Periodically, I like to post something for the ELF-wannabes. I thought about applying for this program for a number of years before I actually did, and, in that time, I scoured the internet for tales of ELFworld (otherwise known as the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Fellow Program), so I like to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for those that follow by leaving behind some information of the everyday experience when I have time. I don’t get much time.
I’m not sure what I expected the workload here to be like before I arrived. I think I’ve forgotten because the brain cells holding that memory are now swimming in the research, presentation materials, hands-on activity-planning swamp that is now my norm.
The work load, for me, at least, feels pretty heavy.
I’m a workaholic, in any case, but the stakes here seem particularly high, so the level of research and preparation that is going into every program I lead is significant.
Pair that with the fact that there are several stakeholders and a number of different audience types as well as diverse topics and you have an ELF working pretty much constantly. If one group isn’t scheduling something, another is.
This week I spent five or six 12+ hour days preparing for two very different but very high stakes workshops that I’ll need to travel next week to reach. In addition to that work, there were a number of long meetings at post to attend and, of course, whatever eating and cleaning I could work in at odd moments. If I’m sleeping at all, you can be sure my subconscious is planning the next hands-on activity behind my barely closed eyes.
I know the workload differs greatly for different posts and we are warned, “there are no official vacations,” “you have to learn to say no,” “we try to get as much work in ten months as we can,” “take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.”
For some reason all that didn’t really sink in before I was planning two or three full day training sessions a week, all on different topics, for different groups. I’d like to think that things will get a bit easier. As I get prepared on different topics and for different audiences, I’ll have more material ready to repurpose when needed. We’ll see. There are a number of cool projects on the horizon that I’m really excited about, so I have my doubts that things will slow down.
Suffice it to say, if you want to be an ELF, it’s an incredibly valuable professional experience, but it may turn out to be quite intense. I can’t offer any real advice as to how to prepare for that, because so much depends on learning about conditions on the ground. What can I say, then…? Hm…. Maybe just, “Good luck, and it’ll be worth it.”