Friday, March 16, 2012

Diving into a new world

I would like to start this posting by saying thanks to Anna Marie Trester, who brought me to this conference. Without her alerting me to it as well as alerting me to scholarship application, I would have never known about it and would have missed two truly inspiring days.
Similar to Manon, I found the interactive exercises the most useful part, and they will most likely be the best remembered. Against the backdrop of my experiences at academic conferences, where audience-engagement and interactivity is clearly not demanded (and possibly not desired?), this conference was so refreshing, enjoyable and at the same time, so content-rich.

After having read Manon's post, I realized that we attended the same sessions all day long on Thursday. In contrast to Manon, I have no personal relation to Japan and I left Dr. Unno's keynote address on Thursday morning with some need for clarification about the point he was trying to make in his talk. The film he showed in the beginning was very moving (which certainly was its intent) and I had difficulties holding my tears back (but as I later learned, other people also cried or were about to cry, which made me feel less embarrassed). At the same time, the relation between the film, which was taking up a large portion of the overall presentation, and the his presentation was not very clear to me either. This uncertainty was compensated by Dr. Unno's lively and to a certain extent entertaining presentation-style, which was a pleasure to listen to.

Like Manon, I also attended “Global Leadership: Fresh Skills for Facing Cross-Cultural Chaos” by Suzanne Zaldivar. This presentation was interactive and engaged the audience considerably. Manon described one of the exercises, involving a picture-magnifying-line. For me, this exercise was very useful in clarifying several aspects of communication. Most revealing among them was my insight of the limiting aspect of assumptions. As a result of my belief that I indeed was sharing the same pictures with someone led me not to challenge that belief, and consequently, I did not see the necessity to try to request further details about the picture. In another exercise in this session, performed in partner-work, one partner was prompted to a share a story of interpersonal problems s/he has experienced while the other partner advised the speaker on her/her course of action in solving the problem, but without asking for further clarification. In the next part of this exercise, the same roles were assigned but this time, the listener could ask questions. Responses to this two-part exercise varied widely. While some participants expressed feeling to be more at ease with the second part of the exercise due to the additional context that emerged thanks to the questions by the listener, I felt a little intruded. When I presented my interpersonal problem to my listener without any questions asked, I could just tell the part of the story that felt comfortable to me, but being prompted to clarify and explain certain aspects of my story revealed parts that were not so pleasant to me (and, of course, I understood that that was part of this exercise).

The next session that I attended on Thursday morning was one by Valli Murphy and Chris Cartwright “Assessing Intercultural Effectiveness: A Model and Case Study. Again, the hands-on exercise was most useful and, even more important, more memorable. We were given the case of the business man Germán (Mexican-American, not a German as some wrongfully assumed in the room), who despite his Mexican roots, failed at his 6-months assignment in Mexico. Since I am a total freshman (or better freshwoman) to the field, it was fascinating for me to hear the solutions to Germán’s situation the other participants in my group envisioned. Overall, this was a well-structured and content-rich session.

During the lunchbreak, I also listened with great interest to Dana Priest and her talk about Top Secret America. Having seen some of her reports and the pictures of the "secret" buildings in the Washington Post made her talk less frightened than it otherwise would have been. One of the issues Dana raised was particularly thought-provoking to me. In order to obtain security clearance, the individual must have lived and must continue to live a rather isolated and insulated life-style. Dana challenged this requirement, claiming that such a life-style is not very conducive to the ability to recognize and anticipate possible threats or security-related challenges, particularly if they stem from a different culture. 

In the afternoon, I first attended Neil Goodman's session on "New Trends and Challenges in Cross-Cultural Training". The session did fully grab my attention, which could also be attributed to its timing right after lunch. 

Luckily, the day ended with my personal highlight of the day - Ursula Lietzmann's Global Coaching session. As Manon already pointed out, Ursula presentation focused on the individual. Some of her statements particularly stuck with me, among them the importance of recognizing one's core values and beliefs to build a stable core. This prerequisite of a stable self, like a stem, allows one to move the branches into different directions. Similarly revealing was a short exercise in which we had to find an identity affiliation that we have not brought to the conference and describe positive aspects of this identity. Recognizing and building upon one person's full potential means also to draw from the multiple identities and the strengths of these identities one person embodies. What a powerful message!

The wine and the wonderful company was the perfect for a cheerful winding down of the evening.  

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