Monday, August 1, 2016

And just like that -- it's over

This will be my last post to this blog, and I'm writing it from my office at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Robin and I have been back from Poland for two weeks, trying to imagine how our 10-month stay in Poznan was over so quickly. We loved our lives in Poland, but it's appropriate and natural to be back in Charlotte. The transition back has been a bit more challenging than we anticipated -- so much to do to resume our lives here. But I have the delightful and energizing benefit of starting in a new position with the university -- assistant dean in the Graduate School. Robin will focus more on spending time with our two granddaughters, 3 and 5. Charlotte is a wonderful place to live and work, so we're glad to be back. Nevertheless, we'll miss Poznan so very much.

I have received comments about the many photos I've posted depicting Poland's magnificent beauty. To be fair and balanced, I post this photo of really ugly buildings in Poznan. The five towers on the left are remnants of the Soviet-influenced architecture of former times.  There are places, I must admit, where these eyesores still exist. Thankfully, they are increasingly rare

A New Generation of Poles

About 25 years ago, from 1990-1993, I was serving as a senior officer (U.S. Air Force) with NATO's military headquarters in Belgium. It was an interesting time, to say the least. It saw the ending of the Cold War, the demise of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany, and the introduction of democracy and market economies in Central and Eastern Europe. I recall a conversation I had with a senior diplomat with the Polish Embassy in Brussels during that time; I had not visited Poland yet. I asked the gentleman what he thought the prospects were for Poland's adaptation to the emerging economic and political environment. He had a very interesting answer. He said: "I'm an educated person -- I have a Ph.D. But if you gave me a wheel barrow full of money and told me to start a business, I would have no idea how to do that. The generation that was engaged in business in the 1920s and '30s is gone. We will have to educate a new generation to navigate these unfamiliar waters. It will take time."

During this past year, I was privileged to interact with Polish students who have no memories of the "former times." They have always lived in a democratic, market economy. This is the generation that Polish diplomat in Brussels was referring to. I can tell you they are fearless. They are optimistic. They are bursting with ideas. They are innovative. They are business savvy. I have every confidence that they will propel Poland to even greater economic success than it is already experiencing. Moreover, they are attuned to social issues, and they have lofty personal values and standards. They demand a great deal of themselves, and they associate focused, diligent effort with achievement. They do not expect to be given anything they have not worked for. They are willing to sacrifice immediate gratification for long-term reward. They are inspiring. That Polish diplomat in Brussels was remarkably prescient. Poland has been and continues to do so many things right: modernizing airports and rail stations, improving roads and ports, advancing telecommunications, focusing on quality education, and creating a conducive environment for business investment. At the same time, it has remained faithful to the finest dimensions of its cultural fabric: excellence in the arts, pride in its history, a spirit of optimism, and a collective resilience. Perhaps I'm biased because I love Poland, but my assessment is that great years lie ahead for this great and proud nation.

The Value of Global Connections

Many of my contemporaries are retired, but I continue to take great pleasure in professional and personal international exchange opportunities such as this Fulbright fellowship in Poland, now completed. The students I met and taught from throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America during this appointment were delightful, and I will continue to track their careers in the years ahead, thanks to social media. An example of the enduring value of these connections is provided by my former graduate student Vladimir (nickname "Vova") from Ukraine. Vova was my student in a master's degree program at UNC Charlotte around 10 years ago; he took several of my classes, and I was his thesis adviser. We stayed in contact after his return to Ukraine, and last month Robin and I traveled to Lviv, Ukraine, for several days. Vova, now living and working in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, traveled by train to Lviv where we enjoyed two days together, exploring the beautiful city and recharging our professional and personal friendship. It is inspiring to travel 6,000 miles from Charlotte to reconnect with a highly successful alumnus and hear him describe how his academic experience has contributed to not only his achievements but also the advancement of ideas in Ukraine. Further, also joining us in Lviv was a Ukrainian student, Anastasia, who completed two classes with me in Poznan, Poland, where she was an exchange student during the spring semester. Now, Anastasia and Vova are connected in Ukraine through their shared experiences in my classes, and they will support and encourage each other in the years ahead -- this is what makes teaching great.

