El salvador

Published: 2021-09-27 18:40:03
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This case was written by Susan Bartholomew based on personal interviews. Names, dates, and details of situations have been modified for illustrative purposes. The various economic, political, and cultural conditions described are presented as perceptions of the individuals in the case; they do not necessarily reflect the actual conditions in the region. The events described are presented as a basis for classroom discussion rather than to illustrate effective or ineffective handling of a cross- cultural situation.
December 10, 1998: The Job Offer John and Joanna Lafferty had Just opened a bottle of wine to share with friends who had come to see their new apartment in Toronto when the telephone rang. John, a lanky, easygoing development economist, excused himself to answer the phone in the kitchen. Recently married, John and Joanna were excited to be building a life together in the same city at last. As a development economist specializing in Latin America, John Laffertys work had taken him to Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala on a series of three- to four-month assignments over the previous three years.
While he loved the challenge and adventure of this fieldwork and had come to love the people and culture, he also wanted a home base and steady presence in Toronto, where Joanna worked as a human resource management consultant. Just before their wedding six months earlier, John accepted a position with a Toronto-based NGO (non-government organization) focused on research, fund-raising, and government lobbying on issues related to Central American political refugees.

Throughout the 1980s, tens of thousands of refugees had fled political persecution and human rights abuse in war- orn Central America to seek political asylum in Canada; John's field experience in Guatemala and his natural diplomacy were invaluable to the Canadian organization. He was passionate about his work and quickly gained a reputation for being a sa'. n. y and politically astute advocate of refugees' cases. As Joanna went to get some wineglasses from the kitchen, she could overhear her husband speaking in Spanish on the phone.
Joanna had studied Spanish in college but had difficulty following the rapid, one-sided conversation. However, one phrase, "Me allegre mucho," and John's broad grin as he said it, was impossible to isinterpret. Joanna returned to her guests in the living room: "It sounds like good news. " John's work with refugees in the Canadian NGO had caught the attention of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, headquartered in Geneva, and he had recently returned from a one-week visit and series of interviews. While John had not been searching for a new Job opportunity, the Geneva invitation had been too exciting to resist.
John walked back into the living room with a huge smile: "Forget the wine, I think we should open some champagne. The U. N. has Just offered me the most incredible Job. " "In Geneva? Joanna asked excitedly. Decision The El Salvador assignment would be for two years, as a Program Officer responsible for organizing the repatriation of Salvadoran refugees from various refugee camps back to El Salvador and developing programs to ensure the protection and well-being of such refugees in their return to Salvadoran communities. The position would report to the Charge de Mission of the El Salvador office.
While this office was based in the capital city, San Salvador, the Job would also require frequent travel to various field offices and refugee camps throughout El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras. The challenge of the assignment excited John tremendously; he also believed that this was an exceptional opportunity for him to make a real difference in the lives of the refugees of Central America. He certainly wanted to accept the Job; however, he would only go if Joanna would be willing and happy to go with him.
Two questions would weigh heavily on Joanna's mind: 1 . "What about the political instability of the area? " The politics of El Salvador were complicated and difficult to understand, and the story seemed to vary depending on the source. As Joanna gathered, the civil war in El Salvador had come to an end in 1992 with a U. N. -brokered peace treaty between the conservative government of the Republican Nationalist Alliance (Arena) and the Marxist-led Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Throughout the war, the U. S. ad apparently spent more than $4 billion to support the government and military, while the Soviet Bloc supported the FMLN. Human-rights groups alleged that right-wing death squads had murdered 40,000 of the 70,000 people killed during the 12-year war. However, the peace agreement had significantly reduced the size of the rmy, disbanded corrupt police forces, purged the country of the most notorious human-rights abusers, and disarmed the FMLN, allowing it to become a legal political party. The country appeared to have made substantial progress toward peace and democracy.
The information and briefings they received from Salvadorans and other expatriates who had recently returned from the country suggested that life in the capital, San Salvador, was quite safe. Economically, the country was becoming more internationally open, with establishment of large export factories, increasing rivatization, and reforms aimed at stimulating foreign investment. While certain precautions were required, and the area was still heavily patrolled by armed forces, Joanna was told she could expect a relatively normal lifestyle. They would live in a highly secure part of the city, in the area populated by all the foreign embassies.
They would also be living and traveling on a U. N. diplomatic passport ("Laissez- passer"), which would afford them excellent protection. 2. "What about my career? " Moving to El Salvador was the last thing Joanna had imagined when she married John Lafferty six months earlier. Joanna had worked in Toronto for three years as a human resource consultant after graduating with an MBA. She was bright and ambitious, and her career was advancing well. While she was very happy to be married, she also enjoyed her professional and financial independence.
