Monday, February 29, 2016

Past the Midpoint

Past the Midpoint

We have now completed five months of our 10-month adventure here in Poznan. Although our lives have settled into a somewhat predictable routine, we are no less thrilled at this amazing opportunity. We have accomplished a lot, as my previous 12 posts attest, but there are many things remaining on our agenda and diminishing time in which to achieve them.

The weather has been reminding us lately that the calendar says there's plenty of winter left. Temperatures have been hovering at or slightly above and below freezing for some time, with only a slight warming pattern slated for the days ahead. Cold rain and drizzle have been regular companions, and yesterday saw a sleet storm, two brief snow storms, gusty winds, blue sky and sunshine all in the course of two hours. It's easy to predict when the worst weather will hit -- it's always when I'm lugging a heavy computer bag, a couple portfolios and a camera while trying to hold on firmly to an umbrella, walking to or from the tram or class in another building and dodging traffic. On the other hand, visible now are the first green buds of spring on the shrubbery in parks and gardens. We just need to hold out a little while longer before the earth explodes in its finest spring frippery. 

The view from a classroom window this week during a sudden midday storm that combined snow and sleet (sneet?). Within 15 minutes the sky was sunny and blue, though the temperature remained around the freezing mark.

Teaching and Other Student Encounters

After a short break, the "summer" semester has begun, and we are already two weeks into the term, which will continue through mid-June -- hence the "summer" moniker, though the designation doesn't seem quite so apt in February in Poland. I'm teaching two classes, International Public Relations and Corporate Communication (which I am choosing to focus on internal/employee communication). Each class has around 25 students, all exchange students as was the case during the winter semester recently ended. In addition to the same European and Asian countries represented in my classes during the previous semester, I now have students from Greece, Russia, Armenia and Belarus.

I continue to seek additional opportunities to engage in the life of the university here and participated as a panel member leading a discussion on "Internationalizing Poznan" earlier this week. About 50 exchange students attended, and I was joined on the panel by three representatives of Poznan government agencies. It was a fascinating discussion on steps Poznan might consider to contribute to its growing appeal as a destination for business, tourism and academic exchange.

I was one of four panelists discussing "Internationalizing Poznan." The three young men on the right are students who helped organize and moderate the event (two from Egypt, one from Peru), attended by roughly 50 exchange students and university officials.

Also this week, I accepted an invitation to meet with a group of gifted and ambitious graduate and undergraduate business students, members of a club called "ASAP." The group augments their already demanding academic agenda by inviting guest speakers, with a focus on native English speakers, to lead discussions related to contemporary business practices. I spent 90 minutes with the group talking about the importance of building an organizational culture of trust and openness through effective internal communication structures, procedures and policies. My hope is that these future CEO's will incorporate these concepts into their business visions and approaches in the years ahead.

Meeting with "ASAP," a student-led business club.

A Brief Roman Holiday

During the week between semesters, Robin and I squeezed in a few days in Rome. Direct flights from Poznan to many European destinations on low-cost airlines are a constant temptation, and the 2-hour flight to Rome was irresistible. Robin had been to Rome more than 30 years ago, and I have been to other parts of Italy, but this was my first visit to the historical capital. We booked a small, pleasant hotel in the Vio Veneto district, close to prime tourist attractions such as Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (under repair and blocked off during our visit). In January, tourist levels are down and the weather is pleasant enough to permit comfortable walking to many attractions. While hours-long lines characterize peak tourist season, we waited in very short lines and sometimes no lines at all for sites such as the Colosseum, the Catacombs, Palatine Hill, even the Vatican, including St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistene Chapel. Restaurants and coffee shops were always available without reservations thanks to the absence of tourists. I've included a few photos below, but for an overdose of our snaps, visit this Drop Box site: Alan and Robin's Rome Pix

More of Poznan's Cultural Scene

Earlier this week, the Academy of Music here hosted an exceptional performance of all five of Beethoven's piano concerti over two splendid evenings. With a world-class pianist and a 40-piece orchestra, the experience was mesmerizing. What an extraordinary feat for a pianist -- to perform the five concerti in succession over two evenings. As always with events at the Academy, the quality was superb. And the cost? As always, free. This is an amazing place for lovers of fine music.

