The Week and the Day: The System Failed

The first week back of school has ramped up slowly but surely. Although my classes this semester won’t be as debilitatingly difficult as Spring ’08 or as rigamarole-esque (forgive me for that one) as Summer & Fall ’08, it will be a pretty hefty offering with a good bit of homework. However, not being LCP is going to factor favorably into the success equation.

This past weekend was AIESEC GT’s Leadership Team Retreat, and it was a really good one! There were no major incidences although some good solid constructive conversation was had, and best of all we finally finished the LC constitution we’ve been knocking around for three years! We even got a good bit of headway done on taking all the disparate “common-law” style LTR notes from the past three years and organizing them into a single living bylaws document. Both nights were packed with fun, fire, the stars on the lake, and Saturday night was host to an intense conversation on religion, human nature, the Gaza conflict, and other related items of import. It was a conversation of the type I haven’t had for a long time, and the last time I had one was definitely while not in the USA – probably that Nordic circle from ITC in Romania in April ’07. It was refreshing and empowering – a reminder of why AIESEC is so cool.

Monday was difficult, as all Mondays will be. I have a gigantic wall of classes followed immediately by our LCM. I’m trying to get back into running in the morning and, since I don’t have any labs (except when senior design picks up) that keep me at school way late I think I’ll be able to actually keep it up.

Today was really especially cool though. My old German mate from the language school in Gandia, Nikolai, was in Atlanta on layover for about eight hours and so we got to have a pretty cool day today. I freaked out yesterday because I saw the headlines about the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which went into effect yesterday: if a national of one of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program (Germany included) vists the USA, the I-94 form has been replaced by having to enter your data online at least three days before your date of entry. By the time I read the article Nikolai had less than 24 hours before his bald head would be stepping out of the plane at Hartsfield-Jackson International. I texted him and tried to call him and sent him a facebook message about the issue, imploring him to at lesat try by entering his data. He managed to do so, and somewhat unsurprisingly, this morning at customs the customs man told him that almost every traveler was blindsided by the requirements and so since no one had their data they were just letting people through like normal. I was relieved to hear his voice on the phone when he said he was on MARTA on his way up to Midtown station just before 0800. We enjoyed a good Southern breakfast at West Egg, and then he wanted to see the World of Coke, so we parked at GT and we walked through Centennial Olympic Park and went there. It was sort of interesting, but not nearly on the level of the Georgia Aquarium, and unsurprisingly we drank too many soft drinks. He also had a hankering for a really good burger so we went back to my place and walked to the old standby, the Highlander, where he also had a Sweetwater 420 and said the burger was “the best he had had in ten years” – it having been a decade since his last presence in the US. We walked through Piedmont for a bit and then I took him back to the station. It was great to see him again.

Now I’m off to bed before another hard Wednesday.

Directing a Sauerkraut-and-Wurst Western

Chairing was a great experience. Like all great experiences, it did not go according to plan, but then through some good Gerald R. Rigging and teamwork combined with legendary German efficiency, a successful time was had by all – including me.

Let’s start with arriving on-site in bustling (with cows) Helmarshausen just in time to start the scheduled conference team pre-meeting at 5. Unfortunately several facis were not yet there, and to top it off, neither was almost any member of the organizing committee – which was made up entirely of newies, 4 weeks or less into their AIESEC eXPeriences. This was because the original OC had quit the job about a month before the conference, which lost vital planning time and funding contacts. The OC, which was supposed to arrive on-site at 2, arrived at about 9:30. I had made the choice to postpone the team meeting until everyone was there so that we could have an appropriately engaging experience. The Regional Support Team representatives did however read the OC the riot act when they arrived. The poor guys hadn’t even assigned roles to themselves, other than the OCP.

The faci meeting “get to know” part which I made up consisted of only two parts, the first of which was long due to how many people we were: partner up with someone you don’t know, get the other person’s name, LC, area of study, a story they are very proud of, and a story they are very embarrassed of. Naturally, after five minutes the partners introduce each other to the whole circle. Only a few people gave appropriately embarrasing stories, others unheadily copping out by saying “I don’t have any embarrassing stories.” Bad team vibe. The second part was something that I gleaned from an experience many years ago (many thanks to Howard Hanger and his extremely liberal ministerial ideas, which are in fact so liberal that they have gotten him defrocked from the United Methodist Church), and was facilitated by the fact that there was a piano in the room. After doing a note-check by having the team do a “do-re-mi” along with the piano in the key of C, I instructed them all to choose in their head a random note,
independently. Upon bringing my hands down, they sang their note – a cacophony of Germans. But after about thirty seconds, the group started listening to what the people next to them were singing, and as they altered their notes slightly, a sound harmony was produced. It wasn’t quite as forceful or of as high quality as those good old shoutin’ Methodists, but it worked – bringing together in harmony from dischord. Unfortunately I think that we were already so late and the earlier exercise had taken so long that the effect was muted. The meeting continued with expectations, etc.

I worked all weekend with the OC during my free time, since I had OC experience and they had not even experienced an OC working for them before. I helped them prioritize and organize into roles, helped them with how to communicate effectively to meet expectations of the facilitators, etc.