Vova (middle) joins Robin and me for lunch in the old city district of Lviv, Ukraine. The restaurant is in the courtyard of  a former mansion built in Spanish style.
Lviv is popular tourist destination in western Ukraine, just a 1-hour flight from Warsaw, Poland. The Old City district is packed with cafes, restaurants, magnificent churches, museums, a beautiful opera house and pleasant parks. The center of the market square is the City Hall, and a climb to the top (no small feat!) rewards the intrepid with scenic views of the entire city.

A typical scene in Lviv's Old City.

The view from the top of City Hall.

One of several impressive castles in Lviv. This one contains an extensive art collection.

Just one of countless elaborate church interiors in Lviv.

This wall-size painting in one of Lviv's museums depicts the 1410 Battle of Grunwald in Poland. See my previous blog post, which included a visit to the site of the battle.

The menu for this restaurant in Lviv includes no prices. Rather, the bill is negotiated between the waiter and the customer after the meal is completed. It's all done for fun, and the bill we agreed upon was quite reasonable. The food was exceptionally good. 

Anastasia, one of my Ukrainian exchange students in Poland, joins us for coffee in a unique cafe in Lviv.

The stunning Opera House in Lviv

Reluctantly, I now end this blog series. I hope these posts have stirred your interest in visiting magnificent Poland. Robin and I will most assuredly return often, and we value the extraordinary opportunities we had to spend six months (2012) then ten months (2015/16) in Poznan, thanks to the Fulbright program. The relationships we cultivated are substantive and will benefit both nations in the years ahead. We hope the people whose lives we touched are pleased that our paths crossed. We know that we have been changed forever by the experience. Thank you most kindly for visiting and sharing this blog. As always, do widzenia!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Classes End, a Mall Takes Shape, Sausages Grill and Poland's Lake District Dazzles

With two weeks remaining in my Fulbright appointment to Poland, our schedule seems to become increasingly packed with activities. This post takes you from Poznan to Gniezno (1,000 years ago, Poland's first capital), to Poland's fantastic lake district, called Mazury. We begin with the conclusion of my teaching during this Fulbright fellowship.

Final Class Presentations

In my International Public Relations and Corporate Communication classes, students worked in small groups to complete a final project and class presentation. In International Public Relations, I told students they were account managers with a PR firm in Manchester, England, hired by a multinational company headquartered in Mumbai, India. The fictitious company, a manufacturer of plastic tubing used for cosmetics, toothpaste, etc., was expanding its operations to another country and sought the PR firm's advice and counsel on navigating the cultural and structural communication issues they would face. For example, how would an Indian company launching manufacturing facilities in Chile prepare for internal and external communication challenges: employee management, media relations, social media engagement, community relations, corporate social responsibility, etc.? This required the student groups to research both Indian cultural characteristics and assigned nation cultural characteristics. They also needed to explore media structures, community expectations, and legal and ethical issues related to communication. Each group prepared a detailed report and summarized it in a 15-minute briefing. The in-class presentation scenario assumed that the student group, as the PR firm account team, was addressing the Indian company's CEO and top leadership. The student teams did an exemplary job, demonstrating the knowledge and skill sets they acquired during this semester.

Similarly, my Corporate Communication student groups were tasked with developing a corporate communication policy document for a real organization of their choice. Student groups needed to address such areas as employee communication with the media, employee use of social media, internal channels of communication including 2-way channels, meeting planning and protocols, recurring communication events, fundamental crisis communication procedures, communication training modules for employees, e-mail protocols, etc. Again, student groups researched and prepared substantive policy documents and presented summary briefings in class.  Student groups did a splendid job. As a result, I feel confident these future entrepreneurs and business leaders from Asia and Europe have enhanced their likelihood of success in their professional careers. 

A Corporate Communication student group representing France, Greece,
Russia and Spain explains its proposed communication policy document.

This Corporate Communication group includes students from Portugal and France.