The pianist and the orchestra receive well-earned appreciation from a grateful audience.

Leaving Our Footprint

One final note -- we were graciously invited recently to the home of one of my colleagues in the department in which I'm teaching here at the Poznan University of Economics. Dr. Jacek Trebecki, with whom I have collaborated on a number of research, writing and teaching projects, invited us to dinner at a wonderful local neighborhood restaurant then to his home for tea and dessert. It was my privilege to provide Jacek, his wife, Asia, and their three great children with souvenirs of my home university. They obligingly posed for the photo below.

That's a wrap for this edition of the blog. Thank you most kindly for your visit, and I hope you'll drop in again. Do widzenia!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Winter Semester Winding Down

Winter Semester Winding Down

The winter term that began in mid-September is drawing to a close, with exams and final presentations defining last week and this. Students in both my classes cap their experiences with group presentations based on final projects designed to encapsulate their accumulated knowledge during the past 16 weeks.

In Internal Communication, student groups of four or five (there are 40+ students in the class) were tasked to prepare a comprehensive internal communication policy document for an organization of their choice. The document had to address policies and procedures for such areas as organizational communication goals, employee use of social media, delegation of communication responsibilities, an explanation of internal communication channels, protocols for external communication activities of employees, fundamental guidance for crisis communication, a framework for communication training for employees, procedures for gauging internal communication effectiveness, plus a few other components. The student groups had to submit a professional quality document and share a 15-minute summary presentation with the class. Half the teams completed their presentations last week, and the remaining presentations occurred Monday, February 1. This has been a considerable challenge for the students, but they attacked it with vitality and keen interest. Hardly any had any previous exposure to public relations; most are pursuing degrees in business. They tell me they had not previously appreciated either the weighty significance of effective employee communication, nor had they considered the value of carefully crafted and published organizational policies to guide and manage internal communication. It is my hope that students in this class, representing roughly a dozen countries in Europe, South America and Asia, will increasingly introduce these concepts into their continued studies and approaching professional careers in their home countries.

An Internal Communication student team presents on its chosen organization, Mercedes Benz Customer Service.

This Internal Communication team developed a policy document for a small UK brewery.
Other organizations for which students developed internal communication policies included Ferrari, NestlĂ©, our own Poznan University of Economics and several other corporations and nonprofits. I was deeply impressed with the way the presentations and the policy documents reflected gained knowledge. Especially impressive is the fact that the projects and the presentations were in English -- not the primary language for any of these students.

In International Public Relations, I provided students with a scenario: They were representatives of a public relations team retained by a company headquartered in Mumbai, India. The fictitious company manufactures plastic tubing (used for toothpaste, hand cream, suntan lotion, etc.). The company was expanding globally, and the PR team was charged with preparing a report on the communication challenges the Indian company would face when establishing operations in each team's assigned country (Argentina, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc.). So each team needed to assess the cultural and structural differences between India and the team's assigned country as those differences affected communication related to the business venture. For example, teams needed to research and report on interpersonal communication variances, differences in media structures, comparative legal issues pertaining to public relations (copyright, privacy, etc.), even the nature of public relations practice. Their reports also had to suggest approaches the company might take in accommodating differences. The students did a splendid job, and both the reports and the presentations were worthy of the corporate setting. Again, students worked entirely in English.

This group described the challenges the Indian company would face in expanding in Argentina. The students in the group are from Vietnam, France, Romania and Italy.

Here a student group presents a summary of its report on plans to expand in South Africa. The students come from France, Germany, Ukraine and Bulgaria.

It is extremely gratifying to see groups of promising and gifted young men and women able to work together so successfully, solving challenging issues despite the vast differences in their own cultures and experiences.

