Here I am in Seville, at the e-stas conference which has been a powerful reminder of being in a foreign place.
Being foreign was for long a very normal feeling for me as I grew up Japanese in Italy, Germany, and the US, and as I worked intensively in client countries at the World Bank. For the last 6 years, I've pretty insulated from this feeling except for annual forays to the developing world that is stil part of my job at GlobalGiving.
And why has it been so long since I had this little frisson of foreignness? Well, almost every conference or meeting I have attended lately has either been based in the US or UK, and/or the organizers have had an American sensibility. It's a powerful reminder for me how in some ways I've been quite cocooned lately.
As I told Pilar Rodriguez, Secretary General for Telecommunications and Information, what excites me about being here is the "strength of weak ties"--I have weak ties to the vast majority of people here at the conference. On the one hand, being introverted, it terrifies me slightly to be here with people I don't know. On the other hand, as Mark Granovetter has posited, weak ties are where you can possibly find the most undiscovered value.
So what reminds me of being in a foreign place?
- Well, not speaking the language, and trying to follow along either through translators or scurrying after cognates.
- Wanting to have my presentation at the conference to be an interactive session--and being told quite firmly and kindly that the Spanish tradition is to listen to a lecture, not to question the prof. (This, however did turn out to be honored more in the breach, for which I am very grateful--including, in the interesting real-time chat enabled by the conference organizers.)
- How even quotidian things are different ... like lunchtime/break. Our lunch break today is between 14:15 and 16:00, and dinner will be again at 21:30 until ... who knows when.