It’s Women Wednesday or WomenWOW: Q&A

In honor of National Women Wednesday (the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving), I’m sharing my story as a woman small business owner who is dedicated to helping women launch international careers. I launched my second career more than 12 years ago with the publication of the award-winning, Get Ahead By Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-track Career Success (HarperCollins 2007), with subsequent editions in paperback, e-book, audio and translated into several languages. It’s been a wild ride since then so I decided to start culling through all the content that I wrote since then and I have found some really good stuff! So every now and then I plan to release some of it, updated as appropriate. This blog shares the Q&A from an interview I did with “Great Authors”.

Q: One of the basic motifs in your book is fast tracking a career by going abroad. Can you explain to our members how that works?

A: Working in a foreign market can accelerate a career because it broadens professional capabilities and stimulates personal growth. First, going global creates differentiation because you are often given enhanced, challenging or simply different responsibilities and sooner, which leads to greater recognition by supervisors in country and leadership back home, which generally translates into increased pay and faster promotions. Second, going abroad offers many opportunities not always available in your home market, including access to high-level business contacts and ability to take on line and management responsibility earlier in a career, especially if working in a smaller and/or developing market. Conversely, if moving to a more advanced market, sophisticated projects, cutting-edge technical know-how and soaking up knowledge while working on world-class teams create a highly desirable resume. Third, the personal growth that takes place while working and living in a foreign environment equals the professional: Immersing oneself in a new culture, learning new skills, unlearning old ones and delivering results on the job boost self-confidence and usually translate into enhanced leadership and management skills earned earlier in a career. One more important point: It takes work to make the most of an international job, and so it’s critical that professionals assume this responsibility going in to make the most of it ongoing–the focus of half of the book.

Q: Your book is aimed at women. Is this a way through the Glass Ceiling, for women? Why?

A: In our research with more than 200 professional women with international experience, 83 percent agreed their time abroad was key to their rapid advancement, and 53 percent agreed going global is a way to break through the glass ceiling. The reasons cited above work for both men and women, but the real differentiator–and a big “a-ha!” for us–was learning the reason behind significant success in cross-cultural situations is a women’s innate feminine style. Her skills such as adaptability, flexibility, communications ability, the way in which she build relationships and teams, and her patience and persistence–or grace under pressure – are critical to ongoing success in cross-cultural situations. Women have, on average, a 94 percent success rate in international assignments.

Q: How can entry level professionals plan an international career, while keeping an eye on the fast track opportunities?

A: Going global works well at any level, it depends on what’s right for the professional–and what she makes of it. For example, going global right out of college provides an exciting first job and gets an international career off to a fast start. But since technical skills and know-how are minimal, we recommend staying only 3-4 years unless working for a large multinational in its HQs. Going abroad as a junior executive with a few years experience allows one to build on a budding skill set, as well as provide a network to serve as a link back home once abroad. A mentor ranks top of the list for both of these junior professionals.

Q: Is the international option a good possible career reviver for people who are stuck on the shelf in their present positions?

A: Yes. For those who want to jump-start a stalled career, work on more exciting projects and/or simply want to break from the competitive pack, going global could be the ticket needed to catapult levels past peers. For professionals in middle management, with 7-10 years of experience, we’ve seen the most dramatic strides. Just when they’re ready for more, opportunities are limited at home, and so going abroad to enhanced opportunities and greater responsibilities creates an environment for fast-learning and fast-tracking. In addition, for those going through layoffs and redundancies, searching for jobs–or requesting a transfer to a booming market–could be a great way to not only keep a job with a growing company, but add tremendous value to a resume.

Q: How do people learn to find their way around the global job market?

A: It’s a new space, and so we devoted two chapters to this topic in our book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad. The most important aspects are first, determining if it’s right for you; second, devising a strategy to land the assignment; and three, network with internationalists.

Q: Does the international approach mean much job hopping, or can you work things according to your preferences?

A: If “job hopping” is defined as switching employers, no, many professionals can successful work for one company, in one industry in many countries around the world. However, the jobs are usually different simply by definition of being operated in a different country. Difference is good and through it growth takes place. The vast majority of people we interviewed agree that these new skills create opportunities, which sometimes leads to career changes.

Q: When applying for international jobs, what sort of research is involved, and what should people make sure they know? The right research will prove critical to landing the best international assignment for you. The questions people should ask themselves as they begin include Why do I want an international assignment–is my objective money, career advancement, travel? What market offers me best opportunities? If I work for a multinational company, where can I put my skills to use? Where do they need someone like me? What is it about my background that makes me the best candidate for a specific opportunity? Next, professionals should do research on countries of interest and learn about culture, language, economies, religion–the answers that would help one know if that culture is right or not.

