Friday, December 18, 2015

Hard Hats and Sculpture

Hard Hats and Sculpture

This post focuses on two disparate events in recent days, and could address a good deal more. Given the time, I would post every day to report the many activities and discoveries that define our days here. However, you don’t have the time to read all that, and I’m finding, just as in the U.S., work tends to cut into my day significantly.

Protective Gear Required

It’s not often that teaching public relations requires hard hats, safety vests and work boots, but last Friday was one of those days. Something I never thought I’d have to ask from students is their shoe sizes, but it was necessary in preparation for a visit to the construction site of what will soon be the largest shopping mall in Poland. Dubbed “Poznania,” this behemoth boasts 300,000 m2 (3.2 million square feet) of total surface area and 100,000 m2 (more than 1 million square feet) of leasable area. It will have 220 boutiques, 40 restaurants and 40 medium and large stores, and will be equipped with 4,000 indoor parking spaces.

I have become acquainted with Philippe, the project director for Poznania, through the church we attend here (appropriately called Poznan International Church). Philippe graciously invited me to bring my students for a tour of the site. Because the project involves a French company, Eiffage (Philippe is from France), undertaking this massive project employing almost exclusively Polish construction workers and navigating Polish bureaucracy for permits, approvals, inspections, etc., I thought the idea of a briefing and tour had merit. I was not disappointed.
Philippe begins our visit with a briefing on the scope of the project.

Philippe and his leadership staff began our visit with an explanation of the scope and timeline of the project. The cornerstone was laid in July 2014, and construction is on target for an August 2016 completion – just over two years of construction. Philippe says there are roughly 2,000 employees and contractors working now, and that figure will reach 4,000 as work intensifies in the coming months.
Philippe points out features of the mall.

The interest for my students was double-faceted. For my Internal Communication students, they focused on the efforts by Eiffage to build a sense of community and identity among so many workers with varied backgrounds and responsibilities working on a project of massive scale to a looming deadline. For my International Public Relations students, they took notice of the challenges of building that sense of community across cultures. Philippe described in detail the difficulties in conducting critical meetings when emotions can run high, trying to convey those emotions through interpreters. Philippe said he and his French leadership team had developed a comprehensive organizational plan before departing for Poland, then found they had to make extensive adjustments in the actual circumstances in Poznan. For example, job titles were easily translated from French to Polish, but there was not always shared meaning regarding the parameters of responsibility for those job titles. The discussion between my students and Philippe made for a most interesting interchange.

We then donned our protective gear: hats, vests and boots – all provided by Philippe. On a chilly, damp Friday morning, we trudged through the rough construction site and into the labyrinthine, cavernous interior of the structure. All around us, workers scurried up and down ladders, operated construction vehicles, welded, bolted, drilled and hammered as each activity moved the project slightly closer to completion. It’s hard to see appreciable progress as it’s underway, but Robin and I pass the site frequently as it’s near our apartment, and we have watched as the mall steadily takes shape.
The interior of the mall is taking shape, and we can discern the layout of walkways and shops.

The students pose in what will become one of eight movie theaters in the mall.
I must stress that this visit was voluntary for the students; it was outside normal class time. In fact, it occurred on a Friday, traditionally a free day for the students when they can catch up on their demanding course work or perhaps travel. Nevertheless, about 25 of my students elected to participate, and I believe they found it to be a fascinating and valuable experience. That's a reflection on their commitment to professional development.
The design includes sweeping balconies that will feature coffee shops where customers can enjoy a beverage while observing mall activity.
Disappointingly, the mall is slated to open about a month after we return to Charlotte, North Carolina, but I’m sure we’ll return to Poznan in the years ahead. It will be interesting to walk the marble floors (huge boxes of marble tiles were scattered throughout the interior of the construction site) and recall the skeletal beginning of the mall.

Chipping Away

An unusual event in Poznan this past weekend was an international ice carving competition. National teams from around the globe converged on the Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) to vie for recognition as the best in the world in several categories of ice carving. With temperatures hovering just above freezing, carvers used tools that shaved, shaped, melted and re-froze their ice blocks. In one competition, carvers were briefly shown a drawing of an object (typically a Disney-like character) and had 25 minutes to recreate the figure in ice in 3-D. The crowning event lasted several hours on Sunday evening when each team created the sculpture of its choice. Of course, such an event draws crowds, and the attraction was amplified by an outdoor Christmas market in the square along with concerts and displays.

Here, without further commentary, are photos and links to short videos of the event.

Crowds brave the chill to watch the carvers at work.

The team from the Philippines in action.

Japan's team.

A beautiful setting for the Christmas market.

Nearly finished.
Creative lighting enhances the effect.

