The German World – through His Eyes

Be careful what you wish for: When Pouya and I decided to relocate to Germany we were telling our friends that it would be an adventure. It’s surely been adventurous, but maybe not the adventure that we had associated.

  • Schorle!

The first word he perfected was “Schorle”, that is the German’s drink of choice: Juice mixed with sparkling water (that kind of sparkling that makes you burp immediately). After a few weeks in the country of Schorle, he was “Schorle’d out” and now we have been trying to order tab water – something that still seems to be an offense in German restaurants, which is funny given that German water is pretty clean on a world scale.

  • Amt!

The first world within the German world he detected was “Amt”, the public administration. When he registered in the town of Aalen the lady behind the counter asked him if he had already registered for “GOA”. He was a little confused since we will be traveling to Goa, India later this year and he was wondering how that lady possibly knew that. Goa, however, is the local trash agency, also called the trash-mafia. Trash is a serious matter in Swabia.

  • Wochenmarkt-Bag

Last weekend he came home in the morning from the baker. Since we’re living in the middle of town we can watch the crowds walk towards the local produce market on saturdays. He dragged me to the window and told me that he has a hypothesis: You are only an eligible member in the Aalen weekly market when you are carrying a wood braided basket. And he was right, every one was carrying the same bags.

  • No!

No, there is no good customer service here. No you cannot return something after 2weeks. No, there is no services that offer convenience services. No, the concept of good enough is not present: You do or you do not and if it is not built to last forever it shall not be build at all.

We are currently in Canada. At Thanksgiving dinner a family member asked Pouya what he thinks is so different about Germany, how this small country is able to compete on so many levels globally. And he told a fascinating and complex story of a nation that values work-live-balance, efficiency and incremental improvement.

The adventure in my head has little to do with what reality currently provides. Administrative craziness knows no boundaries and I have no more conniption fits to give. Yet, there are also wonderful things: weekends with friends from school, great healthy food, enough time for sports&family

It has been five years in the United States and I slowly understand I have hit a point of no return: I am the one who has changed and now experience the country with a different mindset. It is hard to discuss this with Germans that have not left as they think I am pissing on my home turf or think of myself as deserving more when openly admitting that I am struggling with being in Germany. The concept of home is something many of my international Fletcher friends have redefined for themselves and I am currently doing the same. It certainly helps to do this with Pouya whose eyes are open to the small things that I am sometimes not able to appreciate anymore.

This is us last week at the Munich Marathon where we both ran a 10k race – at freezing temperatures.

MUHD0186-20x30

 

Connecting Worlds: Eric helps Moms in Africa grow veggies

My friends from Fletcher took off in all world directions. Here is an update on Eric. After spending the summer 2014 in Africa, he moved to Kigali after graduation.

Eric landed a typical Fletcher dream job: Development in Africa

My grad school friend Eric works for Gardens for health in Rwanda

A few months after graduating from Fletcher, I moved to Kigali, Rwanda to start a job with an NGO called Gardens for Health International (GHI). GHI works to eradicate childhood malnutrition by helping mothers grow vegetable gardens and learn about nutrition. While this is not my first time living in Africa, it is the most significant in that it’s a real, paying job, and it doesn’t come with an end date and flight home. This is a snapshot of my life six months in.

First things first: Rwanda is a nice, safe, and easy place to live. Perhaps you didn’t expect that? More than 20 years have passed since the genocide of 1994, and it has made impressive gains since then. Not only do I have running water and electricity, but within a 10-minute walk from my house in Kigali, there are two supermarkets, Italian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants, and an art gallery. The roads are mostly paved and in good shape, traffic is minimal, and I can safely walk around alone at night – all things I couldn’t have said about many of the western cities I’ve called home.

