by Ricky Price, a member of the SkillCorps® Kenya February 2019 team

Today was the first day that I truly understood what the term ‘Culture Shock’ meant. To me it was a shock, not in a grotesque, disturbing manor that the word ’Shock’ may denote, but rather a beauty, an optimistic view, and an appreciation.

It was the first visit to Kaizora, the Autism ABA Center in Nairobi, Kenya Africa.

Now before I get into this I just want to mention that I have pet an elephant, kissed a giraffe, learned phrases in Swahili, crossed a death fearing rickidy bridge, and have seen some of the local lands and costumes of the Kenyan people. None of this was a culture shock to me…or at least now I realize that it was not. I expected to do these things (except to walk on the bridge of fear…which was so worth it!!!). Nonetheless I had pictured Kenya, Africa, for YEARS and it was everything I hoped for it to be. What I did not have is expectations going into the Kaizora Autism ABA Center….oh yeah and also a lizard making home in my room…

I know ABA. Centers have kids and staff and they use behavioral principles and they reinforce and teach skill acquisition…blah blah blah blah blah.

Don’t get me wrong I LOVE ABA and this is my life,  but this is what I do on a daily basis so I didn’t have any different expectations going into this experience.

I walked into the center and, I hate to say this, I immediately judged. I constantly, in my mind and on paper, worked through all the problems that I saw and how I was going to come up with a brilliant plan to solve them and make Kaizora the best ABA center in Kenya, and then the WORLD. I wanted to save the world.

I feel that most Behavior Analysts have this persona. We are like the birds in Finding Nemo when we see a problem that we need to solve….

I ended up being this bird, and I didn’t want to be. So I stopped. I put down my notebook, took out my camera, and stepped back.

A friend told me once that you should take 5 minutes everyday to step back and look at life, appreciate where you are and what you are doing and take it all in. This is exactly what I did. From this, I learned.

I was so wrapped up in my own culture and perspective, how I do ABA, how I professionally interact with my co-workers, how I supervise, how I prioritize programing for students, how I take water for granted (being thirsty for 4+ hours is NOT fun….lesson learned when you are at the equator).

I finally entered into Kenya, into their culture. I started to experience the disability world from their eyes, without judgment. I noticed the interactions between staff and client, between staff and staff, between boss and staff, and it was different, and it was outside of my comfort zone. But does that make it wrong?

Maybe there is a right answer to that question, I have not figured that out yet. All I know is that I am stepping back and learning to empathize with the culture that I am living amongst for the next 2 weeks.

I am not here to “fix” anything, I am not here to judge. I am here to experience and to provide my cultural perspective to the natives working at this center. I am here to help them to experience culture shock, just as I did, from their very own culture so that we can create an even better sustainable culture that includes all individuals with and without disabilities, promoting inclusion, acceptance, and love.

I am here to learn, and to learn WITH the Kaizora family. Hopefully to leave a footprint before I leave.

It was only day one and I already feel that I have a brand new look on not only my life, but my cultural representation. A new culture is brewing, that I am eager to develop with this experience.