Q: What should be avoided? Are there any big Don’ts in an international career?

A: To be successful in the international marketplace, you have to know yourself. Going global takes a certain amount of risk and tremendous level of comfort operating outside one’s comfort zone. Trust your instincts: If you have serious reservations, for instance, about the job, the country, the culture–don’t go.

Q: The international CV is an often-argued point in the employment market. Some employers get a bit confused looking at what is to them a foreign CV. What’s the best way to manage CV style, and tailor it for an employer?

A: It all depends on your target and so it’s best to start with a global framework–one that contains all information pertinent yet strongly reflects your global experience. Then do your research about the various styles acceptable in the country you’re targeting and tailor for multiple CVs. Use your international network to help you determine best approach to company and country.

Q: What’s the most dramatic success you’ve seen in the fast track overseas career field?

A: The thousands of women who have catapulted their way to the top across industries, nationalities and countries. These women have then turned this success into maximum gain as defined by them–that’s success. For some, it’s the c-suite and continued executive management. For others, it’s early retirement, resting on their laurels at an early age (most in mid-40s to early 50s). Still there are others who have turned this success into a new career or an entrepreneurial adventure by doing something completely different. This is what I have done and I owe my second career as successful writer, speaker and consultant to my international experience.

#GoGlobal! #womenWOW

Critical Component to International Careers: Building Relationships

A few weeks ago, I spoke at GWU, keynoting the 6th Women in Global Careers Roundtable event, sponsored by CIBER (Center for International Business Education and Research). I look forward to this event every year! Why? Because it wraps up everything I have come to love about my job: Working with a great team of professionals at the GWU School of Business, planning and executing an event designed by women for women interested in global careers; making a difference in the lives of women starting out in the careers; and bringing together a handful of fantastic, global women–Global Mentors–who always turn out to be the most interesting people I know.

Some of the Global Mentors have been friends or colleagues for decades. Others are relatively new to my global network. But for all, I get to know them a little better, they get to know each other, and new relationships have begun. We are walking the talk because relationships are a critical component to international careers.

Here are 5 reasons:

#1 OPPORTUNITY

The more people you know, the more likely it is that one of them will be able to recommend you for or tell you about an international position. The vast majority of women I’ve interviewed landed their international because they raised their hands for assignments…sought out other people within the organization who could help them… and could count on colleagues to vouch for both their technical abilities and their soft skills.

#2 CROSS-CULTURAL SKILLS

When you work in a different country, within a different culture, perhaps through an interpreter or in your second language, a lot goes on that you will not understand—you may not even know it’s happening! Being the kind of professional who can build teams and relationships with all kinds of people remains one of the most important skills to have in any type of international career. You must be able to work well with others… inspire people to work with you… and ask for help when you need it.

#3 YOUR BRAND AND REPUTATION

People want a sense of who a person is in order to recommend them for a global role, a new business opportunity, an award, or a position in an office or site outside the US. Yes, it’s great if you’re that person who can crunch numbers quickly… make the trains run on time…or create an awesome tag line. But each of us is much our resume. We must build relationships to show our human side. 

#4 GROWING THE BUSINESS

Getting to know your customers, clients, coworkers and other influencers and stakeholders will enhance your bottom line. It will increase the likelihood of contracts being renewed…your distribution channels expanding. Building relationships with your team members will help motivate them to get the work done well and on time—maybe even exceed expectations. Because people like to work with people. They like to know their consultant, supervisor or co-worker isn’t a jerk just out for themselves, but a person they wouldn’t mind having a coffee or beer with. Of all the countries I’ve worked in—more than 50—the US is the most transactional and the least relationship driven. This makes it harder for Americans to exceed beyond our borders. But if you are the type of person who is proven to develop relationships well, knows how to lead and work on teams, and is able to see the bigger picture beyond yourself and your assignment, you will be noticed.

Finally….

#5 PERSONAL FULFILLMENT & FRIENDSHIPS

The global life can be exciting and thrilling, jetting around the world working in Paris one week and Hong Kong the next….except when it’s lonely, tiring and extremely stressful. When your bags are lost somewhere over the Atlantic and you can’t fall asleep in yet another strange hotel. Deepening relationships with clients and coworkers bring more joy into the time we spend working. Having global friends who understand what you’re going through will make a world of difference toward your creating much-needed balance in your global life.