And here are links to three short videos of the event, each less than two minutes long:

That's it for this edition of my blog from beautiful Poznan. Thank you for your virtual visit. Do widzenia!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Fulbright Thanksgiving and an Update on Teaching

A Fulbright Thanksgiving and an Update on Teaching

Polish Hosts Embrace a U.S. Tradition

Thanksgiving is, of course, a U.S. holiday, at least on November 26 this year, and the day is a normal workday here in Poland. Thanks to the Polish Fulbright Commission, however, U.S. Fulbrighters in Poland were treated to a splendid celebration in Warsaw that I'm sure rivaled any similar events in the United States. About 20 Fulbrighters serving in Poland converged on an elegant restaurant in the heart of Warsaw on that Thursday for the traditional feast of roast turkey and all the customary accompaniments. Added guests included Fulbright Commission staff who orchestrated the event, Polish Fulbright alumni, Polish government officials including the Minister of Science and Higher Education (a cabinet-level appointee), and officials from the U.S. Embassy, including the Deputy Chief of Mission.

Our Polish chef prepares to carve the Thanksgiving turkeys.

Guests enjoy socializing before sitting down to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Superb service in an elegant setting.

Robin and I rode the train from Poznan to Warsaw that Thursday morning (3 hours), arriving comfortably in time for the 2 p.m. banquet. It is always a delight to gather with other Fulbrighters and compare our experiences in various cities in Poland, and the event also afforded the opportunity to make new friends. Robin and I opted to stay in fascinating Warsaw through Saturday. Although we have visited the city previously, there is always more to see and experience. Our focus this time was a visit to the recently completed Museum of the History of Polish Jews -- a story that begins 1,000 years ago. It was yet another extraordinary sight. I spent close to four hours working through the well-designed museum and progressed only through the end of World War I. At that point, I was simply overwhelmed and could not absorb any more; even then, I had seen only about half the content. Completing the experience will require another visit to Warsaw.

A display in the Museum of History of Polish Jews.
One of the displays depicting the wooden synagogues that used to exist in large numbers throughout Poland.

A vertiginous view of central Warsaw from our hotel window. The Central Train Station is at lower left, with an extensive shopping mall just beyond it (with the undulating glass roof). The older structure center right is the Palace of Culture, constructed in 1955 in the Socialist Classicist style. It now houses offices, cinemas, theaters, libraries and a university.
Our visit to Warsaw included another Charlotte connection. Roman and Monika are friends of ours in Charlotte who are originally from Poland. Roman's brother, Mirek, and his wife Grazyna, live in Warsaw, and the connection to Roman and Monika was ample reason to invite us to a delightful dinner at Mirek and Grazyna's home. Once again, Polish hospitality shone as we enjoyed a wonderful evening of laughter and storytelling. As Grazyna said, it seemed as though we were old friends.

Rewards of Teaching

We're now about 2/3 through the winter term, which began in September and will continue through early February. My two graduate classes (Internal Communication Management and International Public Relations) are progressing well, and I like to think my students are benefiting from the experience as much as I am. They're big classes for graduate level -- 45 in one class, 35 in the other. That compelled me to adjust my teaching style from the norm, but we're all making the adjustments. I try to combine lecture with class discussion and small group exercises so students have opportunities to experiment with fundamental principles and concepts through applied cases and situational challenges.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

Nearly all my students are in Poznan under the Erasmus program, an extensive European Union student exchange program. Consequently, they come from Spain, France, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and elsewhere. I also have students from Columbia, China, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan. They are here for just one semester, typically, and none has a thorough grounding in public relations before coming into my classes. That requires another layer of adjustment in my curricula, but it's working out well, and it gives me an extraordinary opportunity to provide future global leaders with an understanding of the role strategic communication can play in business, government, nonprofit and other sectors.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

In addition to my regular classes, I'm often called upon to guest lecture in other classes. This afternoon (December 8), I'll teach two consecutive classes on public relations legal issues. Last Saturday, I led a 3 1/2-hour graduate seminar on international public relations for a dozen Polish working professionals pursuing their master's degrees through weekend courses. Next week Saturday, I'll teach a session on internal/employee communication for graduate students at another university here in Poznan. So I always seem to have plenty of items in my in-basket, but that's what makes this entire experience so great.

Finally, I will leave you with a short video Christmas greeting. As we're in Poland, Robin and I will not send Christmas cards this year, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. The video reminds me of how proud I am of my Air Force background (22 1/2 years) and captures a bit of the spirit of the season. The U.S. Air Force bands are commanded by my friend Colonel Larry Lang - you'll see him conducting in this video. We worked together in Hawaii in the early 1990s, and it does not surprise me at all that he has risen to the top position. It also doesn't surprise me that he orchestrated the remarkable event showcased in this video. So please enjoy this 9-minute greeting. Merry Christmas, everyone!