Culture Shock: CVs Edition

A quick belated congratulations (almost a week after the event) to the MEZCOPH MPH graduates at University of Arizona class of 2015! There was a Cadbury Oreo Chocolate Bar toast in your honor on the 16th (it is as good as it sounds…and I do not like chocolate)! I will miss seeing you when I get back to Tucson but please feel free keep in touch!

My org has one of the few accessible computers in the valley and community members often come in for schoolwork or typing CVs (curriculum vitae). The term “resume” is unheard of in my South African area. This has been a personal adjustment, as the only reasons why I have a CV is it was required for my graduate school applications and I conducted research in college. Creating the CV was a week long editing process, not a document people ask me to type in 30 minutes (but I am a perfectionist when it comes to my resume/CV/LinkedIn Profile, I will edit and reformat until someone pulls me away).

Regardless of what you call the document, they are important in a municipality with a 48.6% unemployment rate as of 2011(thank you Statistics South Africa…I cannot come up with these numbers alone!). Since most learners and carers are unable to type, the org Staff has the task. I have typed  two CVs so far. The first time our carer gave me her CV to type I was floored. There are usually five sections: Personal Details, Contact Details, Education, Achievements, and Personal Skills. The format appears similar the American counterpart but the Personal Details are…very personal. Anything you would want to know about a person from their birth date, identity number (equivalent to a passport number or social security number), marital status, criminal offenses, nationality, and gender is included. Really the first part of the CV is a demographic checklist.

I asked my American director if it was okay for me to type this information, and she informed me this is usual. I did not believe the director (even though she has lived in the country for 10 years) and actually googled CVs in South Africa. Turns out this information is expected on CVs in South Africa, across all cultural backgrounds. It was not just a quirk exclusive to the AmaZulu and I need to listen to my director more often…lesson learned. I have to laugh at how Americans who make a living on constructing resumes would react to the South African CV. Apparently all the classroom discussions on how to create a resume…er CV to reduce the chances of identity theft and gender discrimination I had in college are irrelevant in South Africa!

Today our cleaning lady (one of my favorite people in the community) asked me to type a resume for her 19 year old daughter in Grade 12. I still feel weird about providing a teenager girl’s personal details in the open, but when in South Africa, you adapt to the established South African norm. I get a kick out of her hobbies of “Playing netball (SA version of Girl’s Basketball)and music”The municipality is actually building a road next to her house so she actually can declare a concrete physical address (do not ask me what my physical address is as it would take a paragraph to explain). The physical address is not the same as the postal address (that would be an hour away in my shopping town). Subjects she has passed include English, Mathematical Literacy, History, Tourism, Geography, and Life Orientation (a combination of health and home economics). The girl seems well rounded (I cannot claim anything cool like tourism from my High School electives) and I sincerely hope she finds a job with her CV.

South Africa has broaden my views of CVs, but I still prefer the American format. I will not declare my gender or social security number on either document! If my surname is hyphenated at any point in the future, y’all can assume my marital status has changed!

PS: I am aware that typing the resumes is not a sustainable solution (what will the community do when the resident secretary leaves and no one is available to type after April 2017?). Not sure if I am the best fit for typing classes or broadening computer access but if anyone has any ideas I am open!


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