About a year ago, in February 2022, I spoke with the US embassy officer in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Can he explain it to me better?
- Yes, you read that right… you were six on the shortlist, two of you were selected, but you are on the alternate list.
- Alternate? What does that mean?
- If someone drops out, you could possibly replace them.
Could someone decide to pass up such an opportunity? No, I don’t think so; that would be quite silly…
Anyway, it’s not that bad. But Lord, please reimburse me, if not the time or energy, at least the money I invested in all this! Because yes, applying to the Humphrey program does cost some money, with all those documents being translated by certified organizations. Some money could have been very useful !! For example, to buy a new television. The old one has given up the ghost! After this prayer, I resumed my life peacefully, but very happy to have at least tried.
A month and a half later. Missed calls from the US embassy.
A WhatsApp message. “Please, check your emails, and reply to us quickly.”
My emails. “You have been selected … you must be in the US on June 1 for the pre-academic program at the University of Kansas … do you agree to participate in the program? “
It’s less than two months away …
Answering no means continuing my quiet little life, you know, in the so comfortable comfort zone, and believe me, I liked this zone a lot. I’m used to it; I have my bearings there. But beyond that, answering no literally means giving up a unique experience that will probably never happen again.
Answering no would also have meant, and I didn’t know it until much later during the Global Leadership Forum in Washington DC, that I was giving up a chance to be part of the 156 best profiles among more than 5000 candidates… Yes, alternate or not, I was part of it; I didn’t realize it then.
But, answering yes, led to so many other questions … Will I have the time to organize everything personally and professionally? Everything does not depend on me … I am not the only one affected …
I said yes. Not that I was 100% convinced, but it gave me a few days to think about it and eventually change my mind. A “no” would have been definitive!
Finally, the yes remained yes! And it was almost a “Yes, I do”!
Was the journey from Abidjan to Lawrence, Kansas, and then Phoenix, Arizona, easy? Believe me, no! And why not? Because for many of my colleagues and me, becoming a Humphrey Fellow was not just about seizing an opportunity but also about saying yes to the related constraints.
For many of us, becoming a Humphrey Fellow has meant leaving behind our family while trying to keep a look and touch on significant events such as back-to-school, Christmas, and birthdays. Calls to the family become a full-fledged activity to be scheduled. We are taking into account the sometimes significant time differences. This is how some colleagues find themselves telling bedtime stories at 11 am or 12 pm Phoenix time!
For some, becoming a Humphrey Fellow meant giving up some of their social and professional assets. Sometimes just some benefits such as health insurance for family members, sometimes all or part of their salary, and sometimes, unfortunately, giving up their job completely. Many Humphrey Fellows have become excellent finance managers. Others are preparing themselves for a switch in their career.
Another aspect of this fellowship, and not the least, is the need to embrace another language completely. Writing a 500-word text in English once or twice a year with the help of translation software is relatively easy. But hearing English spoken all the time and everywhere, especially speaking a language you don’t know very well, can be very frustrating!
Becoming a Humphrey Fellow means accepting to become a learner again.
As a mid-career professional, the Humphrey Fellow is often used to being the person who gives instructions, and directions, the one you come to for the answer or the solution… so sometimes it is hard to admit that you don’t understand something or you messed up an assignment or your presentation. Learning to acknowledge that you were wrong and don’t have the solution or the answer can be difficult. This experience also taught us the power of recognizing your vulnerabilities, expressing them, and asking for help… it’s not always easy, but it’s so much more productive!
Finally, the Humphrey Fellowship is a unique experience to open up to others. Discovering cultures, characters, habits, and ways of expressing oneself can sometimes shock us in every sense of the word. It’s learning to deal with and to work with each one at his level so that this heterogeneous group can function. Every day, we try to bring out the best in ourselves and others. Sometimes it works; sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. The idea is to stay positive.
We are a few months away from the end of this program. Already! Time is going by so fast. The learning opportunities fostered by the program have given me professional skills, which I expected. The constraints of the program made me gain in character, which I did not particularly expect.
Only a few months left before we return home to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Professionally and personally, we will certainly no longer understand life in the same way.