More than I expected, Ethiopia is green, beautiful, chilly, and the food is great. Like Thai food, they use a lot of peppers and have a spicy taste. You eat with your hands and everyone eats off the same large plate.

Because there is a different calendar system here, it just became the millennium (year 2000). Like Tanzania, they also have two ways of telling time – the one that I am used to, and also the one where with the sunrise it is 0 o’clock, then after one hour it is 1 o’clock, etc. (Does anyone else know of other calendar systems or ways to tell time?)

There about 45 languages spoken here (the main language being Amharic) and the economic developments seem fairly stable in Addis Ababa with a lot of roads and buildings under construction. The hard thing is that for the first time in living memory, prices on most everything have gone up by 3 to 4 times in the last few years, without hardly any increase in salary.

The African Union is headquartered here, and because it is perhaps the only country which was never colonized, it has a lot of the traditional African culture that has been lost or morphed elsewhere.

Since I was so close, I decided to come visit one of the PhD students that I supervise, Temtim Assefa. He is the chair of the department of ICT Education at Addis Ababa University, and has been an excellent host.

And Temtim tells me that people get Ethiopia all wrong – by thinking everyone here is starving. He says that in a country with 70 million people it is “only” about 5 million who are starving.

The land and the people are as visually rich as is the food, but here are just a few pictures from the last couple days…

(click on any picture to see an enlarged image)
Ethiopian Monk

Traditional Hut

children in a vilage

Old crippled woman

Good Ethiopian Food

Cute Ethiopian Kids

Temtim and family

Funny sign

Take Care AIDS sign

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.

So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan Uganda Police Dudetraffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.

As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).

My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Local trying to take a pictureUganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.

They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without Me and Ugandan police “friend” dudespermission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.

• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?

One of the kids that someone I met here takes care of here said he was thinking about being a judge when he grows up. When asked why, he said, “Really good corruption money.” Kampala City Clock

And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…

Mistakes in Giving Aid and Development – Part 2

Mistakes in Giving Aid and Development – Part 2

Changed Priorities AheadI liked coming across this sign on the main street in Kampala city-center (click on it to see the full image). Maybe it is symbolic of what happens to people when they come to Uganda.

Well, in reference to my last blog entry, I knew I could do better if I had more time. So I went back yesterday (my first free day) and decided to spend as much time as I could with these kids – to find out more about who they really are, what their life is like, and what their real needs are.

Finding the boys
After making the 2 hour journey from Kampala to Jinja I figured I would start by going to the “American Super Market”. Only I did not see a single kid there – and it started to rain, so I was afraid I wouldn’t see any.

Well, on my way to the taxi park one kid popped out of nowhere with his hand outstretched.
I tried to talk to him, but he did not understand either English or the little of Lugandan that I have learned. Boys in the rainA parking guard came over and tried to help me speak with him. Within a short period of time, three more of the kids came over.

We walked to a little table under an overhang where we could get out of the rain and I could talk a more with them. The guard and a man at the next table over tried to help translate my questions and explain to me more about what they knew of who these kids were and where they came from. The man who was helping me ended up being a teacher at a local primary school – a school with 600 children attending, 300 of which are orphans.

Learning more about who they are
These particular kids I was speaking with (whose names I found out were Mio, Moru, Ocuro, Abra, and Shira) Clint Rogers with Ugandan street orphansactually came from the northern part of Uganda and didn’t speak much Lugandan or English at all, so even these men had difficulty communicating with them. But slowly we were able to get more information. They are from the Karamajou tribe, and came to Jinja either because of the insurgency (where their fathers had been killed) or simply because it was too dry and they could not grow any food. I asked the kids where they stayed and they told me “Masese” – a little squatter camp area out away from town for refugees. I asked them if they would take me to see it, and they agreed to.