You might also consider the global aspect of another type of relationship: Your life partner. It is very important to recognize that if you want a global career, your partner should share your passion, or at the very least support you if they don’t have global aspirations of their own. And that “global” means the same thing to both of you: If you’re thinking Singapore but they’re thinking Vancouver…you’ll run into problems.

While high GPAs and a long list of activities, assignments, jobs and internships will enhance your career prospects……and speaking another language or two, studying or interning abroad and developing a global mindset will move you closer to an international career……developing relationships with all kinds of people across all kinds of industries and fields will open up your mind and expand your network which will, in turn, make landing an international assignment that much more likely.

Find out more about how you can #GoGlobal!

 

Book Review: The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury

I’ve read a lot of books this summer. Many from the list of “Globetrotting” put together by the New York Times published in January.

Sometimes it’s really nice to get lost in the lives of the characters in a novel. That’s just what happened to me when I started reading The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury, a delightful, circuitous and unexpected story written by Marc Levy, France’s most-read novelist.

The story follows Alice, a 39-year old British woman, who lost both of her parents in an air strike during the war. The house she grew up in had disappeared overnight along with her mother, father and all of their belongings. It’s now 1950, and Alice has made a new life for herself with a close group of friends in London. She has a profession she loves: She is “a nose”—she has an acute sense of smell–and she blends fragrances to sell to London perfume shops. She lives and works in a drafty flat and has regular encounters with her cantankerous neighbor, Doldry, who is a painter, disapproves of her loud gatherings and covets her flat’s skylight.

Alice and her friends go on a daytrip to Brighton, where she encounters a fortune teller’s caravan. Alice’s friends persuade her to have her fortune read. The strange old woman insists that she has seen Alice’s eyes before and that she carries a story without even realizing it. She also tells her that the man who will be the most important in her life was walking right behind her that night, but that she would need to meet six other people first before she would find him—and the amazing journey would take her to Istanbul the city of her birth. Alice brushes this off as nonsense knowing for certain that she is a British citizen. But she can’t get the idea out of her head.

As she mulls this over, she develops an unlikely friendship with Doldry and with his help, they set off on an evocative and exotic expedition that sees Alice traveling through post war Europe to the mysteries of Turkey. The reader is taken along through a world of different scents, cultures, experiences and histories challenging Alice to discover who she really is.

Enhancing Career Prospects with Study Abroad

Fall is upon us and students are (mostly) back on campus. Many students will head to the global studies or study abroad office in the early days, planning ahead for the spring semester, or perhaps figuring out how best to incorporate study abroad into their academic program. I’ve put together a list of the most commonly asked questions I get from students, their parents and academic / career counselors.

What advantages do you see in someone studying abroad? What about advantages for someone already in the workplace, not just someone just leaving college?

There are many, many benefits to studying abroad. In general terms, studying abroad expands one’s personal horizons as well as opens up a world of professional opportunities for both students and those already in the workplace. Embracing and immersing oneself in a new culture and experiencing new ways of thinking leads to new perspectives about people, places and often themselves. Those who have studied abroad have an opportunity to develop a deeper self-awareness and self-confidence as they rise to the constant challenges of taking on a whole new range of situations. No matter when a person studies abroad, learning another language (or two) is one of the greatest benefits, albeit one that takes a little longer to acquire.

Is studying abroad a key way to keep up professionally in an increasingly global world?

Studying abroad is one way to keep up professionally, but it may not be practical for everyone. There are other ways to gain global experience such as an international assignment (short- or long-term), being part of a global team dealing with international issues, learning another language, and building relationships with international students or colleagues.

How does studying abroad help someone’s career? Does it for example lead to better job prospects?

Studying abroad is a smart way to establish international credentials in a global economy: to learn a different language, culture, education system, social system, local economy, industry or business, history arts and more. This knowledge can be applied to a job directly (e.g., the employer has operations in a certain country), or indirectly by demonstrating an ability to learn new skills, work with diverse people and adapt to complex situations.

Do employers actively look for or approve of individuals who have studied abroad?

Yes! Based on conversations I have been having with employers over the past decade, executives consistently say that they value the intellectual curiosity associated with those who have studied abroad. They believe that these people are on track to becoming globally competent and globally minded employees. The vast majority say that if they received two resumes that were exactly the same except one studied abroad, they would choose the one who studied abroad citing such attributes as cross cultural awareness, critical thinking, adaptability, multiple language skills and a predisposition to and experience with global mobility.

What less obvious ways might studying abroad help an individual by, for example, teaching them to become more adaptable or independent.

