Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Sevilla with love

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.
And much more, but it's all underscored by the fact that in spite of, or perhaps because of all these little differences, it's possible to connect to people, get an insight into what makes them click, and feel that commonality. So thank you CiberVoluntarios for reminding me what a pleasure it is to step out of my own little bubble.

1 comment:

Jaime said...

Hi Mari, it was a pleasure for me to meet you and know more about your foundation and your ideas. Thank you for your suggestions in order to visiting Japan.

best regards, jaime
(the first on your photo)