The teacher walked with us to help translate. Kids on railroad track on way to MaseseAs we walked through town it seemed like more and more boys kept joining us until everyone in town was looking at our little parade. Many of the boys followed us to the edge of town, but did not want to go with me to Masese. Later as we were walking the little ones that came with said in Lugandan “The other ones had fear.” I asked why, but they did not give much of an answer, other than that they did not want me to see where they lived.

But five boys walked with us the whole way, Walking to Maseseplaying with their “toys” (an old tire and used CDs they found on the street) as we walked. And it was a long walk – through a little squatter camp area, over a railroad track, through a huge field of corn – and during our walking we talked. The teacher found out that not all of them were orphans, as they still had at least one parent, and that some had already been helped by one NGO to be able to start going to school.

Without mentioning that I was the one who was the mzungu (white person), I told the teacher about the M&M story from last week and asked him to see if any of these boys had been there and what they did after the car drove away. I was touched to find out I was wrong about what happened. One of the boys explained that there were not enough M&Ms for everyone, so they broke some of them in half in order to give some to each boy.

Visiting where they live
Finally we reached near the place that they lived. I smelled it before I could see it – as there was a stench from a waste area which we had to walk past.
Shortly after passing it, we came to a crowd of a few adults standing and helping feed a couple dozen dirty little children who were seated on the ground. People at MaseseAs soon as they saw me many of them gave surprised cries of “mzungu.”
In this house, someone had just passed away, and so they were in morning. It is tradition when this happens for visitors to come, sign the guest notebook, and leave some money – which I did. I then asked them if it would be OK if I took a picture, and they actually loved the idea. They wanted me to take as many as possible, in each place of Masese that I visited (one woman even requesting that I hold her baby for the picture).
Street boy with his mom
We went one by one to each of the homes of the boys and heard a little more of their story. As one example, the boy in this picture lost his father recently, killed while fighting in the army, and his mother was left with 8 kids – some of which are pictured here. Brothers and SistersEverywhere we passed, kids (and some adults) would say excitedly “mzungu” and wave to me from their houses or alleys. We met the living members of the families of each of these five boys, and each wanted a picture taken. Each of them was in a difficult situation. I found the names of organizations that were already helping them. I gave the mothers just a small amount of money, and also this time had a lot more M&Ms – to make sure that each child could have at least one. kids at Masese

After talking for quite a while with them, it became time to go.
As we walked out of the settlement to the main road, the kids who walked with us kept asking when they would see me again?
“Anytime,” the teacher said – which he told me means you are not committing to anything.
As we climbed onto the back of a “boda boda” (a motorcycle that acts as a taxi) the teacher told me that they were going to miss their new friend.

The boda motorcycle had a hard time getting started with our weight (the driver, the teacher, and me) so the driver asked the kids to help push – and soon we had enough momentum that they waved to me as we drove away.

It is still a sad situation, however you look at in masese But I guess at least this time I did not leave feeling like I had made the situation even worse.
– I took a little more time to find out some more about who they really were and what their needs were.
– I acted much more out of concern than guilt or expediency.
– I went into the situation knowing I needed a lot more M&Ms and with a better distribution method (I made them line up one by one).
– I gave money directly to the mothers and the teacher, who would hopefully get them things the kids need the most.
– I asked the teacher to also give me the names of the organizations that seem to be doing the most to help them already – which I can now contribute to.
– I also got the address for the primary school, as one of my friends who is a teacher in the US (VeNicia) wanted to get her kids to put together a package for them. I emphasized to the teacher that it should be a two-way thing and the kids in Africa should also give something to the kids in the US, even if it was just pictures they drew.
[Here is a link to comments from the previous entry with some initial ideas about how the specific experience might be analogous to development/aid in general]

Cute kids at MaseseStill, my heart goes out to them. I realize that my impact may not be great or transformative for them, but I can at least feel some peace in believing there are actually some things we can do to make the situation a little better for them. And, conversely, that their kindness, noble spirit, and hospitality, regardless of their situation, has also made my life situation better too.
Maybe it is strange, but just looking at the pictures again and hearing their voices in my head makes me miss those kids (my “new friends”) already.