As noted above, study abroad inspires one to learn about oneself and become more self-aware, boosts self-confidence and strengthens independence. It will expand one’s worldview while also helping one learn about their own country and history, thereby appreciating its place in the world. Returnees have cited better communication, relationship-building and adaptability skills, plus it is a terrific way to meet interesting people and make lifelong friends.

Did you study abroad? If so, please describe your experience and how it might have helped with your career.

No, I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to study abroad because I also worked full time. But my closest group of friends in college were all international students who were studying abroad. This reverse exposure to studying abroad allowed me to expand my cross-cultural awareness and enhance my language skills. It also taught me that I wanted to work abroad. A few years into my career at Burson-Marsteller, I began to pursue an international assignment and landed one because of my abilities to work successfully on global teams and articulate the need for consultants to have global experience to apply to client problems. I worked in Hong Kong for three years, which was an impetus for fast-tracking my career, increasing my salary and inspiring me to write the first of my six books.

Are there any words of caution you could add for someone planning to study abroad? Is it suitable for everyone?

Studying abroad is a serious undertaking. It is challenging, costs money and will have an impact on one’s academic career. Picking up and moving to another country for a semester or year requires a good deal of research, thoughtful planning and honest self-assessment. It can be lonely and very difficult to live in a strange place, take classes in a totally different academic environment, and meet people and make friends. Some destinations may be “easier” to adjust to than others, specifically as it relates to language and culture, but every new place has its own challenges. The only one who can decide if it’s right is the person going. Pick up a copy of A Student Guide to Study Abroad a valuable hands-on resource with hundreds of tips and real-life stories from students and employers.

Make study abroad part of your undergraduate studies!

 

Traveling Through Rome…By the Book

My best friend from college is Italian, and I am fortunate to have visited her and her family many times in Rome and throughout Italy over the years. Although we’ve explored most of the country, Rome remains one of my favorite cities. I spent 10 days there recently and didn’t really need a guidebook— just an excellent map and my own research. Come explore with me as I travel by the book through the rise of the Roman Empire and the artistic genius of the Renaissance while tapping into contemporary life in this vibrant city.

The best places to begin to appreciate the Roman Empire are the Forum, Colosseum and Palatine Hill. This is where the action was (and still is, touristically speaking). The Colosseum is magnificent, and I was lucky enough to see it in the distance every single day as I hopped off the tram at Piazza Venezia. Made of travertine, tuff and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheater ever built. Construction of this remarkable innovation began under Emperor Vespasian (69-79) in 72 and was finished by his successor, Titus (79-81), the first emperor to come to the throne after his own biological father.

According to Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars, a collection of mini biographies that provide tremendous color and detail of key emperors from the founding by Augustus to the Christianizing by Constantine, public works were one of the ways that emperors boosted their standing with the people. Thus, a place where 50,000 spectators could watch gladiatorial games was monumental. So, too, were the nearby Arch of Constantine and Forum, best viewed from the Palatine Hill, where the emperors’ palaces were built, rebuilt and expanded upon over the years. Standing on the hill overlooking the ruins, one can imagine the intrigue taking place almost two thousand years ago among the various emperors and senators in a frenzy of politics, history and political drama.

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Constantine’s Arch.

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Constantine’s Arch.

Ten Caesars lays bare how difficult life was at the time: the rich and powerful could be swept up in a plot, leaving murder and suicide as the only ways out. Poor decisions by emperors could lead to famine while disease decimated a family or town. Slaves could die fighting for their freedom; women could take on immense power behind the throne.

And the statues! They are, literally, all over Rome. The most economical (time and euros) way to see the best collection of statues is to buy two different tickets. The two-part Capitoline Museums house iconic pieces of art and history, including famous statues of emperors (see photos). The four-part Roman National Museum allows visitors entry to Palazzo Massimo, which houses one of the best archaeological collections in the world; Palazzo Altemps, a 16th-century palace with a bust of every Caesar and “finished” statues (preservationists added a hand, foot, nose, arm to the otherwise fractured statues); Crypta Balbi, which takes one back to the time of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), the founder; and the Baths of Diocletian (284-305), known as the great divider.

Bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the philosopher,

The head remnant of the 40-foot high Colossus of Constantine (306-337), who is known as “liberating” the Roman people through Christianity.

The head remnant of the 40-foot high Colossus of Constantine (306-337), who is known as “liberating” the Roman people through Christianity.