Thirty minutes before the opening plenary, it was discovered (as it often occurs) that there was no appropriate cable between the laptop(s) and the sound system. This almost always happens at smaller conferences, and of course should have been expected in this case with a new OC. It required a stereo minicable with an adapter to either a regular quarter-inch cable or an L/R setup. To top things off, only 20 delegates had arrived, and we had decided in our expectations on the concept of “Who’s not in is out” – if you are not in a meeting on time then it’s your responsibility to catch up, because the meeting is starting without you. With something like the
opening plenary however, it is important to make a big impact of excitement and anticipation, which is hard to do with just 20 delegates. I was charged with the decision to honor “who’s not in is out” or to postpone the plenary by some 30 minutes to wait for more delegates to arrive. The OC told us that in five minutes (ten minutes after plenary should start) a bus would
arrive, but they did not know with how many delegates. I decided to wait to see what the number was here – if it was enough (about 25 more delegates) then we would go ahead, if not, we would wait until 3:30, thirty minutes late. Luckily, the bus was full of Frankfurters and other assorted Hessian mercenaries, so we began the plenary. It opened with a powerpoint
presentation, which included the theme song from “Bonanza,” since that was the name of the conference, reflecting the concept that it was in Germany’s Wild West region. The powerpoint had to be moved between laptops, however, and of course this caused a problem. Not only was I compensating by holding the microphone to the laptop’s puny speakers, but now in the transfer the link to the song was cut. With delegates fresh in their seats and a well-designed powerpoint by one of the OC members starting up, I did something that only an American could do: I began to improvise the recognizable melody from “Bonanza” with my voice. I did it just on a whim, the silence having pressed in on me, since everything that goes bad is of course my fault as chair. Luckily, it was a hit – the delegates clapped along for the entire power-point, and I slipped into beat-boxing before finishing with the voiced melody again. I got positive feedback on that red-button decision. Score one for ‘Merica.

Immediately after the opening plenary I went with the OC to diligently find the cables and converters we needed, in a nearby picturesque town. We got the minicable at Radio Shack-like store, but the converter was in the possession of the shop’s owner, who was on site on a boat on the river. Luckily it had not left shore yet, so we walked over and got the converter from him. The parties were saved! It would be no good to dance to no bass and low volume.

Overall I had a great and challenging experience, and looking back over my feedback I only had one “stop” – starting the faci meeting late, which was my decision but I think I made it for the best – a lot of “starts,” understandable since this was my first chairing gig – and several “continues,” so I’m glad for that. Thank you Germans!

The last evening in Frankfurt I had a solid conversation with Claudia, my excellent and accomodating host, who had been LCP of LC Frankfurt-am-Main three years ago and is on the Regional Support Team – an experienced AIESECer. Over a nice weißbier near her apartment, we turned to the meat-and-potatoes that those of us who have zipped around the network are wont to consume (and cook differently) – I aired some recent thoughts, coming off of my discoveries at ITC about why certain people join AIESEC in the “cultural spheres” around the world. They had developed into the concern that AIESEC, though it desires to create change agents for positive leadership in the world especially through entrepreneurship, it often partners with very “status-quo” organizations that are pretty entrenched in our system, both through capitalism and a bureaucratic type thing – and they often become the employers of AIESEC alumni. She relayed to me a story of a former German MC member who went on to become upper management in a large company that is a partner of AIESEC internationally, with the intent of crusading to affect their system and morph them into a true organization of change. Instead, he lost contact with most of his old friends, worked harder than a dog, and was instead defeated by his own zeal. Claudia said her mother had told her that the system will always change you. It’s unfortunate but apparently very true – the difference, for example, of AIESECers in Local Committees and AIESECers in Member /National Committees is almost always very stark, and it seems to be the ones in the LCs that affect the most change both in their communities and in their own lives. I wish it weren’t this way – in the spheres of the world that are centralized, you clearly have to go to the Source to affect change. How does it work that way when Ronnie Reagan’s “trickle-down” or “something-doo…voo-doo economics” didn’t and don’t work? The answer lies within I suppose. It’s a section of the agenda on which I am focusing strongly.

As an afterthought, have you ever been flying nice and high, realizing things will be delightfully smooth sailing with some good mini- and real- sized adventures ahead, and then you realize what Joe Cocker meant when he said “Slowly my mind and Dream turn into woe,” when in the span of about an hour many small trains collide at the same point? Nothing major at all, but I’ve got minor stresses clawing at some of my best-laid plans. That’s the mark of personal leadership, though – executing Plan E as well as you would have executed the first four, or executing a letterless plan as well as Plan E when it fails. This assumes five plans. Which you have already planned.

I Am a Hot Dog

I arrived this evening in Frankfurt and have been entertained over a beer by the overworked OCP for Bonanza, the conference I am chairing, and Claudia, former LCP with whom I am staying this evening. I have written down the conference goals and expectations in my notebook but that´s it so far. I expect an experience of winging it quite a bit, but I expect to be challenged (positively) on all fronts because this is Germany. I learned the art of facilitating from a German (thanks Maike) and it was a much more thought out and planned method than I would have intuitively developed. I expect an even greater similar challenge here. I go in a man, and I will come out a man who has been a chair. Given the theme of the conference they will have an extremely unusual opportunity to learn from a native what a rebel yell is.