To be sure, my life in Rwanda comes with its idiosyncrasies. My office is located on a farm outside of the city, and my daily commute is on the back of a pickup truck. Routine activities such as taking the dog for a walk and grocery shopping involve dozens of children (and sometimes adults) unashamedly staring at me and exclaiming “muzungu!” (white person). My interaction with the children enrolled in GHI’s program usually has a 50/50 chance of leaving them speechless in awe or crying in fear.

weigh in-no fun

My favorite shot: this is how we keep track of the children’s weight

Crying children aside, I love my job. Working for a small, mission-driven organization in Africa has given me professional opportunities I would never have had back home. My title is the Impact and Learning Manager, which means I use data to try and measure our social impact and help the organization to learn from and improve on what we do. I’ve only been here for six months, but in that time I’ve had the opportunity to design and roll-out a system of collecting data through mobile phones (a big change from staff filling out every survey by hand), lead trainings of 60 people, and help our staff gain new insights of our program’s successes and limitations.

My days are not spent out in the field, feeding malnourished babies or handing out seeds, but in my office, staring at spreadsheets. Not very glamorous, I know. But I can see the impact I’m having on the people around me, and through them, on the most vulnerable women and children in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also motivated by many less-than-altruistic things – the country’s beautiful hills, the affordable lifestyle, the year-round access to delicious tropical fruits, and the sense of adventure, just to name a few. But in those moments when I find the absurdities of my life and the comforts of home making me question the path I’ve chosen, I can remind myself that in some small way, I’ve helped improve the lives of people much worse off than myself. And that’s something worth sticking around for.

Eric enjoys nature and live in KigaliLearn more

  • about GHI’s work here
  • about Eric’s work here

Connecting worlds: Face your hidden bias!

Facebook on Friday, 13th, after the dreadful attacks in Paris: Besides posts expressing great solidarity with France, I also came across disturbing posts, blaming refugees or condemning Islam. I was sitting on a train from NY to Boston, a working resident alien in the US, feeling helpless. What is it I can do? I am trying to encounter every person as a human being and a potential friend. Does that even count es “doing something” or should that not be booked as “that goes without saying”?

Suddenly I realized how important it is to be open to difference, and willing to learn from others. At the beginning of this week, my friend Deepti texted me some advice for my first week at my new workplace: “If you meet Indians at work, do not forget to wish them Happy Diwali.” I am so thankful for that text, my Indian friends and coworkers were pleasantly surprised that a white Christian remembered their most important holiday. Moments like these remind me why I introduced my “connecting worlds” articles to this blog, to emphasize the little things, to reveal other perspectives.

Especially after what has happened yesterday, I feel it is time for a post that will most likely be controversial. In one of my Harvard Business School classes, we spend a great amount talking about hidden biases. Every person has a hidden bias. And you cannot do anything against that bias, but to be aware of it. To confront yourself honestly and admit: Yes, I have a subconscious tendency to treat a person with certain features (color, religion, origin) differently than others.

One of my classmates, a brilliant speaker and very passionate scholar, shared a personal story with us in the classroom and I have asked him if he would be willing to share his feelings in my connecting world section. I am sharing this today because I want to remind myself and my readers that, in times like these, when we have been hurt and our deepest values have been attacked, we should not, not for one moment, let our biases get the best of ourselves. Comments welcome!

Sartre_Freedom

 

I am an Egyptian Muslim with both Egyptian and American citizenships. I was born in the U.S., about 3 weeks before my father was scheduled to graduate from the master’s program he was attending. After graduation, my parents flew me back to Egypt and began a working life in the Middle East. Consequently, I lived most of my life in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Save for a 2-month study abroad program in California during undergrad, I had not spent extended periods of time in the U.S. When anybody asks me where I am from or which country I identify with, I reply “Egypt” without hesitation. One more thing, my last name happens to be a prevalent Muslim name in the Middle East and Asia.