Fast forward from Constantine to the Italian Renaissance which began in the 14th century: The Agony and the Ecstasy, historic fiction that was a best seller by Irving Stone written in the 1970s, provided rich, colorful details about Michelangelo’s struggles with his art, money and the politics of the Roman Catholic Church. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, by Christopher Hibbert, provided historic context and a glimpse into the role both power and money played as the city-states within Italy fought each other for land, power and influence. Michelangelo and the Medici family were from Tuscany and Florence, as well as paramount to the blossoming of artistic and architectural masterpieces commissioned by the Church.

The Agony and the Ecstasy describes how Michelangelo was taken under the wing of the Medici family when he was a teen. It was during this time that he honed his sculpting skills, met fellow artists and learned the art of fresco painting (the Sistine Chapel, located in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most famous fresco in the world).

So instead of revisiting tourist-thronged St. Peter’s, which is bursting with masterpieces and crowds, I spent days wandering the streets of Rome visiting dozens of churches and admiring the immense beauty to be found inside the cool buildings that were usually not very crowded.

Fast forward from Constantine to the Italian Renaissance which began in the 14th century: The Agony and the Ecstasy, historic fiction that was a best seller by Irving Stone written in the 1970s, provided rich, colorful details about Michelangelo’s struggles with his art, money and the politics of the Roman Catholic Church. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, by Christopher Hibbert, provided historic context and a glimpse into the role both power and money played as the city-states within Italy fought each other for land, power and influence. Michelangelo and the Medici family were from Tuscany and Florence, as well as paramount to the blossoming of artistic and architectural masterpieces commissioned by the Church.

Michelangelo considered this Moses, which adorns the Tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vicoli, to be one of his best creations.

Michelangelo considered this Moses, which adorns the Tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vicoli, to be one of his best creations.The Agony and the Ecstasy describes how Michelangelo was taken under the wing of the Medici family when he was a teen. It was during this time that he honed his sculpting skills, met fellow artists and learned the art of fresco painting (the Sistine Chapel, located in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most famous fresco in the world).

So instead of revisiting tourist-thronged St. Peter’s, which is bursting with masterpieces and crowds, I spent days wandering the streets of Rome visiting dozens of churches and admiring the immense beauty to be found inside the cool buildings that were usually not very crowded.

The Stasi of Santa Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria, by Bernini, is probably his most famous and magnificent.

The Stasi of Santa Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria, by Bernini, is probably his most famous and magnificent.

Being surrounded by statues, paintings and the ruins of an empire long past can be exhausting, particularly because one’s studies can go on and on. So I spent many evenings reading The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, one of Italy’s most famous contemporary novelists. It catapulted me into the present where I enjoyed many discussions about relationships, marriage, economy, politics, literature, lifestyles, taxes, education, Brexit—and more!—over pinsa e pizza and a bottle of wine one evening, enjoying the delicacies of a mozzarella bar one afternoon, and walking, talking and eating gelato.

A lovely, light insalata Caprese served at Obica, a mozzarella bar in downtown Rome.

A lovely, light insalata Caprese served at Obica, a mozzarella bar in downtown Rome.

Rome is one of those cities that explodes with opportunity to enjoy art, architecture, history, archaeology, anthropology, food, beauty, friends. And as my trip came to a close, I recognize how much more I understand Rome’s past and present and am eager to keep reading until my next trip

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

 

 

 

 

 

 

DYK: Demand for Language Skills Are on the Rise in the Workplace?

Did you know that today’s employers increasingly rely on employees with foreign language skills? According to new research by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 90% of those surveyed rely on employees with language skills, and 32 percent of those state a strong reliance.

Wow.

It seems the demand for language skills in the U.S. workforce is greater than ever before. In boardrooms and in the field, with customers and partners and on social media, U.S. employers today are increasingly conducting business in a language other than English. Accordingly, the ability to effectively communicate in more than one language is a critical asset for U.S. students and employees—not only in boosting their marketability in the workplace, but in helping them thrive in a global economy.

This groundbreaking industry report, based on a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for ACTFL as part of its Lead with Languages campaign, and with support from Pearson LLC and Language Testing International, includes new data emphasizing the vital need for language skills in the U.S. workplace and their impact on the U.S. economy.

How did the vast majority of news outlets miss this news when the research was released back in May?

Perhaps for the same reason that the astounding news reported by the Modern Language Association in January that colleges have shut down a “stunning” 651 language programs over the past three years slipped quietly into and out of the news cycle.

Is anyone paying attention? Shouldn’t employers and colleges get together to discuss the skills needed to properly prepare our students for these jobs?

