Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The road to Ithaca

The intercultural dialogue ensuing the project award vote has been a real eye-opener to me, once again, about the many nuances that we often unconsciously bring into our communication in intercultural settings. The communication channels were first opened by one of our bicultural members diplomatically voicing some problems that many of us were surely grappling with, and by ending her mail with “Perhaps, it would be nice to hear from other participants as well.” I then joined in as the rather matter-of-fact Finn, with my convictions about fair play and democracy. A colleague from Poland was brave enough to admit the following: “We can't be happy seeing our project in final of competition since we placed it there ourselves by voting... any congratulations can be sent to us I am afraid…” and came up with a practical suggestion of rescuing the unfortunate situation by using the already cast votes to give out a fun internaut prize to the winner, while the actual project awards would be based on a more qualitative evaluation done by a panel of judges. Finally, a colleague from Greece suggested postponing the award decisions till next year’s conference, and aptly ended in a philosophical classical quote from a Greek poet about the road to Ithaca. And all through this exchange of ideas, our inscrutable Asian colleagues remained totally silent.

(Picture from HSCB bank publicity campaign at Charles de Gaulle airport,
May 2007).

What a lot we all have to learn about global collaborations Apart from our personal, individual traits, we are all, to a large extent, also products of our respective cultures, and circumstances. It is only when we properly venture into working together towards joint goals and settling shared action plans that our ‘more hidden cultures’ emerge. Yet, at the same time, it’s all these different approaches that make project work so fascinating. So next time my students exclaim: Are they (ie. students in another country) stupid – why can’t they be more like us?! I can reassure them that, although it is irritating many times that others don’t share our values, beliefs and behavioural patterns, it’s precisely these differences that turn this learning experience into such an invaluable process.

To quote some ideas from the Greek poem:

"When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean."

Constantine P. Kavafy, ITHACA

PS. Interestingly, we are not the only ones having trouble with online voting processes. Today I happened to come across this post from Chris about the Edublogs award vote. In both cases, the problem seems to be to prove whether popularity comes through merit or the quantity of mustered up votes alone.

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