 

About 2 years ago, I was accepted to Harvard Business School’s MBA program, and started studying there in August of 2013. And it is here where the challenge begins. Whenever I fly into Boston via an international flight -since I came to Boston for the very first time to interview with HBS and until now- I am stopped and questioned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This has happened to me all but one time, out of about 20 (MBA students travel a lot).

 

Every time this happens, I am told to step aside by the customs officer while another escorts me to a quiet area. There, I am told to wait till they call my name. The waiting room usually has a couple of other people in it. They are always male, brown, and Muslim – by both name and homeland majority religion. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the people I meet there attend top programs at either Harvard or MIT. When my name is finally called (usually 20 minutes later), my bags are searched thoroughly, and I am questioned extensively. There is no limit to how intrusive or personal the questions are: I am asked about my immediate family, their marital situations, their careers, my political affiliations, what I am doing in the United States, why I am flying in now, whether or not I am “hiding” illicit materials, when I plan to fly out again, and how frequently I generally fly.

 

Aware that the TSA is answerable to practically no one, and that there is absolutely no way to escalate this situation or correct their behavior, I answer their questions in a half-dead, robotic kind of way. All the while, inside, I boil with anger every single time. The injustice of it all kills me. The fact that it delays my plans, the fact that I watch people who were standing way behind me in the customs line now leaving happily while I sit waiting for the nosy, imposing questions, the fact that I did nothing to deserve this other than having a last name that bodes suspicion to none but the most extreme and uneducated of rednecks; all of this drives me crazy. And I start thinking, how did this all come to be?

 

My thoughts have led me to conclude that the way the TSA flags possible dangerous suspects derives from data and intelligence, part of which must come from mainstream perception of Muslims in America. Therefore, far from the 40 uncomfortable minutes that I spend justifying myself in the airport, the worst feeling I have is when I leave the airport with the knowledge that I am now about to set foot inside a country where I am not at all sure that I am viewed in a positive or even neutral light – just because of my name. And even though I know that most people around me are educated and nuanced in their views, this does not stop me from being extremely angry with the way I am treated.

 

Far from accepting that this is the way things are, I find myself –every time- unable to suppress the desire to throw TSA employees the dirtiest look I could possibly muster whenever I am back in the airport. I make it clear that I do not want to have the slightest verbal or physical interaction with them, and I don’t answer them when they scream out instructions about what to put in the grey trays. I just want to distance myself from any TSA-controlled area as soon as possible, and I actually derive this sort of vindictive pleasure whenever they notice that I (nonverbally) make it crystal clear what I think of them.

 

I am –believe it or not- not an aggressive person. I’m well-educated, reasonable, and would love to do something nice for the world when I graduate. And yet the sheer injustice of the way I am treated simply takes over my every instinct when I am in the airport. At that moment, I forget all about how I want to do something beneficial with my life, and I find myself -despite myself- fixated on how to legitimately get back at the shallow, judgmental, people who for some reason think I may be a terrorist. Try as I might, I can’t shake off the ridiculousness of it all. There are 1.6 Billion Muslims on the planet, and yet for some reason the U.S. government gives merit to the possibility that any of them might be dangerous. Maybe if I were brought in to the flagging process I would see the logic behind it – although I doubt that.

 

As it stands, I am disgusted and revolted by the way I am treated. Till now, the U.S. has made it clear that I am not very welcome on its land – whether for business or pleasure.

 

Wähle die Zufriedenheit

Gestern hatte ich mein letztes Uniseminar. Und bevor ich jetzt erstmal untertauche, um das zu tun, was mich von meinem Master trennt (2 Klausuren, zwei Paper und die Masterarbeit), wollte ich die Abschiedsrede meines Professors mit Euch teilen und Euch ein Update in Form von Fotos geben.

Professor David Collis unterrichtet an der Harvard Business School Corporate Strategy. Seine Art zu unterrichten ist einzigartig. Er ist Brite und legt auch nach 40 Jahren in Boston sehr großen Wert auf seinen Akzent und wird nicht müde zu betonen, dass die Amerikaner keine Ahnung von Schokolade haben. Seine Seminare sind pures Entertainment mit ziemlich hohem Anspruch.

