Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On assimilating and accomodating

A key concept in cross-cultural connections and diversity management is the continuum of assimilation to accommodation.  To what extent does one assimilate into an 'other' culture versus wanting or expecting others to accommodate?  This seesaw is evident here in Winston-Salem, for example, with the growing number of business signs and official sources of information written out in Spanish (an accommodation) along with provision of English as Second Language (ESL) classes to help Spanish-speaking folks assimilate to the dominant culture.  I teach and observe this concept in action regularly and yet it was brought to the forefront of my thinking this past week.

I had the opportunity to home-host two high school students who were part of the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows program based at Wake Forest University.  The program brought together 68 young people from Europe and the US to focus on international relationships.  These students, who are among the best and brightest from their respective countries, spent 4 weeks together learning, discussing, and acting on aspects of constitutional law, nature of democracy, human rights, educational systems, etc.  For ten days I hosted Fatima from Azerbaijan and Roma from Charlotte NC.  Fatima is passionate about sharing information about her country and customs and is equally enthusiastic to learn about America.  Roma is a first-generation American and ethnically Indian.  We had great discussions on religion (representing as we did Islam, Hinduism, and Unitarian-Universalism), food preferences (one who ate no pork; one who ate no beef, and one vegetarian who ate no meat at all), educational systems, and concerns about the future.  I was reminded in a very close way how easy it is to take some practices and beliefs for granted and how difficult it is at times to put one's beliefs or practices into words.  Why do Americans have so many choices, for example?  I did my best to accommodate to some of their preferences and they did their best to assimilate to many of mine.  I enjoyed learning from them and they seemed to enjoy learning from me.  There is so much I could say about the experience, but I will leave it with this thought:  I am renewed in my own awareness of being in learning mode when I move to Bucharest.  I am newly excited about the prospects!

 I have now confirmed my flight arrangments!  Amanda, her dog, Ralph, and I depart on Thursday September 6.  We will pass through Munich on our way to Bucharest.  Finding a flight that minimized travel time for all of us, but especially keeping the dog in mind, took some doing!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

As I have been talking with folks about my plans, I often get the question, "Why Romania?"  As corny as it might sound, I wanted to go to Eastern Europe because I believe it to be a place where folks don't take their freedoms for granted.  On this Independence Day I am grateful to live in a country where I have the luxury of taking my freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to move about, etc. for granted.  I have been known to speak out against our government and I am a member of a minority religious denomination that takes to heart the principle of separation of church and state.  Today I choose to reflect on this country - what I like about it and what I don't like - and not be blase' about my ability to criticize, for example.  The time I spent in Hungary in the 90's doing health care consulting allowed me an opportunity to work with people whose memories of oppression were fresh.  I think it is healthy and critical that we Americans give ourselves a chance to see the world via other perspectives.  That is definitely one of the reasons I am going to Romania.
I have not been idle the past month as preparations continue.  I have definitely rented out my house - and this is a cool connection - to a woman from India who is coming to Winston-Salem also on a Fulbright award.  I like that idea of symmetry.  We will overlap here in the states and I will have a chance to get acquainted with her.  So I am still working on packing up personal belongings and deciding what gets stored and what goes with me to Bucharest.  It is nice that the Fulbright Commission spells out that some portion of the funding is for 'relocation' expenses because I am pretty sure I will be going over the weight allowance for luggage.

I have narrowed down travel plans but have not yet locked into purchasing tickets.  I have decided to take daughter Amanda with me when I go and we will take her dog at the same time.  Having them with me limits some of the options for travel, but there are several personal reasons why this makes more sense than an earlier plan to have them come later.

Several of my colleagues at Pfeiffer have provided me with textbooks to send ahead of time.  I think I have a pretty good supply of Organizational Behavior and Communication texts.  My conversations with Diana, my contact at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest, are definitely tending toward my teaching in those areas principally.  I am also looking forward to discussions and course content in the topic of managing a globally diverse workforce, a topic especially dear to me.

Last week I attended the national conference of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, in Atlanta, GA.  While there with 13,000 people from all 50 states and from 83 countries!, I picked up a number of new ideas and approaches to teaching.  Some of these I have already started sharing with my summer term classes.  Other material will hold until I get to Romania.  There were two women from Bucharest registered, but I was unable to connect with them, despite a couple of attempts on my part.

Happy 4th of July!  I will be celebrating by watching fireworks this evening.