Touring Central & Eastern Europe's Largest Mall

Late last fall, I arranged for my students to tour the construction site of what will be the largest shopping mall ("Galeria" in Polish) in Central & Eastern Europe. Galeria Poznania (be sure to click on the virtual tour video) will feature more than 100,000 square meters of shopping, dining and entertainment space (roughly 1.1 million square feet) and 3,300 underground parking spaces. Earlier in June, I again arranged for my host university's future entrepreneur student group to tour the facility now that it's approaching completion. About 25 Polish and Ukrainian students joined me for this fascinating experience. The massive construction project presents interesting cultural challenges as the managing company is French while most of the several thousand workers are Polish. Several project leaders, both French and Polish, provided insights into how those cultural challenges are being managed. Donning protective shoes, vests and hard hats, the students spent two hours talking with site managers and exploring the facility rapidly taking shape.

Our tour began with a briefing from project managers.

Touring the colossal Galeria Poznania covers a lot of territory. Project managers provided
helpful explanations all along the way.

Our guides were a wealth of detailed information and patiently
answered students' questions.

Of course, an event such as this demands a group photo.

A Picnic in Gniezno

About 45 minutes by train from Poznan is the city of Gniezno, Poland's first capital beginning in the 11th century. It is also where Pastor Richard Nungesser of the church we attend here in Poznan lives with his wife and children. Richard and his wife, Brooke, came to Poznan from Arizona in the United States around 15 years ago. They graciously hosted a picnic for our congregation, bringing together church members from about a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. Poznan International Church provides worship and service opportunities for a congregation including international students, expatriates and Poles. In addition to Sunday worship, Richard and other staff members and volunteers lead an aggressive program of social support to regional communities, especially to the homeless. Of particular merit is PIC's Bread of Life ministry that includes a men's shelter where men dealing with addictions can receive lodging and other support including vocational and life skills training. PIC has been a central part of our time here in Poznan, and we will very much miss our PIC family.

Pastor Richard Nungesser (center, in orange T-shirt) along with me and a young
 man from Ukraine diligently monitor the kielbasa and chicken on the grill.

Richard's wife, Brooke (center, with red eyeglasses) chats with my
wife, Robin, and a young man from Taiwan.
Three engineering students from India enjoy the U.S.-style picnic
atmosphere and traditional food.

The game of horseshoes is a new experience for PIC members from Great Britain, India and Ukraine.

Poland's Lake District

Robin and I spent an extended weekend recently in Mazury, Poland's beautiful lake district. The U.S. state of Minnesota boasts on its licence plates, "Land of 10,000 lakes." Poland's response could be, "Is that all you got?" 

The Mazury and Warmia region is in northeast Poland, directly north of Warsaw. It is dotted with irregularly-shaped lakes, extensive forests and rolling farm fields. Picturesque towns and villages are scattered throughout the region about 20-30 km apart (9-14 miles), and each is home to a castle or two, a magnificent church, ancient walls, scenic rivers and other intriguing features. The area is rich in history including the era of the Teutonic Knights (beginning in the 13th century) through important World War II sites.

We stayed in the beautiful city of Olsztyn, home not only to a scenic old town area and a verdant riverside park, but also host of an annual country and western music festival -- no kidding. I've included a few photos from our visit here, but the full collection is available here: Olsztyn/Mazury Photos
A pastoral scene on the shore of one of Mazury's countless lakes.

The view from a bridge in Lidzbark Warminski, about 30 km north of Olsztyn,

This lake was just one street from our accommodations in Olsztyn. A pathway around the entire lake offered a 3-mile/5-kilometer walk.

Climbing the tower of the castle in Reszel, 40 km northeast of Olsztyn, provides this spectacular view.

While in Mazury, we visited our Poznan friends Darek and Ola. Their family owns a lake cottage near Olstyn. Here Robin and Ola savor the sunset on the pier in front of their cottage.
Not far from Olsztyn is the site of the July 15, 1410 Battle of Grunwald, when King Jagiello of Poland and Duke Witold of Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights, marking the beginning of the end for that group that had occupied much of what is today Poland. An estimated 45,000 soldiers fought in the battle. The monument above depicts the positions of the various military units on both sides. Visitors can explore the entire, expansive battle ground, virtually unchanged in the 600+ years since the event. 