Er hat uns seit Januar dazu gebracht, völlig anders über Geschäftsmodelle von Konzernen nachzudenken und die gesamte Organisationsstruktur von Firmen zu hinterfragen. An unserem letzten Tag hat er nach einer Zusammenfassung aller Materialien seine Unterlagen gepackt und gesagt, dass er eine persönliche Botschaft für uns hätte.

Er erzählte, dass die Karrierewege der klassenbesten HBS-Absolventen jedes Jahres dokumentiert würden. Zu Klassentreffen würde dann meist berichtet, wie ihre Karriere verlaufe. Zu seinem letzten Klassentreffen hätte das wie folgt ausgesehen: einige CEOs von großen Unternehmen und bekannte Politiker. Und, fügte er an, ein Hippiefarmer in New Mexico. Alle lachten. Bevor er weitersprach, schaute er uns alle an. Der sei zwar nicht der reichste, fuhr er fort, aber mit Sicherheit einer der glücklichsten.

Er forderte uns dazu auf, einen Moment inne zu halten nach unserem Abschluss und zu überlegen, was uns glücklich mache. Und wenn wir einen Weg einschlagen und nach sechs Monaten feststellten, dass es der Falsche sei, dass uns die vermeintlich große Karriere oder prestigereiche Position in einer großen Firma unglücklich mache, dann sollten wir den Mut haben, einen neuen Weg zu gehen. Wir sollten am besten alle sechs Monate einen Termin in unserem Kalender einstellen, eine Stunde mit uns selbst. Uns und unsere Reise hinterfragen! Wir sollten, schloss er ab, nicht dem großen Geld folgen, sondern der inneren Zufriedenheit!

Die Harvard Business School steht wie fast keine andere Institution für Kapitalismus und große Karrieren. Ich hätte diese Abschlussrede an der Fletcher School erwartet, aber nicht hier. Wieder einmal lerne ich, dass ich vielen Dingen mit zu großen Vorurteilen begegne.

Was nun?

Eine Woche habe ich noch, um alles fertigzumachen. Und dann eine Woche, um alles wieder zu vergessen (wir nennen das “Dis-Orientation” und mehr muss ich dazu auch nicht sagen ;-)), und am 17.Mai ist meine Abschlussfeier. Bis dahin tauche ich jetzt erstmal ab und hinterlasse Euch ein paar Impressionen meiner letzten Wochen:

Connecting Worlds – homesickness is just a concept

Summary for busy folks: I have given you two years of my perspective on the international experience. It is time for other voices…today I am very happy that my friend Deborshi reflects on how dynamic the term homesick can be.

 

Deborshi Barat, Fletcher student and book authorDebo is a lawyer, presently enrolled at The Fletcher School.We lived together in Blakeley last year. We did have trouble managing to see eachother, though, because my preferred time to get up is 06am (the earlybird), which is roughly Debo’s preferred time to go to bed (the nightowl). Among other things, he’s secretly trying to promote a book he’s written, available online at http://www.amazon.com/The-Hunter-Pigeons-Deborshi-Barat/dp/148283460X

 

 

In the first couple of weeks, I walked to Davis Square to open a local bank account. It was a big deal – my first foray into the U.S. banking system. I was struck by how seamless the process was. A manager ushered me into her room and breezed through the process. Since home was on my mind, I asked her, a perfect stranger, a professional in the middle of a transaction, where she was from, and if she missed home. She didn’t laugh. I was informed that she’d arrived from Romania some years ago. I asked her why she hadn’t returned. “I like it here,” she said. “How can you not want to go back?” She said, she was terribly homesick too, the first couple of years after her emigration. She went back often. At first, the visits were six months apart, then annual, then once in two years. “Now I don’t fit in anymore,” she said. I came out of the bank, aghast. There was a dim realization that homesickness was a concept too, a concept that one could get used to, and eventually it would disappear. Just like Kundera said. But to this day, I wish I don’t become that person.

