My 2021-2022 Individualized Development Plan (IDP): Mid-term Update

Quartier France, Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire

There were a lot of reasons why I didn’t want to start a blog, and a lot of those reasons had to do with fear. I was afraid that my ideas or experiences would be attacked. I was afraid of putting in all of the work for very little in return. I was afraid that my content would offer zero value to the world. Whatever it was, I always found an excuse to not start sharing what I was thinking and feeling.

But over time, I realized that blogging doesn’t have to be any of that. It doesn’t have to be perfect or controversial or inspirational. It could just be a reflection of where I’m at now— a form of documenting, reflecting, and continuous learning.

Last semester, a couple of friends and I decided to start a year-long journey known as an Individualized Development Plan (IDP). If you haven’t read about it yet, I posted five goals on this blog of what I want to accomplish this year. Whether or not somebody else has read them, I’ve found that putting these goals out into the digital world has given me a sense of accountability and drive.

I’m currently about six months into my nine-month teaching fellowship year here in Côte d’Ivoire. Below is a quick update on how I’ve been doing with each goal (teaching/facilitation, French, African music, health/wellness, digital storytelling), as well as a few reflections on how I can improve my goal-setting for the future. 

Quick Update on my 5 Goals

I’ll admit this section is written more for myself than it is for readers— so for those who are more interested in the takeaways, you might want to skip ahead to the last section! Otherwise, have fun looking over these objectives and evaluations.

I. Teaching and facilitation

My Objectives:

  1. Understand teaching in its historical and cultural contexts (Ivorian, French, and U.S. American systems)
  2. Design and implement adaptable and effective lesson plans for long-term use
  3. Learn to use intercultural communication skills effectively within the classroom and workplace

What I’ve accomplished so far:

  • I’ve gained intellectual knowledge about how the French/Ivorian school system works.
  • I’ve gained experiential knowledge in Ivorian classrooms, from tailoring lesson plans according to current needs to experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.

What I want to change:

  • I’d like to create a teaching portfolio by the end of the semester that I can present/use as I enter into my next year of teaching. This involves a lot of thinking back on what I’ve done this year!
  • I plan on creating more presentations and material for university-level students, since this is the population I’ll be working with next year.

II. French + Local Language

My Objectives:

  1. Reach advanced/superior level (ACTFL) in French (prioritizing speaking and listening, then reading and writing)
  2. Reach basic to conversational level in Jula and/or Baoulé

What I’ve accomplished so far:

  • My French has definitely improved, but I think I’ve only reached Advanced Low or Mid (with reading/speaking on the higher side and listening/writing on the lower). Hard to say without a professional evaluation.
  • I can get around with Jula on basic words and phrases. As I realize I probably won’t need this language for the future (based on where I live currently and where I’ll move to next), I may end up letting go of this language.

What I want to change:

  • J’en ai marre. At this point, I’ve kinda gotten sick of French. I’ve tried a bunch of things (online classes, extensive reading, daily news listening, etc.), but I’ve lost some of my motivation. But I recognize this is part of the process, and I want to at least make a comeback with consistency.
  • I want to focus more on listening and interaction through real-life situations. Sometimes I find real-life situations among native speakers overwhelming, so I’ve managed to find a few conversation partners to practice with at the local university.

III. African Music

My Objectives:

  1. Develop a contextual understanding of West African musical cultures
  2. Develop foundational proficiency in one or more West African instruments (kora, djembe, or balafon)

What I’ve accomplished so far:

  • Unfortunately, nothing much. In light of my other goals, I haven’t had the time/resources to make this one work. It’s been difficult to find a teacher near me, and I’ve only done a few readings this whole year on the ethnomusicology of the continent.

What I want to change:

  • This goal is a big question mark. I’m not going to get too stressed out about this goal, but I’ll do what I can do enjoy and make sense of the soundscape while I’m here. Perhaps I’ll have another opportunity next year when I’m in Benin?

IV. Health and Wellness

My Objectives:

  1. Understand health and wellness as it relates to me as a human in this world.
  2. Develop and thrive on a holistically healthy lifestyle and routine that works for me.

