Ever since telling folks that I was heading to Africa for over a month for work, I’ve had lots of (the same) questions. So, in case you were also wondering some of these things …
Why are you doing this? Why not! Seriously, though, this is not something I decided on a whim. The application process is not the easiest or quickest. IBM opens applications to qualified employees in April each year. Your write a bunch of essays (it’s like applying for college all over again!). Selections are made by July for the next year’s class. Then you patiently wait for your assignment that could occur up to a year later. I first applied in April 2012 and got a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ note in July. When the application period opened again in April 2013, I had a lot of conversations with Dave on if I should apply again and the opportunity was just so incredible that I wanted to try again. Personally, I love to travel and this was a trip unlike any other. Professionally, it will afford me skills growth in the global market and the ability to learn about many other parts of IBM — always a good thing for a career. Altruistically, it lets me be part of a group to make an impact in a community.
But how can you leave for that long? The above mentioned husband makes that part much easier knowing he’s been supporting me 100% from the get-go. His typical response is “We’ll handle it” and I know he will. The kids are also curious and excited for me. Yes, I will miss them terribly and I’m sure there will be some rough patches, but it will be summer with lots of activities and we have wonderful support with family, friends and sitters. I’m hoping the experience sticks with them, too, that it’s important to give back and also important to do things that make you happy.
Did you get to chose South Africa? Nope. IBM sends teams to 30+ countries and there are a few hundred selected into the program each year. The dedicated CSC staff does their magic in creating teams that have the right blend of background, skills, and geographic location. You can list your geographic preference (Africa, Latin America, Asia or Eastern Europe) and timing restrictions. Since it would be much easier logistically for me to be away during the summer, I let them know I’d go anywhere if it was in June or July. I was thrilled to get the nod for South Africa. Other CSC teams on deployment right around my timing include Ghana, Vietnam, Argentina and Peru.
Will you be able to talk / text / post over there? I hope so! We have been told we will have Wifi access at our work environment, but we won’t know for sure until we get there. Assuming I can get connected, I plan to use all sorts of new apps (well, new to me anyways) to communicate back home. I have Facetime and Skype ready and am playing around with Viber and Whatsapp. My only request is to not call or text my cell as it will be really expensive! Download Viber and Whatsapp (both free apps) if you want to chat or text while I’m there.
Do you have to get a lot of shots? A few, but nothing too bad. For my time in Mafeking, I really only had to get Hep A (shot) and Typhoid (pill). Because of Dave and I’s post-assignment trip to Zambia and South Africa, I also had to get Yellow Fever (shot) and Malaria (pills).
What’s the weather like? What will you wear? It’s Winter in South Africa now with the mornings in the high 30’s / 40’s F and the afternoons warming up to the 60’s or low 70’s F. Much better than the crazy heat that most of us assume about Africa. We’ll be in a work environment where it’ll be a blend of business casual and formal business attire when presenting to the clients, so I’ll have to bring suits, dresses, etc, in addition to casual clothes. I’m not sure it will all fit — and I’m sure there will be a further post about cramming it all into one suitcase!
What will your day look like? During the work week, we will be heading to the ‘office’ at a local University. It will be much like a normal work day of team meetings, collecting data, research, analysis, creating recommendations and implementing them. The 15 of us are further divided into smaller teams and I’ll be working with Chandra, Sanjay and Effie on increasing eLiteracy rates in South Africa and creating a way to measure the impact. On the weekends, it’s a mix of giving back in more traditional activities like working with schools and personal time / fun activities.
What happens to your regular job while you are gone? We sign a contract that states we won’t work on our regular jobs while on assignment. My day-to-day work in Procurement on Supplier Diversity and Supplier Connection will be graciously picked up by multiple colleagues.
Do you get paid? Does this count as vacation or leave? I continue to receive my regular IBM salary while on CSC assignment and it doesn’t count against my vacation for the year. Nor do I get any comp days. It’s a cost and vacation-neutral program.
Are Dave and the kids going with you? During the one-month IBM assignment, no one is allowed to travel or stay with you so that we are focused on our work and client. At the end of the CSC assignment, Dave will drive the kids to my Mom’s and then fly over to Johannesburg. We will spend a week split into a safari near Kruger National Park then flying to Zambia to see Victoria Falls.
Why is there always the #ibmcsc in your posts? IBM has a very cool way to aggregate social media from all of the participants involved in the program. It works by pulling in all blogs and tweets with #ibmcsc hashtag. I have to work it into all posts so my blog and tweets are included in the main IBM social page.