Strangely enough, the first impression of coming to stay and study in Boston was not as earth-shattering as I thought it’d be. People spoke about adjusting to the ‘culture’ here, but what with movies and television, and pop culture in general, there were very few things about the U.S. which were unexpected. Coming from India, language too wasn’t a barrier. Of course, I was homesick, and I secretly prayed that others were too, so that I’d feel less embarrassed about admitting it. However, the bubble that an ‘international’ grad school creates, in many ways, mimicks the world: there are groups formed based on language, interests, skills, etc., so much so that I feel one can take Fletcher and plant it anywhere else in the world, and it would still essentially remain the same. This mini-world illusion is a trap. Listening to people’s stories from across the globe, it is easy to be lulled into a wider consciousness, and there comes a time when one goes home and discovers that it’s not the same anymore. The concept of home changes, and once sucked into this bubble, I sometimes forget who I am, and where I belong. Every time I fly back to Calcutta, my city, with each subsequent visit, I miss the city less, and familiar things either get defamilarized or staid, and I realize that a large part of the mind is always left behind in this bubble – as if it’s an antiseptic asylum, detached from the rest of the world.

Was willst Du mal werden?

Wir nennen es “Home Stretch” – die letzten Wochen des Studiums. Home Stretch heißt nicht daran denken, dass in sechs Wochen ein neuer Lebensabschnitt beginnt und doch alles dafür tun. Heißt Masterarbeit schreiben bei vollem Stundenplan, Bewerbungen abschicken, Visum organisieren, Garbderobe für den Abschlussball und die Zeremonie kaufen. Gleichzeitig heißt Home Stretch innehalten, den Stift fallen lassen für ein Abendessen oder einen Ausflug mit Freunden, nicht die Motivation verlieren, und stetes Hoffen, dass es auch in Boston irgendwann aufhören wird zu schneien.

Es gibt Momente, die mich den Druck vergessen lassen. Ungewöhnliche Situationen, die mich daran erinnern, warum ich eigentlich hierhergekommen bin: Für ein besseres Ich.

Einen dieser Momente möchte ich mit Euch teilen:

Zu Anfang dieses Jahres ist ein wunderbarer Professor, Bill Martel, sehr plötzlich verstorben und am Freitag hat die Uni eine sehr emotionale Gedenkfeier veranstaltet. Bill Martel hat seinen Kampf gegen Leukämie verloren, bis zum Ende war er positiv und zuversichtlich. Er hat von zu Hause via Skype unterrichtet, seine Doktoranten begleitet, hatte stets Zeit für seine Studenten. Weil sie ihm wichtig waren.

Seine Freunde, Familie, Studenten und Kollegen teilten am Freitag Anekdoten mit uns, unter anderem haben wir erfahren, dass Bill ein Gedicht bei sich trug. Und dieses Gedicht möchte ich mit Euch teilen. Es thematisiert meines Erachtens Moral, die innere Haltung eines Menschen. Was willst Du mal werden?, fragen mich viele momentan und ich finde es erstaunlich, dass diese Frage stets in Bezug auf die Arbeitswelt bezogen wird. Ich habe meine beruflichen Ambitionen, aber in manchen Momenten möchte ich gerne antworten: Ein Mensch, der mehr zuhört als redet. Der sich selbst nicht zu ernst nimmt. Ein Einsamer, der bereit ist, seine Moral gegenüber jedem zu vertreten.

IF (Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Snowerflow – Boston Winter kills the love

Gallery

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Winter in Berlin was cold, with snow that nobody bothered removing. Winter in Stuttgart was snowy. Current winter in Boston is unbelievably cold, temperatures are changing on a daily basis within a range of 20 degrees celsius, there is a … Continue reading