Sunday, February 2, 2014

Around The World with Peter Giljam (special guest writer)!

The Middle Flipper celebrates all things outside of status quo.   As many of you know, animal training knowledge grows exponentially when you keep your mind open to new ideas, new facilities, new people and new animals.   Providing the best possible care beyond the basics in husbandry and medical realm relies on this steady flow of new information, constructive feedback, and your ability to adapt to changing situations.  What destroys an animal trainer?  Egomania.  

Today's guest writer embodies all the qualities I admire most in successful animal trainers.  He's been in the field for over 12 years and has worked at five different facilities all over the world.  He won first place for People's Choice Awards at this year's IMATA conference, and second place for behavioral training.  He uses his experience to help others (you can rely on him to help you out with any problem if you post it in the IMATA forum), but he still remains open to new ideas.   He is a shining example of what every marine mammal trainer should aspire to, no matter our experience level.

So without further ado, here is Peter's Middle Flipper entry on the hilarious challenges of changing facilities and countries.

First place for People's Choice Awards at the 2013 IMATA conference!

Goedemiddag, bonjour, Buenos diaz, good afternoon

As a passionate trainer I was always looking for the great oppurtunities that this career has to offer me. I went to different conferences and from there working in different countrys with an amazing variety of species. From seals to walruses and from dolphins to killer whales. I worked in the Netherlands to overseas in Canada to the Canarian islands ending up as right now in the French Riviera. So far I met the best people in the world the greatest animals and the nicest teams. I visited many places from San Diego to Orlando and Buffalo to Miami. I learned many things on my way, to think of various cultures, languages and food specialities. 

We have a very special work field that is not very usual for a lot of people. The career paths we choose are very different compared to somebody who likes to work in a bar in his hometown, what could be very amazing to.  A lot of us went away from their hometowns just because there wasn’t any aquarium around to be the person you want to be, so the choice you make is going to another city, state or country. Now of course this has their challenges. 

The magic of talking

Probably now you read this first part you already know that English is not my first language. I was the lucky guy who could combine my passion of working with animals and traveling to various places together. Till the moment where I am now where I have to speak the beautiful romantic French language.  “Bonjour, Ca’va?” Is now part of my vocabulary

I had to do the same with English and with Spanish and the fact that I’m Dutch myself, so the dialect that I speak is almost a mixture of all 4. What brings now and then very funny conversations.  I started to make up my own words if I didn’t know the English words. 

As I remember when I was in Canada I used to say meatcake for meatloaf, or a cakespoon for well you probably guessed it already and so on. When I arrived in Spain I had to learn the language to. Nobody except my team was speaking English. So here we go, in Spain I started to say Buenos diaz in the evening and “vamos” to every person I saw, but this doesn’t work very well. People start to look funny at you and so on. Now the new team always has this crack up, the team you will work with will give you the most amazing first lessons in the language you need to learn. They will have the funniest times in the world and you will embarrass yourself in public by using them. Till today they still do that to me.  

At one point I went for some food and I needed for my dessert a small spoon, so I ask my co-worker how you say this in French, with as answer he says “chat” so I look at him and say ok thanks and he started laughing out loud. When you translate the word “chat” from French to English you will understand what it actually means. 

Le chat
In Spain the first things they asked me was: "Tu es maricong?" Of course they were waiting for an answer but I didn't know what to say and just laughed… but what they asked me was… google translate it haha. Then they made me sing a song “mi hermana tienes pelo peludo” they couldn’t stop laughing anymore because apperantly I was singing my sister has a lot of hair. 

“I’m sorry to say it this way, I’m still European” Now we are in France… so far my answer to Ca’va what means how are you is always "tranquil" which means "relaxed" because I can’t explain myself any other way. So the fun part of this is for trainers that if you live in another country you have some fun enrichment for your brain. Especially when they also try to teach you the fun words at first. 

Now there are also the hard parts of this language barrier. I mean coming in a new place and trying to understand is harder then you think. A lot of times after a while you don’t absorb the language anymore. Especially when you decide “what's a great decision” to do some classes after your new job, the problem will be, it will get in on the left side and gets out on the right side. Absorption of the language isn’t too easy after a while. If you hear a language over and over again without understanding it you won’t get it anymore after a while. Languages are very challenging, but useful for your career. 

Language barriers are ok, we can learn this trick. Now we all work with hand signals, so understanding one another with sD’s is fairly easy but now to think about cultures, foods, religions and ways of thinking. I’m a very outgoing and open minded person what sometimes goes against myself by saying the wrong things at the moment. We all had it before but there are more awkward moments when you think your jokes are very funny but the whole team looks at you if you would tell them that tulips aren’t from the Netherlands. Well they are! 