What I’ve accomplished so far:

  • Like my music goal, this goal has also been peripheral. I will say that a lot of maintaining one’s physical, mental, and emotional health while abroad can be tricky, and I’m constantly seeing the influence these different dimensions have on my daily performance. Health should be a priority, not a side goal.
  • I’ve done small things, like making sure I leave my house every day to cooking at home more. It’s amazing how much a small change can really improve your mood and abilities.

What I want to change:

  • If there’s one thing I would change, I’d like to focus more on my second objective: establishing routines. I’ve succeeded in making some weekly routines for myself in Yamoussoukro, and I wonder which habits can and should be transferred to my next location abroad.

V. Digital Storytelling

My Objectives:

  1. Master the major website and content publishing tools to maintain a multimedia blog and produce a blog.
  2. Improve my writing and storytelling abilities.

What I’ve accomplished so far:

  • First off— I finally launched this thing! Getting started has been the first step in all of this.
  • On a side note, I took a short online course on Digital Storytelling. It focused mostly on video creation, but the creative tools we discussed in the process have been good food for thought.

What I want to change:

  • I want to invest more time towards growing this blog. Why? This blog can be whatever I want it to be. It represents a creative space, an opportunity for deep reflection, a public portfolio of my (ever-developing) writing, and a potential stream of passive income.

Some Mid-term Reflections on the IDP Process

(you overachiever LOL)

Takeaway #1: Prioritizing everything means prioritizing nothing

Like I’ve always done, I expected a lot of myself from the start, thinking I could squeeze every hour of the day to justify my existence in a foreign country. One of my friend mentioned that starting with five IDP goals is like trying to do five master’s degrees in one year. With the amount of detail I put into my objectives, it’s been hard for me to manage each one. Some goals I’ve taken to the moon and back, while others have just trailed along as unfinished checkboxes in my planner.

But it’s only now, after 6 months of living in-country, that I’m finally feeling like I’ve settled down in this place. I needed these six months to adjust to my new environment to actually feel confident in what I was doing here. Field anthropologists spend years and years living and building bonds with one single community; what made me think that one year was long enough to develop a deeper knowledge of local culture and society?

I think for the remainder of the year, I’d like to press more into 3 of 5 goals, which would include teaching, French, and this blog. I’ll still keep the other two, but they might not be as structured. And perhaps they don’t need to after all. Not everything in life needs to have a structure.

(welp… XD)

Takeaway #2: (Consistent) Reflection is Key

Reflection is important. So important. People often say that hands-on skills— such as teaching, playing an instrument, or learning a language— are improved by doing. But you can do and do and do and still not get results. The real learning comes before, during, and after the doing. You’ve got to reflect on how you do things and even why you do them.

About a month ago, I received a message from the State Department that I needed to fill out a mid-term report. Part of me dismissed this message as bureaucratic busywork, but I also realized how much of an opportunity this was for me. Some of the questions, like “Do you feel that you are making an impact in your placement? Why or why not?” have challenged me to think deeply about my experience abroad.

The more I reflect by myself, on the blog, and with others, I come closer to understanding myself and my relationship to the world. If anything, reflection is a way of moving forward, even if it sometimes seems difficult.

Takeaway #3: Not everything can/should be measured, and that’s okay.

I often wonder whether why the obsession to see the ”hard data” of numbers and figures is so ingrained in the West. For me, I think part of my slight fixation over measuring things is my fear of wasting time (which you could argue is also part of my cultural upbringing). What will I say to myself when I come home and I haven’t made any “quantifiable” accomplishment to proved that my time abroad was worth it?

The truth is that I don’t need a pre-and -post Likert scale survey to tell me that I’ve changed. It’s obvious. I know— both intuitively and experientially— that I’ve grown as a person while living abroad. I’ve started to become more comfortable with making mistakes. I’ve got a thicker skin, and I know how to be more assertive in situations that demand it. I’ve learned to not take myself, and life, too seriously. Heck, I even launched this blog!

When I look at my IDP, it’s an exciting and pragmatic tool, but it probably shouldn’t dictate and quantify my every waking moment. Because, I suppose, the beauty of life is that the most real, life-changing experiences are often those which cannot be measured at all.

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