Besides, Toronto was not only professionally rewarding, it was also home, friends, and family. However, Joanna was also ready for a change; secretly, she had always envied John the sense of adventure that accompanied his work. Maybe this was an opportunity for her to develop her After much discussion, they decided that John would accept the assignment. January-March 1999: Predeparture Arrangements When John confirmed with the Geneva office that he would take the assignment, it was arranged for him to move to San Salvador at the end of March and for Joanna to follow one month later.
It was often recommended in assignments of this kind to send married staff ahead of time to get settled into the Job before their spouse and/ or family arrived. This option made sense to the Laffertys and had several advantages. First, it would give Joanna more time to finish off her current consulting rojects in Toronto and make a graceful exist from her present firm. She had a strong professional reputation and wanted to ensure she was remembered favorably by her corporate clients when she returned to Toronto two years later. Second, John would be able to get the housing arrangements settled before Joanna's arrival.
John's employer would provide ample financial and logistical supports to staff in finding housing; however, John also knew from past experience that dealing with local real estate agents and utility companies in Central America could be highly frustrating. Tasks that were quite simple in Toronto, such as having a lease drawn up and getting a telephone installed, Just didn't seem to follow any system or set of procedures. "Tomorrow' could mean next week or even next month. Patience, flexibility, and a good deal of charm were usually required; getting angry rarely helped.
While John was used to the inconvenience and unpredictability of local services in Central America, he was uncertain how Joanna would react initially. John held a deep affection for the Central American people and felt hopeful that Joanna would develop an affinity for the culture as well. However, he hoped to at least have the majority of the living arrangements worked out before she arrived to make her transition to El Salvador as smooth as possible. Finally, the extra time gave Joanna more opportunity to prepare herself for the transition.
Joanna had taken a course on international human resource management as an MBA and was familiar with the phenomenon of culture shock in international assignments. She recalled from her course that predeparture preparation and cultural orientation made a significant difference in helping employees and their families adapt to the foreign environment. Joanna was determined to read and learn as much about Salvadoran history and politics as she could. She was also keen to improve her Spanish before she arrived and as soon as the decision was made that they would be going to El Salvador, she enrolled in night courses for six hours a week.
As Joanna walked home from her Spanish class one evening, pleased with her results on her comprehension test, she recalled with amusement a conversation she had had with Joan Taylor. Joan was the wife of a senior executive with Altron, a Canadian firm with offices throughout Latin America. The Taylors had Just returned rom a two-year assignment in Guatemala City, and Joanna had contacted Joan to get some insight on the practicalities of living in the region. "My dear Joanna," Joan began, "you will have a very fine life in Central America, or in most developing countries your husband will be sent to, for that matter.
You will "Just watch out for the 'gilded cage syndrome. " "The what? " Joanna had asked. "As corporate executives or diplomats in third-world postings, we live a pretty high life, certainly a standard of living far beyond what we could have in our own countries. Everything is there for you and everything is done for you. It's like living in a gilded cage. Some people love it, and get pretty spoiled; after a while you cant imagine even making a sandwich for yourself... ." Humph, Joanna thought to herself at the time. That would certainly never happen to me.
I am a professional. This is an incredible learning opportunity and I am going to make the most of it! May 1999: Joanna's Arrival Joanna arrived on a balmy afternoon, grateful for the warm breeze after a cold Toronto winter. She was excited to see John and only slightly disappointed that their first drive into San Salvador would not be alone, but accompanied by a young Salvadoran named Julio Cesar, who had been assigned as their driver. On the drive from the airport, Joanna tried hard to follow his rapid banter as he pointed out the sights to her.
She had felt confident in her Spanish in the classroom in Toronto, but now she could barely understand a word Julio Cesar said. John, sensing her frustration, began to translate, and by the time they reached the house, Joanna was exhausted and discouraged. John was proud of the house he had found, next door to the Mexican embassy and only a block from a tennis club where most of the members were expatriates. He hought this might provide a good social base for Joanna if she got homesick for North American lifestyle. The large 12-room house was certainly impressive, with its shining terrazzo floors and two large gardens.
