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!

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