It’s apparent that the need is there—and growing:

  • 56% of U.S. employers say their foreign language demand will increase in the next 5 years.
  • 47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
  • 1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers report a language skills gap.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills.

 

The report goes into detail noting that the demand for language skills is not limited to a single language, market, sector or functional department. Spanish leads as the most in-demand language among U.S. employers (85 percent), with other highly sought-after languages including Chinese (34 percent), French (22 percent), Japanese (17 percent) and German (17 percent). Ninety-seven percent of employers use language skills at least to some extent domestically, leaving only 3 percent using such skills for international needs only. And while customer service and sales come forth as the two departments most requiring language skills, a full 12 percent of employers cite a need for multilingual employees across all departments—from production finance, and everything in between.

YES! Of course!

Combined with the critical cognitive and social skills inherent in the task of language learning, this new data places those who know one or more languages–in addition to English–at an even greater competitive advantage over their monolingual peers.

Along with the survey findings, Making Languages Our Business also presents seven actionable recommendations that employers can take to build a company-wide language strategy:

  • Take stock of current language assets by conducting a formal Language Needs Analysis;
  • Assess employees’ current skills using professional tools;
  • Maintain an inventory of linguistic and cultural competencies of their workforce to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement;
  • Make languages a strategic focus during recruitment efforts;
  • Invest in targeted training for candidates and employees who need additional skills;
  • Form partnerships with colleges and universities that offer intercultural and language immersion opportunities; and
  • Advocate for policies in support of funding for early language-learning programs.

All of these steps will not only amplify an organization’s own language assets but also boost outcomes to enhance the bottom line, something that I have written about for more than 10 years—since my first book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, came out in 2007. Globally-minded organizations can take a leadership role in contributing to the development of a strong future U.S. workforce by cultivating a pipeline of multilingual talent.

For more than a decade I have been proselytizing that employers and their bottom lines stand to gain the most and therefore are necessary to include in the discussions about education policy from K-16. We must work with them to build the bridges between employers and higher ed, between higher ed and K-12, between K-12 and employers.

If we want our country to have strong national security, world-class diplomatic and trade relations, and a robust economy, we must DO SOMETHING to address the lack of language skills and language learning opportunities here. This begins with actually paying attention to news that matters: the policies, trends and anything else that will have an effect on our future and that of the young people who will become tomorrow’s global, multilingual employees working in a multicultural workplace.

Travelling Through Morocco…By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our well-traveled family of four (two adults and two teenagers) recently spent a number of weeks exploring Morocco. In addition to our guidebook we brought along other books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Come explore Morocco with us as we travel “by the book.”

Our ferry from Algeciras, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco, gave us plenty of time to dive into our books detailing the fusion of Berber, Arab and European cultural influences that is Morocco. A few weeks in Spain had given us a much better understanding of the glories of the Moorish past, and whet our appetite for Morocco’s beauty, including Tangier and the northern coast, the big cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez, and many small towns in between.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

The book most fitting to begin with (and truth be told, one of us had already read it before leaving Spain) was definitely Leo Africanus (1986), written by the Lebanese writer, Amin Maalouf. It is an imaginary autobiography of the famous geographer, adventurer and scholar Hasan al-Wazzan, who was born in Granada in 1488 and whose family was forced to flee to Fez after the fall of Granada. We found this novel to be a delightful read as we traveled with the protagonist from Granada to Fez (and on to Cairo and Rome), relishing the stories of culture, religion, commerce, climate and politics of 500 years ago. While in Granada, Spain, we had stayed in the old Arab quarter of Albayzín, looked at the Alhambra from St. Nicholas Church terrace, and pictured Leo Africanus and his fellow Muslims being forced to leave their homes as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the last Moorish stronghold in Spain.

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

We spent a whole day wandering through the Fez medina, eyeing the piles of dates and assortment of sweets, haggling with a shopkeeper over the price of a ceramic tagine, and peeking through the doorway of the University of Al-Karaouine, the oldest university in the world. We imagined Leo Africanus and his friends spending their youth there, learning the Koran and heeding the call to prayer as it came from multiple directions five times a day. Reading the fictional account of a Moor added color and texture to the historic sites, architecture and art, making them that much more interesting.

Fast forward to the newly independent nation of Morocco in the 1950s. We chose The Last Friend (2004) by internationally-acclaimed Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun (who emigrated to France in 1961), which took us on a deep cultural dive into the friendship between two men struggling to find their identities in Tangier in the late 1950s. The Last Friend shed light on this era of repression and disillusionment by giving us a very personal glimpse into the psyches of two very different men. Each narrator tells his version of the story over the course of 30 years, painting a vivid portrait of the strict life in Morocco and how they lived within and outside the rules. We felt we learned much about the psyche of Moroccan people, which carried over into our discussions and people-watching all over this bustling international, yet incr

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

easingly conservative, city.

