Stuff Happens

All your senses are piqued. From the moment you step off of the plane you know this experience is going to be very different. You have just traveled to China to demonstrate some new technology products. Here is some of what is going on:

  • You arrived at the airport expecting your pre-arranged ride, but there is no one there to pick you up. You figured out alternative transportation.
  • There is a thirteen-hour time difference between where you are and home. You slept little on the plane. It is 11:00 p.m. your time, but you can’t sleep now. This is going to be a long day.
  • You have shipped the technology products in advance, and have found out that they have been delayed getting through customs. You won’t have them this week. Because you shipped the student materials with the products, you don’t have those either.
  • The adapter you brought does not fit the socket.
  • Your translated slides looked fine on your computer in the office. Now they look like weird, unrecognizable characters with lots of rectangles.
  • Now you are looking at a room full of people and can tell from their blank faces and silence that they do not understand what you have just asked them to do. It is the opening of Day 1 and you still have two full days of a program to teach. You were told “they understand English.” It seems that this was a bit of an overstatement.
  • The dinner you had last night is not agreeing with you and you are not sure how you are going to make it through the day.
  • You have split the participants into small groups and given them an assignment. No one is speaking; they are just looking at each other.
  • You ask questions to test for understanding and get no response.

These are just a few examples of dilemmas you can face when you have been asked to train in a different country or present to an international audience. The more you do this, the more you can potentially learn lessons the hard way. What do you do next? And what do you do next time?

There are solutions and, of course, all lessons don’t need to be learned the hard way. Sometimes research in advance can save time and trouble later on. Here are some ways to be proactive.

Carry the hotel name written in the local language (particularly in Asia) and carry it with you. This will help in case of transportation issues. Have local contact phone numbers with you as back up.

Ship hardware and products separately from paper for ease getting through customs.

Adapters are tricky. You can bring one, but you may end up buying one at the destination. (Watch for 3 prong needs.)

Have a back up plan for involvement in the classroom. You may need to find ways for them to communicate in their native language – small group discussions, scenario or case study discussions.  Often “they speak English” needs further digging. And expect to take more time to set up a safe environment.  Not all audiences are used to discussion and interaction. You may need to take it slow and build a comfort level.

Translated materials should be tested on multiple computers, including equipment that will be used at the destination.

There is so much to learn when traveling and working in new places.  It is part of the excitement. Expect to learn as much as you teach.

Adapted from The Essential Guide to Training Global Audiences, Pfeiffer

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2 Responses to Stuff Happens

  1. Sardek Love says:

    I laughed when I read this because I have experienced many of these “lessons”! In January 2013, I had 3 on one trip to Bahrain – materials didn’t arrive, they didn’t speak any English, and my translator didn’t really want to translate. We survived and got it done but oh what a stressful 1st day it was. Thanks for sharing some great tips. I’m living proof that even veterans can fall into the same traps if they become complacent and assume things will go OK because they’ve always gone OK.

  2. Renie says:

    Hi Sardek! Good you can laugh at this after the fact! Because when we are going through it we are generally jet lagged and fatigued!

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