November 30, 2008

Third culture kids unite

Thanks to my friend Gillian, my inbox this morning held a very interesting article I would like to share, "Obama Brings the Expat Experience to the White House". The author, Ruth E. Van Reken, is an TCK (Third Culture Kid) herself and writes about the TCK traits that Obama (and many of his new staff) will bring to the White House and how they may affect the way the new administration guides the nation, and influences the world.


Back in February, I read "Dreams of My Father" and was struck by his first 10 years of life. I don't think even he, at the time only 26 years old, understood what those years would bring to him in terms of cross-cultural skills and a truly global mindset. So, if you missed it the first time around, please enjoy one of my favorite posts. If you have read the book or know his childhood story, you can skim the first part and jump further down to see how his background informs the extraordinary skills that eventually brought him all the way to the White House.


Happy reading on a cold, rainy Sunday. I am waiting for the rain to break to have a run.

a domani,

November 29, 2008

Mobile phones to good use

I have been a very bad blogger these days. My writing has been elsewhere. I had good intentions today, but instead got involved in a USAID Development Challenge project for innovative ideas on using mobile technology for international development projects.

I guess I was feeling innovative, and I added my project to the pot. The winner gets $10,000 seed money and the chance to present their project to major donors. If not, you get some exposure anyway.

I thought, why not try follow up coaching for development training projects and do it through a combination of virtual teleclasses, internet voip and mobile phone text messaging. Studies show that training without follow up does not render the results that can be achieved with training plus follow up coaching. This was the premise of my presentation at the SIETAR conference in Granada last month (link is to your right near the end of "When I'm not blogging..."). SIETAR is the Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research.

Check it out and leave a comment, or even better, a star! CLICK HERE

a presto,

November 8, 2008

Unfortunate adjectives

Oh dear. Now that I can hold my head back up as an American, I must hang it down once again as an Italian.

Berlusconi did it again -- mouth before brain.

Oh well.

I believe his unfortunate comment that Obama is, "young, good-looking and suntanned" came from a place of unconsciousness not of malice or racism. He is just clueless and unfortunately not alone.

I know a few Asian-Americans here in Rome who are struggling with the constant assumption that they are someone's maid. One is a lawyer and recent arrival to the city. The innocent yet disturbing comments of her new Italian husband's friends leave her confused. How should she react? The children of another Asian-American / Italian couple are referred to by their friends at school as the "cinesine", although they are not even of Chinese origin. It is not with a mean intent, just unconsciousness.

So, at the top of the heap, Prime Minister Berlusconi refers to President-elect Barack Obama as, "suntanned" and continues to insist that he was just being "cute".

There is a long way to go. Wake up Italy.

a domani,

November 6, 2008

Moving forward

I have been pouring through article after article, enjoying the energy of forward moving change.

I am a personal fan of the Italian journalist Vittorio Zucconi who has been in the US for many years and carries a particular insider/outsider voice to his reporting for La Repubblica newspaper. True to form, his front page article highlighted unique characteristics of the American people. In this case, their ability to come down from the electoral high and get on with daily life, while both political sides shake hands and wish each other well. A new day is dawning and we had better get some rest. A spontaneous group formed in front of the White House to sing, "Bye Bye George." There was no need to cry victory and denigrate the other side. In any case, they will be back, when the time is right. American's pragmatic civility in politics is what catches him off guard from his European perspective.

In my readings, my favorite comment on Barack Obama was from Henry Louis Gates Jr, a Harvard scholar of African - American history,

"People don't see him primarily as black, I think people see him primarily as an agent of change."

and that is the way it should be, seeing people for who they are and what they stand for.

God bless America.

a domani,

November 1, 2008


As I finally got to the bottom of my emails, I found a stack of NY Times op-eds forwarded by my mother. She continues to send fed-ex envelopes full of article clippings, highlighted and covered with notes, but recently discovered the NY Times online service. Yikes, what will this team bring!

The article that adds to our cross-cultural understanding is by Nicholas D. Kristof, entitled, "Rebranding the US with Obama" "". He suggests that, "Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality." "

Perceptions" is the word that caught my eye.

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell stated that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States."

There it is again, "perceptions". In Europe, these new perceptions have been already translated into "Obama-mania".

"Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the BBC poll, said that at a recent international conference he attended in Malaysia, many Muslims voiced astonishment at Mr. Obama’s rise because it was so much at odds with their assumptions about the United States. Remember that the one thing countless millions of people around the world “know” about the United States is that it is controlled by a cabal of white bankers and Jews who use police with fire hoses to repress blacks. To them, Mr. Obama’s rise triggers severe cognitive dissonance.

“It’s an anomaly, so contrary to their expectation that it makes them receptive to a new paradigm for the U.S.,” Mr. Kull said.

Now we find, "assumptions," and "expectations," "new paradigms," "what people know about another country," and "cognitive dissonance".

Maybe this election will force all of us to look again at our perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and especially what we think we KNOW about another country. A little cognitive dissonance may not be a bad thing after all -- gets us thinking in new ways.

Who knows, we may have a Chinese-Italian, Romanian-Italian or Albanian-Italian as prime minister some day. Hmmm, first we may need to find a few as doctors, lawyers, government officials or even teachers. Actually right now I would be happily surprised to find a few at my son's old liceo classico - venerable and oddly elite public school in the center of Rome.

There is a long way to go -- hopefully the Obama-mania will create a bit of cognitive dissonance when set side-by-side with the rise of xenophobia and its disturbing question, "what to do with those immigrants" that has been sneaking into the public sphere with increasing regularity.

a domani,