Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Hunchun, China: Week 5, Pt. 2 (Picking Up)

It is 10pm, still warm in the house from the day's heat. Summer has finally arrived, and I am remembering how to be a manager.  I think some of these skills must go in the same parts of my brain as my languages: unused, they disappear into moldy recesses. Only later do I find them, half-eaten and smelling sour.

I've forgotten so quickly all of the brilliant things that my manager at Google used to do when faced with many bright, opinionated people. He always made us feel heard and recognized, while managing to rein us in (mostly, anyway!). Today, I ran the training and survey practice for 3 volunteers from Beijing. They are all master's degree students in wildlife ecology - one of them has experience with a 1-month, 300-person survey. The training went well, the practice tanked completely. It didn't take the hour and a half I allotted - it took 3 hours. Then I went for a run to decompress, came back and we ate, and then spent another two hours at it.

At least I had the wits to end the practice for the night around 9:30, realizing that the practice devolve into nitpicking and arguing over semantics.

Semantics are important in social surveys. But, not worth the time now that this survey has gone through 10+ iterations already. Having not anticipated how vigorously our volunteers would want to give input, I failed to set up a system from the beginning to keep us moving. Tomorrow, I'll do the following
1. Parking lot for issues whose discussion surpasses 5 minutes
2. Designate a "final call" person who makes the ultimate decision that everyone else has to respect
3. Make sure one person talks at a time, and they get the "podium" when they do
4. Maybe most important, set the stage at the very beginning with some ground rules (ie. we are not changing X type of question, we want feedback on Y, we will not be discussing Z so don't be offended if you start discussing it and we cut you off).

These are all things I used to do almost automatically. Granted, there is now the added complication of languages, and perhaps, "culture." It takes us twice as long to explain ourselves, and when the three volunteers + Tony go at it, Joshua and I have a hard time cutting in.  Not only that, but Tony, Joshua and I sometimes contradict ourselves, which tells me maybe we haven't agreed with all the questions to begin with. Why is that? Could I have created more dialogue around them and some kind of sign-off process? Why didn't we bring the country director into this conversation earlier? SO many oversights, I want to kick myself.
So my eyes are tired from looking at the computer all day. My body is tired from my four-mile run - sadly, the farthest I've gone since I was training for Bay to Breakers in 08. My brain is tired from all the talking, translating and beating myself up (as usual ;). My heart is tired from missing my loved ones, and feeling uprooted and not myself. 
Despite all this, I am reveling. This is why I came here, to grow from the challenges, to remember how to be better. Our country director gets in tomorrow, and I need to devote some time tonight to also think about how to present her with the frustrations we've been running into with this survey. Another question is whether my goal of learning about conservation in China (which is happening here in Hunchun, albeit slowly) is outweighed by wanting to talk to lots of conservation people/organizations in Beijing, and by the social opportunities and ballroom training opportunities there. I'm not ready to give up on this yet, but if the gov't really never intends for us to go, I need to cut my losses and grow in another way.
Tags: business
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