Storytelling is one of the bedrocks of Moroccan society, but as outsiders we wouldn’t have known this if we hadn’t read Tahir Shah’s memoir-ish In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (2007). Although the book is set mostly in Casablanca, we also go along with Shah (figuratively and literally) as he travels across Morocco, including a trip across the Sahara. We visit the tailors and shoemakers of Fez, who really do work their magic with fabric and leather the old-fashioned way. We have hundreds of glasses of mint tea in small cafes in every single town we visit, but especially liked Café Hafa, set on a sheer cliff in Tangier with a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean. We wander through Rabat and see the rows of “men only” coffee houses and imagine them drinking bitter black coffee while having intimate conversations about people, politics and stories as described by Shah. Shah’s storytelling opened up for us another side of Moroccan culture–one of mysticism, wisdom and secrets that we only glimpsed in Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fna, the large square set in the middle of the medina where everyone gathers after sunset. We rode camels across the Sahara and could appreciate the barren beauty and sheer terror of being left alone in a place which changes dramatically overnight as the winds shift the hills of sand completely leaving visitors at the mercy of a guide.

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Morocco’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

Traveling Through Spain …By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our family travels a lot. Our global family adventures began with our twin daughters, Connie and Betty, when they were six months old. They have been part of the trip planning process since elementary school, and now that they’re 18 years old they direct and lead a lot of the adventures. My husband, Mike, a veteran travel writer, identifies the top sites to see and things to do (both well-known and little known), I set the travel schedule and arrange logistics, and the girls research what we need to know and how we should go about our trip.

Most recently, we spent a number of weeks exploring Spain. In addition to the required guidebook or two (we enjoy Rick Steves’ Snapshots for big cities), we brought an assortment of books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Choosing the right titles can be tricky and requires research, so for those of you heading to Spain, come along with as we travel “by the book.” 

We spent the majority of our time in Andalucía, including Granada, Córdoba, Seville and Arcos de la Frontera, exploring Spanish culture built upon the remnants of the sophisticated Moorish civilization that lasted 700 years.

We began in Granada and so naturally, Washington Irving’s Tales from Al Hambra, a collection of essays, journal entries and historical sketches, was first up. The book begins with a chapter in which Irving describes his journey from Seville to Granada with the flourish of a travel writer. The remainder of the book focuses on the fabled palace of the Nasrid Caliphate (where he took up residence in the spring of 1829), and where we spent an entire day. It is clear that Irving was enamored of what he called “one of the most remarkable, romantic and delicious spots in the world”, and we could see why.

The Alhambra is actually a collection of four areas: Palacios Nazaríes is an exquisite Islamic building with perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceilings and an abundance of water; Charles V’s Palace was added to the Alhambra after the Reconquista and includes the museum; Alcazaba is an old fort with towers and excellent views; and the Generálife boasts beautiful, manicured gardens and a summer palace. Reading Tales around the time of our visit transported us back in time and filled the palace’s empty rooms and halls with colorful stories about the Moors, sprinkled with references to his grand ideas about lost Moorish glories, including the ghosts wandering the place. The Tales stayed with us long after we left reminding us that Irving was indeed a first-rate story teller. 

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the and Mihrab (left) and Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the Mihrab (left) …

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

Modern Spain is a lot less romantic–and much more complicated–than the sunshine, siestas and flamenco most tourists enjoy. We wanted to better understand the people selling us tickets to the Museu Picasso, serving us tinto de verano in the cafes, and sitting beside us (hundreds of teens actually) at the Maestranza watching novilladas (bullfights designed to promote new talent) on a hot July evening. Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past (2006) by Giles Tremlett, a journalist and resident of Spain, provides a contemporary and sobering view of a people still torn apart by the 1936-39 Civil War and subsequent repression under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. We learned about the cleaving of the population as Catholics stood by or rejected the Church’s actions during the last 100 years. And as we toured the grand Cathedrals of Granada, Seville and Córdoba–built on or near the conquered Moors’ edifices—we talked about the vein of oppression and cruelty exacted by the Church and its monarchs through the ages—and its effects on society still today.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

... or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

… or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

Barcelona was also on our itinerary, and we felt that it worthwhile to dig a little deeper into Catalan history and Catalonia’s recent bid for independence. Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona (1990) provided an overview of Catalonia’s distinct 1,000-year history, which helped contextualize Catalan nationalism and the fervent push for independence. This passion was visible throughout the city in the form of the Estelada, the independence flag of Catalonia, coupled with giant signs featuring images of the original Catalan constitution. Reading Homage also explained the passion for the Catalan language and why shopkeepers, ticket takers and restauranteurs would speak to us in Catalan first and English second, choosing not to speak Spanish. The book served as a timeless travel guide as we walked the streets and admired the architecture, art and the role famous artists—Picasso, Miró, Gaudí, Dalí, Casals–have played in this cosmopolitan city’s evolution. 