Many places in Poland boast of their association with the brilliant Polish astronomer Copernicus. As an Air Force navigator (pre-computer, pre-GPS), I learned and used Copernicus's calculations in conducting celestial navigation, so I'm always interested in learning more about him. In Olsztyn, where the genius spent several years, I learned that he was also a lawyer and highly skilled accountant.
Copernicus and I share a keen interest in the orbital mechanics of celestial bodies.
This is a statue of the astronomer in Olsztyn. Copernicus is on the right.

On display in the Olsztyn castle are a number of Copernicus-related artifacts, including this ledger
in which the astronomer recorded observations and calculations.

Not far from Olsztyn, near the town of Ketrzyn, is Wolf's Lair, Hitler's wartime military compound -- the counterpart to the Pentagon in the U.S. Hitler spent about three years on this compound in Nazi occupied Poland (out of reach from Allied bombers), and this is where, in July 1944, there was a nearly successful assassination attempt -- Col. von Stauffenburg placing an attache case with a bomb under the conference table in one of the bunkers. Nearly 5,000 people, alleged conspirators, were executed in the aftermath of the attempt. From Wolf's Lair (Hitler's nickname was Wolf), military orders affecting all fronts were sent. The complex is larger than I had imagined; it was eight square kilometers (nearly 2,000 acres) and included about 80 main structures. The compound was surrounded by minefields and security fencing. Dense woodland and numerous surrounding lakes made any approach extremely difficult. Already existing nearby rail lines permitted delivery of construction materials.

A map at the entrance to the Wolf's Lair describes the walking tour.

Walls of each bunker, including this conference building, were several meters thick. Ceilings were even thicker (eight meters or more than 25 feet) to defend against potential aerial bombardment. The compound is embedded in thick forest, and roofs were covered with grass and shrubbery to conceal the facility from the air.  This is the conference building, the site of the attempt on Hitler's life. 

Hitler's top staff lived on the compound with their families. This structure 
housed the offices of Chief of the Operational Staff Alfred Jodl.

With the Soviets approaching from the East in 1945, the Nazi leadership attempted to destroy Wolf''s Lair. Despite using 1,000 pounds of TNT for each bunker, most structures merely cracked in a few places around the outer walls. This breach in the wall illustrates the thickness of the walls. This was Herman Goering's bunker. 

Parting Word

Although summer took its good time arriving here, and we've still had chilly spells well into June, last week had most Poles longing for autumn. Temperatures reached the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius). That can be challenging when few buildings are air conditioned, including my office and our apartment.
This was last Saturday afternoon.

The weather quickly turned more seasonable, with temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit (lower 20s Celsius) this week. During the brief hot spell, though, Poznanians made excellent use of some of the city's best features such as the Indoor/Outdoor Waterpark, the Warta River, and Malta Lake. 

When the temperature tops 90 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), the grassy shore of Malta Lake is a fine place to spend Saturday afternoon. This is a 20-minute walk from our apartment.

As always, thank you for visiting my blog. With a lot of preparation to do before we depart in two weeks, I'll probably have time for just one or two more short posts. In the meantime, do widzenia!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Conference, A Visitor, A Trip

This edition of my blog from Poznan finds us with about five weeks remaining in our 10-month stay here. Activities are not diminishing in the least. In fact, we seem to be picking up the pace a bit.

Last month, I participated in a conference in Opole, about three hours by train south of Poznan. It's a small and beautiful city on the Oder River and home to a university focusing on nursing, physical therapy and related health professions. This was a medically-themed conference exploring strategies for strengthening research grant proposals. I spoke about a project my UNC Charlotte home department, Communication Studies, has been involved with for several years -- persuading people to stop putting cooking grease down kitchen drains. Sounds like a minor issue, I know, but resulting sewer pipe blockages cost North Carolina and other states millions in repairs every year. It's a public health issue as well as an environmental issue, and changing people's behavior to address the problem requires a comprehensive, strategic communication approach. Consequently, I spoke at the conference about including a communication component in public health-related grant applications. I also included possibilities of incorporating experiential learning, service learning and community engagement components, as we have done with the grease disposal campaign in North Carolina.
The logo for the conference in Opole.
In addition to my individual presentation, I served on a panel discussion addressing early academic career challenges.

