Transcript – Episode 38: Chat with Amanda Strohan

Amanda Strohan: Good morning.

John Hannaford: Hi, Amanda, how are you?

Amanda Strohan: I’m fine, thanks, and yourself?

John Hannaford: I am very well, thank you very much. So this is an opportunity for us to chat with a colleague, Amanda Strohan, who’s in the field. She is in Delhi, where she’s been working very hard on all of our behalf, working in consular [services] and assisting with the quite extraordinary efforts that have gone on to facilitate Canadians’ return to Canada during the current period. Amanda, I guess I just wanted to start by asking, you know, what’s the situation with you and your family? You’re in good health, and people in the mission, how, what’s the feeling right now where you are?

Amanda Strohan: So, I—thanks for asking that question—I’m doing very well. I’ve been one of the lucky ones. My husband and my St. Bernard are still here with me in Delhi. So I’ve had some great support here at the mission. I would say that morale at the mission is good, but people are tired, and there are many people here who have been without their families. Some of the families are no longer here. And so that has been, it’s been a challenge over the last few months. But morale is generally good.

John Hannaford: Good, you’re quite experienced in crisis management. That experience is rather modest, I imagine. What are the most annoying things for you in the current circumstances?

Amanda Strohan: Well, what I can say about crises is that there’s never a crisis that looks like another one. Personally, the first crisis that I was involved in with the department was the evacuation in Lebanon in 2006, and I can say that the circumstances are very, very different here in 2020 with this situation that is, primarily, global in nature, and therefore creates a whole other reality. The fact that this is not a geographically limited crisis means that we are working with what we have, and therefore it is quite an intense experience. But the other aspect where I think this crisis is different is that we are also facing the pandemic, and so the circumstances—the physical distancing or the social distancing—that we are having to put in place, in the middle of a crisis, brings a whole other reality and  other challenges to our team. So, it was, the experience is that we use the tools and assets that we learn over the years, but we are never quite ready for any crisis that comes along.

John Hannaford: I mean, it is obviously a situation that brings with it all its stresses and its demands. What are you finding helpful? You’re saying having your husband and dog obviously gives you a, sort of, base of support there. But are you finding other things, other strategies to help manage the situation from more of a personal perspective?

Amanda Strohan: Well, I think for me, one of the great take-always from this situation has been how very strange this is for everybody to be functioning and to be working and living the way that we are. And so one of the things that I really appreciated about the way that colleagues in the department have been managing this crisis is that there really has been a focus on mental health. We’ve seen that, and we’ve had great support here from the Employee Assistance Program. And I think what we’re seeing, really, is that to be robust is to think of our mental health, our physical health, to understand that to be able to carry this on, to be sustainable for the long term, that we need to consider this as not an intense effort for a short period, but that we need to be able to consider our mental and physical health and to support each other through this. We are not machines, we are people, and we need that kind of support, particularly when we’re trying to do this sort of physical distancing or social distancing.

So I’ve been personally taking the time out. My lovely St. Bernard, who I’ve already mentioned, has been sitting at my feet—every time that I am at my desk—has been at my feet, and I’ve been taking the 5 minutes out to have a break when I need it during the day, which I think is such an important thing to do.

John Hannaford: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I think the way you put it is right too. The emphasis on this being: this is now going to be a sustained experience that we have, and there is a mental health aspect to that, and that’s something that we need to be mindful of as we’re managing ourselves, but also as we’re dealing with our families and our teams and the realities that they’re going through as well. It is one of the things about this, I mean, we are doing it together. So, we do have at least the core experience that we are sharing, which in some ways is, kind of, at least creates a bit of a baseline for us all as we’re trying to deal with all of this.

Amanda Strohan: Absolutely. And I think it’s been a difficult balance because, while at the same time it’s an extraordinarily difficult and strange situation for people, but we’re also trying to deliver something that is unprecedented as a consular operation. And here in India, the scale of the operation really is extraordinary.

John Hannaford: [Dropped call] So that’s all part of the experience, too, is having dropped calls, so I apologize.

Amanda Strohan: No worries.

John Hannaford: You were in the middle of talking about this, is sort of the extraordinary nature of the experience, and at least it dropped on my side. So I apologize.

Amanda Strohan: Well, indeed, it has been an extraordinary experience for us here in India, but balancing the need to deliver something that is really extraordinary in scope with the need to adapt to these very unusual circumstances has certainly been one of the challenges that we face here.

John Hannaford: I mean, it’s a particular experience to go through all of this at post, as you say, India’s been a particularly intense one. But how do you find being away from Canada at this time? And how does that shape your experience?

Amanda Strohan: Well, I’ve been out in the field for quite some time. But what I would say is, that I’ve experienced personally, is, first of all, there is a sense of concern and worry for friends and family, and being far away from home just amplifies that sort of concern in a time of crisis, in a time of pandemic. But I think that the most marked reaction that I’ve had to it is how proud it has made me to see people in Canada and to see the way that communities have come together and are supporting each other through this unusual and difficult situation. That has—although we’re very far away here in India—it has made me feel close to home, and I’ve just been so proud to see that.

And I hope at the same time that our friends and family, that Canadians at home, are also proud of the efforts that public servants are making abroad, that the public service serving abroad at this point has really come through and has brought all of our effort to the table to do everything that we can to support Canadians. And I think the, sort of, distance across the world is bridged by this, this notion that we can be so proud of our country at this time and proud of the people that are coming together to support each other.

John Hannaford: Well, I couldn’t agree more with that. And I can tell you, at least this Canadian is deeply proud of all the work that’s being done in the field and at headquarters. I think that the department really has, it’s been in extraordinary demand, on our whole network—and I think it’s amazing work that people have done. So look, Amanda, I don’t want to take more of your time, but I did want to thank you very much for, first of all, everything you’re doing and for taking the time just to have a little bit of a chat today. It’s been a real pleasure, and take care of yourself.

Amanda Strohan: Thank you, it has been a pleasure to speak to you.

John Hannaford: All right, you take care. Bye now.

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