organization.
Minus is that my schedule is painted very tightly, and at the moment I can not afford to make a family. I understand that in the next few years I will have to change my lifestyle, because I really want children.
I want to travel with my family. I want my children to know several cultures. It is very important for their development. I would like to grow them in Canada, live for several years or at least months with them, for example, in Nicaragua. And then, effective work between countries is increasingly obtained using the Internet.