Joanna wondered what to do with all the space. It was also quite secure, with metal bars on all the windows, and surrounded by 12-foot walls. "This isn't a house, John, it's a fortress," Joanna said in amazement. mieah . I know it's a bit much," said John. "But this is the one area of the city we are strongly advised to live in, for security reasons. Smaller homes or apartments Just on't exist. Most of the families living here are either expats or very wealthy Salvadorans. Most have live-in help and need the space. " "But I don't want anyone else living with us ... " . I want you to meet Maria. " Joanna followed John out to the back of the "Come .. house, and was introduced to a small, brown woman, vigorously scrubbing clothes. "Maria worked for the family who lived here before; it only seemed right that she should stay. She only lives a few blocks away, though, so she will go home each evening. " After a week, Joanna soon learned Maria's work patterns. Maria would hand wash all their clothes in the cement tub and hang them to dry outside, a chore that would take all day long, as Maria would often wash things three times.
The following day she would return to do the ironing, which would take another full day. As Joanna sat in her study upstairs, reading her books and newspapers, she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt thinking of Maria, hand washing every last item of their clothing in the own clothes in a washing machine. Then, when Joanna found out that John paid Maria $6. 00 per day, she was furious. John explained to Joanna that this was the ustomary wage for the women from the "barrios marginales" who worked as domestic help for wealthy Salvadorans and expatriates.
These "marginal communities" were small groupings of tin shacks located in the ravines that surrounded the city. A few had electricity, but many of the communities, including Maria's, still cooked their meals over fires and lit their homes with candles. Joanna began to slip more money into Maria's pay envelope. Joanna hoped to make a friend of Maria and looked forward to having lunch each day with her and learning more of the local way of speaking. Joanna realized now hat the formal Spanish she had learned in school was vastly different from the language she heard each day on the streets of San Salvador.
However, Maria refused to eat at the same table as Joanna and insisted on serving Joanna first in the dining room, and then eating her own lunch on the stone steps in the back room. Joanna was deeply uncomfortable with this and began to eat lunch at the restaurant in her nearby tennis club instead. Other things began to irritate Joanna as well. For example, one day, she started to wash the car in the driveway. Suddenly, Maria's son appeared and insisted that he do he Job for her, horrified that "la Senora" would undertake such a task herself.
Another time, Joanna began to dig up some of the plants in the garden for replanting; the following morning, a gardener appeared at the door, saying that he was a cousin of Maria's and would be pleased to take on additional gardening work. Joanna resented this intrusion into her daily life. If she was going to be spending so much time at home, she wanted privacy to read and study. It was going to be a while, she realized, before she found a Job. Joanna was disappointed with the Job prospects among local and even international companies. Most available positions were clerical, for which she was vastly overqualified. l didn't get an MBA to work as a file clerk! " she would think to herself angrily. Then, she would think sadly, "My Spanish probably isn't even good enough to get a Job as a file clerk. " One day, in frustration, Joanna called her two closest friends in Toronto, colleagues from her old firm. "l can't win! " Joanna complained. "l feel guilty all the time. I feel guilty because I don't do anything myself. And I feel guilty if I don't hire local people to the housework. They need the money so much. Then I feel guilty that we pay them six dollars a day. We can afford so much more.
I feel guilty that I have a maid and she lives in a tin shack in a ravine two blocks from my house. But John says we can't pay her more than the going rate because it would upset the whole balance of her community. He says they have their own economic structure and norms and we have to respect that. My Salvadoran neighbors tell me that if I pay Maria or the gardener more they won't respect me. But I do anyway, and then I feel guilty because I don't tell John. And then our driver, Julio Cesar . The sarcastic response was the same from both. Gee, Joanna, sounds tough.
Beautiful house, a maid, gardener, and driver, afternoons at the tennis club ... n wonder you're so miserable. " been a big mistake? She knew how much this Job meant to John, and it was a great step forward for his career. But what about her career and her own happiness? This had been a mutual decision. Something was going to have to change or they would be on a plane back to Toronto very soon. The question was ... what? Questions For discussion 1 . Is Joanna suffering from culture shock? What elements of the Salvadoran culture seem most difficult for her to adapt to? 2.
Should Joanna have done anything differently in terms of her preparation for moving to El Salvador? What do you think she should do now? 3. How could Joanna further her career as a human resource consultant while living in El Salvador? What skills could she develop? Would these skills be transferable if she moved back to Toronto? To another country? 4. If you were John, would you have taken the Job in El Salvador? If you were Joanna, would you have agreed to go? 5. Do you think international careers are feasible for dual-career couples? What issues are important to consider for the individuals involved? What can companies do to make foreign assignments more successful for couples and families? Is the happiness of the employee's spouse the responsibility of the company? 7. What recommendations would you make to international organizations and companies sending employees to politically unstable regions? Do companies have a responsibility for the physical safety of expatriate employees? Does this responsibility extend to locally hired staff as well? 8. Do you think Joanna should pay her cleaning lady and gardener more than the standard $6. 00 per day? Why or why not?

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