Halfway Around the World
I am presently sitting quite comfortably on a foldable chair at a table with my PowerBook, a textbook, a cell phone, and a bowl of freshly picked cherries at my aunt and uncle's house in the country-side of France. We're about a 25 minute drive from Paris in the village of Vernouillet. On Monday I will move into a dormitory at Cité Universitaire on the southern end of Paris.
How did I get here? By plane of course, from the Tri-Cities Regional Airport, to Cincinnati, to Charles-DeGaulle International Airport. Why? That's a bit more complex, allow me to elucidate.
In the Spring I started exploring various internship possibilities or something at least to keep myself occupied over the summer. For the past two years I have been employed by a particular fruit company as a campus rep and my term is this job was coming to a close, the date of which hinging on when I would start my next Big Thing. I had been exploring the possibility of an internship there or at some other related or web-services/web-apps company, me being a Python/Django and Communications guy.
By February things were far from clear when I got an intriguing email from Sherry McNair on the College of Communications and Information Sciences listserv with an attached flyer detailing a summer study abroad program led by Dr. Kenneth Levine to Paris, France. I went around the college, researching the program and what it entailed, spoke to Dr. Levine, and I had my plan B.
Naturally, I preferred the prospect of gaining some more real world experience and (hopefully) making some money along the way. After all, I'm due a new MacBook Pro and I need to start saving for post-college. I interviewed at the headquarters of my (then) present employer, and at MochiMedia in San Francisco. Both sets of interviews went fairly well and the Mochi guys were fantastic (special thanks goes to my good friend Staci Baird and her husband for the hookup). I made some new great friends along the way and have certainly set out on a path to the west coast, but ultimately nothing panned out for the fall due to either scheduling issues or my lack of database ninja skills (I'm working on it!).
All the while interviewing for these internships I continued to plan with Dr. Levine and the Programs Abroad Office for the possibility of my traveling to and studying in France for the second summer session of 2008. Thankfully, that planning paid off and when the internships fell through, Plan B was activated and so far, a highly productive summer has come through like a charm.
The plan was to proceed with the family beach vacation to Hilton Head Island, return for a week, go to WWDC in San Francisco for a week, return for a week, and then fly out to Paris a week early to spend some time with my French aunt, uncle, and cousins.
I should devote a whole post to WWDC, and I probably will at some point, but without going into too many specifics, it was a jaw droopingly amazing experience, for which I have Rands and Andrew to thank for mostly. The first night alone I got to meet John Gruber briefly and then had dinner with Merlin Mann and a handful of Apple engineers and one Google engineer. I went to a party every night and met some of the most bright and interesting people I have yet to meet at Apple or anywhere else. This was my second time at WWDC, the first being last year, and I certainly hope it will not be the last. Every year I learn something new and amazing that continually inspires my work and my life. Again, thank you thank you thank you to everyone there.
France and Communicating Globally
There is so much more to come on this subject, but the general gist of the program is that we are here to study the cultural differences of communications in France, Belgium (briefly) and the United States. Our agenda is quite impressive, visiting and touring dozens and dozens of French businesses and sights, of which I will blog about once we've made our way around a bit.
I can't help but feel a bit nostalgic; I lived in the Netherlands for three years in the 90's. Now, I know that being an expat is not as unique and I sometimes perceive (and my parents are apt to remind me) but in this group at least, and in this curricula, it would seem to be a great advantage. It is also quite revealing to a number of cultural/social problems I have encountered at home. As I have been reading through our textbooks on American cultural differences, I have begun to truly realize my own cultural perspective, which is not entirely American.
My father is a Bolivian (now an American since the 70's), my mother is North Carolinian, I lived in the Netherlands for 3 years attending a largely international school, and frequently interacted with my family in France and Bolivia. From as best as I can ascertain, the majority of my cultural context is comprised of Latin culture (French, Spanish, Latin American and so forth). To quantify, let's say I'm 60% Latin culture, 20% Dutch/Germanic, and 20% Anglo (American and British). This mix due in part to family, my time in the Netherlands, and my schooling (which was heavily influenced by Brits).
After reading all about these French cultural differences, I feel almost as though I need a book explaining American culture, there is so much that I have been relatively unaware of and many mistakes that I have made as a result of that. I guess, that a lot of that cultural experience has just averaged out over time and is all mixed up, lacking context. I hope that this trip, and these studies will help me contextualize my experiences and give me some good tools for quantifying what I'm seeing.
Best wishes to everyone back home, I'll see you all again after August 4th.