Dr. Jacek Koziel, a professor with Iowa State University and a Fulbright Scholar serving in Wroclaw, Poland, also participated in the Opole conference. Here we are conferring between sessions. 

The conference schedule permitted a bit of touring one afternoon. Here a number of participants, representing, I believe, four countries, tour an open-air museum in Opole.
My presentation on communication's role in changing behaviors related to public health issues.

Classes and Guest Lectures Continue

My colleagues at UNC Charlotte completed classes a month ago, but the semester agenda here still has two weeks of classes remaining. Additionally, I continue to be offered great opportunities for guest lectures. Most recently, I spoke to a student organization of future business leaders about the critical importance of communication as a leadership skill. I addressed the need for organizational leaders to cultivate a culture of open communication and strategies to engender that culture. My hope is that these aspiring Polish CEO's will help amplify Poland's considerable economic progress in the years ahead.
A guest lecture on communication as a vital leadership skill.

A Visit to Wrocław

One of Poland's most beautiful cities, and the EU 2016 European Capital of Culture, is Wrocław, about two hours south of Poznan by train. This gem, left largely destroyed at the end of the Second World War, has become one of Europe's must-see destinations. A magnificent city square, fascinating architecture, pastoral river banks, and spacious parks provide a superb example of Poland's well-advanced transition. Robin and I spent a recent long weekend in Wrocław and consider it one of our best trips ever. A chance encounter on a train a few weeks earlier connected us with Agnieszka, who recently completed her master's degree in Wrocław (the city boasts several highly regarded universities). She insisted on providing a walking tour of her city during our visit, and she proved a highly knowledgeable guide. 
The Stary Rynek (old market square) in Wrocław.

Agnieszka knew all the quirky corners of Wrocław.

The indoor market in Wrocław.

It's the season for delicious white asparagus here. 

So many fantastic views along the Oder River in Wrocław.

The view from the top of a university building in Wrocław.
One of the features of Wrocław are the bronze gnomes found throughout the city. It's sort of a treasure hunt to find the tiny, unexpected statues, cleverly crafted to reflect the location. You have to keep your eyes peeled.

Here's a gnome on the sidewalk in front of a library.

And here's one on the river bank. This gnome is washing clothes in the river.

This gnome sits on a window ledge of a former prison.

The serene and manicured Japanese Garden in Wrocław.

Fellow Fulbrighter Dr. Jacek Koziel (Iowa State University) and his wife, Elizabeth, graciously invited Robin and me to join their family for dinner in their Wroclaw apartment.

For many more photos of our trip, here's the link to the Dropbox album:

If you'd just like to see a few short videos of musical groups performing traditional Polish songs on the Stary Rynek in Wroclaw, here are links:

A Visitor from Milwaukee

Robin and I were delighted to welcome my cousin Ken from our hometown of Milwaukee, who spent a week with us in Poznan. He had visited Poland previously, but not Poznan, and he found the city as enjoyable as do we. We pushed him pretty hard during his few days here, but he never faltered, taking in many of Poznan's key sites. We were so glad to have family join us on this great adventure. 
We called again upon our Polish friend Monika (right) to lead a walking tour of Poznan. On the tour are Jackie (left), wife of another U.S. Fulbright professor teaching here in Poznan (he's from Appalachian State University), my cousin Ken, and my wife, Robin.
Ken, checking the photos he took of the park in front of the Poznan Opera.

Ken, a physician in Milwaukee, is also a highly accomplished organist. He very much enjoyed the concert in Poznan's Baroque Fara Church of St. Stanislaus. The church presents organ concerts each Saturday just after noon. 

Time for me to get back to preparing final exams! Thanks, as always, for your visit to my blog. If you haven't yet visited Poland, I hope these posts are stimulating your desire to do so. Do widzenia!