One side note -- this is the view from the classroom in which I taught this term now ending. One entire wall of the classroom in this magnificent new university building is glass, and the view can be distracting. Across the street on the right side are other university buildings. The rounded building on the left side is the exceptionally beautiful performing arts center for the Academy of Music, one of the most highly regarded in the world. Past the intersection in the center is the Zamek (Polish for castle). It was constructed from 1905-1910 under German Emperor William II. Poland regained its independence following World War I (it had been partitioned since the late 18th century), and the Zamek housed the Mathematics Department of Poznan University. Graduates of that department broke the Enigma Code early during World War II.  During German occupation, Hitler’s architect - Albert Speer - rebuilt the interiors of the castle, creating among other features a replica of the Fuhrer’s Berlin study. These days, the Zamek is a cultural center hosting art exhibits, concerts, film screenings, lectures and the like. I recently visited the Zamek to view an exhibit of Impressionist artists who had painted in Normandy, including Renoir, Delacroix and Monet. In summer, there are concerts on the square in front of the Zamek, and a beautiful garden/park with restaurant is situated behind the Zamek.

Speaking of music...

Robin and I have continued to enjoy the free performances presented at the Academy of Music. There are several events each week featuring the extraordinarily gifted students (and occasionally faculty) of this major conservatory. Last week, we took in a flute and organ concert. Both performers were students, but each would easily qualify for a mid-sized city orchestra. They performed separately and together, with an emphasis on Bach.

It is deeply moving to hear Bach performed on an instrument of this quality by a truly accomplished artist. The young man in the gray jacket is the page turner.

The flute and organ performing together are well suited for Baroque styling.

A word on life in Poznan

You may be curious about our lifestyle here in Poland, so I'll share a bit of our routine. The winter has been typical for Poland, with a few periods of snow and freezing temperatures alternating with gray, drizzly or foggy weather, but it has been comfortable. Without a car, we rely on public transportation, and we walk a great deal more than is our custom in the U.S., so we're exposed to the weather more here. We do enjoy occasional days of sunshine, and we know that spring is approaching, so we don't mind the climate. I've added a photo below taken from our apartment. If you'd like to view more photos of the inside of our furnished apartment and the views we enjoy, visit this Drop Box website: Poznan Apartment

The view from our apartment in Poznan one recent, snowy morning. Ours is one of about 10 apartment buildings in the neighborhood similar in design. Each building has 12-15 apartments of varying size. Ours is 125 square meters, or about 1300 square feet -- large by European standards. Just beyond the light blue apartment building in the center is the Warta River, and beyond that, Poznan city center (not visible on this gray day). 
We're often asked about the food in Poland, and perhaps I'll build a post around that theme in the coming months. I will simply say here that we eat well -- the food is delicious and healthy. Our kitchen is minimally equipped, so we often eat our main meal out. For daily dining, we have found good value at the cafeteria-style restaurants that constitute Poland's version of fast food; I've included three photos below to illustrate. Of course, there are many exceptionally fine restaurants we enjoy occasionally as well. There are also the typical U.S.-based fast-food establishments, which we do not visit -- that's not why we're here.

This is one of the cafeteria-style restaurants we often visit. The food is always fresh, attractively displayed and tasty. Customers simply select the items they want and serve themselves. At the end of the line, the plate is placed on a scale and the cost calculated based on weight. A substantial, healthy meal is generally less than $10 U.S.

There is always an excellent assortment of delicious and creative salads as well as a variety of potatoes, rice and vegetables. Meat dishes usually include pork, chicken and fish, all prepared in a variety of ways. Of course, there are always pierogies -- traditional Polish dumplings filled with chopped meat, cheese, cabbage, etc.
This cafeteria, like most, is in a modern shopping mall along with other outlets in the food court. The common seating area is clean, bright and pleasant.  

I have posted final grades for the winter term now concluded, so I have a few days to prepare my courses for the summer term, which begins February 16. Several writing projects will also keep me busy. Winter seems to be in battle with approaching spring this week, with changeable weather. Yesterday, it took two firm hands on a stout umbrella to walk to my university office through chilly, blustery showers. Today, it's still breezy, but the sun is breaking through the clouds. Tomorrow, there's a possibility of snow showers. Ah well, we're exactly where we want to be!

Thanks for your virtual visit, and do widzenia!