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Spain’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

 

A Student’s Attempt to Understand the Complicated History of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

By Betty Berdan

Thirty years ago today, tanks and soldiers turned a peaceful student demonstration in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square into a massacre. While the Chinese government has claimed that no one died, the death toll is likely almost 10,000. And hardly anyone there knows about it. If there’s one thing that China is good at, it’s covering up its own unsavory history.

Four years ago, I took a class on modern China in high school. That was when most of the kids in the class learned for the first time of the government’s actions in Tiananmen Square. While I couldn’t fault the American students for their lack of knowledge, I was shocked to learn that several of the Chinese students had never heard of this event. These students lived in Beijing and Shanghai; they returned to China for vacations; they grew up in their country’s educational system until high school. Yet, they weren’t aware of a violent day that shook the rest of the world — one when their parents weren’t much older than the student protestors.

How could these smart people be so oblivious to their country’s recent past? Throughout my seven years of Chinese language and culture classes, this question stuck in the back of my mind, making me wonder what made the Chinese so different that they were able to completely abrogate major events from their history. Censorship and communism couldn’t be the only explanations. It wasn’t until my third visit to China that I finally found an answer.

Betty inside one of the 90 palaces of the Forbidden City, Beijing.

A year ago, I visited my friend and her family in Shanghai. Wanting to show their country to an interested foreigner, they packed me up and toured me around Beijing. We waited in lines to get into every palace and historic site, with passports in hand to enter Tiananmen Square. In all of my learning about China, I couldn’t picture the enormous size of the square. It was difficult to imagine the centuries of history in the place I stood in, looking up at a giant portrait of Mao while soldiers marched by. With the Forbidden City behind me, it seemed easy to forget about a day in 1989 when centuries of other historical events occurred in the same place. Instead of recalling the carnage of one day, there was a better history to remember: this one was an easy one to forget.

Through broken Mandarin and English translations, my friend and her parents explained a Chinese perspective I couldn’t have begun to understand in the classroom. As they defended communism, Mao and censorship, they explained that they had what really mattered: comfort and happiness. They knew that the government hid things from them, understanding that there was information they weren’t allowed to know and atrocities that were covered up. To a democratic westerner, this seemed unacceptable, undemocratic — almost inhumane. But they explained that they lived good lives in a country where they didn’t have to worry about politics or the challenges of daily life. Like any others, their country wasn’t perfect, and its past had its blemishes in order to create a smoother future: a future they were living in and enjoying.

Even if I can’t agree with the Chinese about their acceptance of the government’s covering up the truth and lying to its people, I can understand wanting to not worry about the government every day. Here in the US, I look at how politics is destroying our daily happiness, and how it might be easier to be as uninvolved as the Chinese. At the end of the day, we’re too culturally different to fully accept and understand each other’s politics, but those glimpses into opposing perspectives have allowed me to finally start to see the Chinese peoples’ point of view on an event I could never explain as just an American. Above all, I have learned that there is tremendous value to understanding another culture by trying to see a person, an event, history and a culture from another perspective. All of the time I’ve spent immersed in another culture with hosts has reinforced the belief that different is not bad; it’s just different.

About the Author

Betty Berdan is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University. She has studied Chinese for more than seven years, and has traveled to China multiple times to study abroad and visit friends. She is proficient in Spanish and loves to experience other people, places and cultures.

Preparing to Study in the USA

My most recent book, Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know. is a BESTSELLER! and is being re-released today by IIE. The book remains in hot demand as the USA continues to welcome more international students than any other country, but the same rich, dynamic system that draws these students can be a source of complexity and confusion. This book goes deeper, responding to questions that need answers but are too often overlooked: How do I get involved on campus? Why are sports so prevalent in the USA? Why don’t American students always go to class? Make sure that your students are prepared to navigate and appreciate their USA educational experience!

Available as an e-book in English and Chinese from major vendors through IIE’s bookstore. And soon to be released in Arabic.