In the last two weeks I've been to Australia and back and to South Korea (I head to Vermont in about five hours). My 3-seminar stay in Seoul ended with a Bang. I spoke in the Olympic wrestling venue to 3,000+ folks. That was great ... but the real "out of the park" treat was that two-thirds were under 30, and about 50% under 25 (or so my rather practiced eye says). It is sooooooooooooooooo great to speak to "tomorrow" instead of "yesterday." The obligation is enormous, of course. I think we had a great exchange—and we also had a lot of laughs. (You must laugh a lot when you're being serious.)
The "laughs" are the byproduct of at least three things, all important. First and foremost, BRILLIANT interpreters!!! If you are "playing with" humor in somebody else's culture the nuance and timing must be EXACTLY right. (On top of that, no matter how hard I try to do otherwise, I talk fast. Though I am pretty good at purging the American colloquialisms.)
The second thing is a slap at conventional wisdom concerning an age-old issue. I totally believe in "sensitivity" (to the extreme) concerning "cultural differences." On the other hand, I fervently believe that the first 99% of "effective cross-cultural communication" is all about one's humanity. I do pretty well, or even better than that. And that seems to be as true in Saudi and Siberia as in Seoul. I am sure it is mostly because I "get off on people." I just love hanging out with folks at home and away—and trying to connect my passions with their lives and issues. If you truly love people, then the "cross-cultural conundrums" will mostly disappear. (Among many other things, there's a Great Big Message here concerning the selection of people for "foreign" assignments.)
Third, an old saw that is true, you must be comfortable with yourself! This young group, for instance, energized (at least for three hours) an exhausted carcass (me). Though the crowd was 3,000 and "foreign"—I felt (I do not exaggerate) engaged, as fully engaged a human being as in an energetic one-on-one discussion in my Vermont farmhouse. I felt among friends—and we acted accordingly. We laughed and wept (metaphorically) as we talked about the Crazy Old World—and how valuable and joyful our life's work might be. Simply put, you can't do that if you are constantly "looking over your shoulder" at various gremlins and "how to behave" stuff. (Frankly, I feel that my "foreign" "work" gets better the more I forget that I'm "away from home" and the more I remember that we're all wrestling with pretty much the same issues.
Also, you'll belatedly find my PowerPoint.
(NB: The vibrancy and optimism in Korea is a delight to behold—and the smog I expected has long been mostly erased. The only big complaint by one and all is that, as usual, a primary byproduct of sustained success is sustained traffic mess.)