Now in my experience there are many various cultures. This is challenging and amazing at the same time because now I know that French wine is great and the Spanish kitchen is very awesome. If we project this at the work floor, we all have our own training styles with one better as the other but if you go to another country you will see a much bigger difference. This is great for your learning ability because of the new ideas you will have.

But at the other hand you have to change your style into theirs to introduce yours after. This is sometimes tricky. What I discovered is that being very patient but very patient is one of the keys to success. 

Now the opposite of that is when they give you the chance you have to rock the moment. Like what they say first impression is an important one. So getting the respect from others is very nice to have. In every country I worked I had to be careful to not put pressure on the new team with telling them what ideas I have. Some of them like it but some of them feel challenged and sometimes even worse pressured to the negative. Now knowing the cultures before you go somewhere will help you to understand a little bit how the people are. I mean not everybody is open minded or as outgoing as yourself and for everybody there is a way to understand them to. At the end you want to be the best team player around. 

In the last years I made up some strategies. One better as the other but at the end it made me a better trainer and team player overall. I made mistakes and I had successes. Everywhere there are various ways of bringing the ideas to the team you are working for. 

When I was in Canada I had to do this way different as in France right now. You start to understand knowledge about people psycology. I started to understand that there is no “right” way to do certain things. Of course one way is better then another, but it's great how you can do it different too. I mean how they train the whales in Spain is very different then in France but both have their amazing ideas that works great for them.

So before we say it doesn’t work we have to open our box and see the successes each person had in their own thoughts. Everybody is successful in their own ways. I very much learned that if I do what I love to do its going to work and it pays of. Its just a matter of time. This is not 1 month, half a year, this can take a year so be patient things will be good. As long as you believe in yourself.

Blond, brunette, big, small, temperament….

If you work at different places you deal with a lot of various things. Like various people cultures and greetings. I’m from the Netherlands and with this way of thinking it was very hard to be in Canada at first. Not because it wasn’t great but just because I was a little bit to open for canadiens. I made jokes that I thought were very funny and they were like “Peter! You can’t say that” . 

At one point I saw this co-worker wearing her wetsuit and had her back it started to crack (and then I mean the area between her back and her legs) so I made the comment “what do you think when you have such a big …."

Now we laugh about those jokes in holland but I learned a valuable lesson that this is harassment in Canada. Although my supervisor couldn’t stop laughing and understood where I was from. He told me nicely “Peter in Canada you can’t do this” So I had to think a little more about what I could say. 

In Spain it was very different, the people are harsh and you can say really whatever you want. They think it's very funny to make a person smaller and smaller so you need to be strong in your shoes. They had many shower jokes, it was always a struggle to get away without whatever on your back. So shower time wasn’t 5 minutes, it took forever… closing lights, soap fights, pushing, throwing wet clothes, you name it they did it. Very different then Canada. 

What I remember too is the restaurants. In Canada and in the US to you give a good tip. The first time I went to a restaurant, and as Dutch as I can be, I gave this person a dollar tip. Well after my friends explained very nicely “Peter you can’t do that”. In Spain you basically don’t give tips unless its very very good. 

Another funny thing is the way people great each other. In Canada you shake hands, In Spain you give the ladies 2 kisses. In France you kiss everybody, boys boys, girl girls, boys girls it doesn’t matter. Now I've worked there for 4 months and I still don’t kiss guys. It's different for me. In Canada they are very sensitive, in Spain they are very harse and in France very full of temperament. All challenges that you need to know before you go. 

Private life

Passion is not just about work. If you have great work and your private life isn’t too well you're still not too happy. Now I’m a very outgoing person that talks easy and does new things very quickly. It took me time to make a private life. 

In the Netherlands I worked, danced and had good times. Nothing to compare with when I went to Canada. It took me a while and what happened to me next… of course I fell in love. Not a little bit, but till today I can’t think about anybody else. This is the hardest part ever happened especially when I live overseas like today. She took me through everything! 

Now I started to play ice hockey and well let me tell you the guys I played with were always very excited when I was there again, not because I was good or I could drink beer good, no I was from the Netherlands never played hockey in my life and then put a person like this in a hockey ring with a stick and a puck. Yes very funny.. because it looks like a giraffe that tries to walk for the first time. 

After 2 years I left and went to Spain. In Spain after a while “6 months” I found this big breakdance group. 20 people at least! I started to train with them and my language went all of a sudden from shitty Spanish to very well! I loved it. It takes time and effort. Eventually these guys became very good friends and I even did some competitions with them. Here in France, I don’t have anything yet so I’m very busy building up my private life. It’s almost a 50-50 balance. If one isn’t good the balance is gone. 

At the end we become better in everything we do. We start to have bigger visions then the tunnel you’ve seen non stop. Better ideas, better solutions, more variety. Most important a better person overall!

Tot ziens, Hasta luego, Chau, Auf wiedersehn, have a good day.

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