Mistakes in Aid and Development (in Africa): Wanting to help, but making things worse

Mistakes in Aid and Development (in Africa): Wanting to help, but making things worse

I did something this last week that I immediately regretted and continue to feel bad about – wanting to help but honestly feeling as if the situation was worse after my arrival than before.
I’m asking for your thoughts in what I could have done differently.
Thinking about it, I have started to see the experience as an analogy for how aid/development is generally given and received in Africa.

The situation:
I was in a little village about an hour and a half outside Kampala, checking on some options of places that I can bring the participants of the upcoming TEDC conference. A friend of a friend was kind enough to offer me a ride back to Kampala, and so as a thank you I wanted to buy something to share with him.

Funny enough, we drove past the “American Super Market” American Super Market in Junja(which was run by people from India) so in addition to taking a picture, I went inside to look for something to share. I got some peanut m&ms, and just outside the store gave some to this friend, a girl he was talking to, and then just to be nice also to the guard sitting outside the front door.

Before I knew it, a dirty little pair of hands attached to a cute little dirty orphan popped out in front of me in a motion of wanting some too. orphans

My first thought was compassion, “Of course I want to do something nice for this little guy, when I have been given so much and he has been given so little, due to no fault of his own.” Just as I went to pour a couple in his hands, I was jostled as another pair of slightly bigger dirty hands pushed the other ones out of the way in order to try and catch the candy. Then another pair of dirty hands attached to a cute little dirty orphan joined them, and another, and another, until in what seemed like a matter of seconds, I was surrounded by hands and orphans. orphans 2A lot of them had left their places sitting on the street near the building and now surrounded me. (someone told me nearly one in four children in Uganda is an orphan, mainly due to AIDS – although most of them get taken into live with extended family, these ones looked like they lived on the street)

I quickly counted heads (15-20) and how many candies were left in the bag (about 11) – not enough to go around.

I looked over to my companion for some advice or help; he just shook his head at me (like “stupid mzungo”) and walked quickly across the street to the car to start it because he was in a rush to get back to Kampala.

I obviously looked confused and at this point the kids were kind of pushing each other for spots at the front so that they didn’t get left out.

My first thought was to simply do nothing and keep the candies to myself so that it would be “fair” (or at least equally unfair for each of them) – but that thought made me feel selfish and guilty.

I was trying to think quickly but my friend was already in the car and it seemed like more and more anxious kids kept coming over and surrounding me.

So I just light tossed the bag towards them while I broke free of the crowd and hurried across the street to get in the nice, comfortable, clean car.

I looked back just once to see what happened, and instead of the candies being spread as equally and fairly as possible among all the orphans, they had fought and struggled over them until one or two of the bigger kids won all of them and the rest got none.

By then we had driven away.

Maybe you can see now why this situation keeps bothering me.

My question for you:
What could/should I have done differently?

Feel free to give simple answers or ones in which you creatively think out of the box. And don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings either, I’m asking for your honest thoughts.

After I get some answers to these questions, I’ll share a bit about how it seems like an analogy for current aid/development situations in Africa in general. But for now, I’m just interested in how you think I could have done things different with this particular incident?

The Questions We Ask: Reviewing 10 years of research on Cultural Attitudes Towards Technology and Communication for CATaC 2008

I wonder if anything has more impact on our future than the questions we ask?

First, if we take it on more of a micro-level, imagine going into any random meeting. You will see things differently and have a different experience if you are asking “How can I get out of this meeting as quickly as possible?” vs. “What meaningful things can I learn and/or contribute during this time?” vs “How can I make sure I don’t embarrass myself in this meeting like I did last time?”
The questions we ask reveal some about the assumptions we take into the situation, and also have an impact on the consequent experience we have.

As another simple example, when meeting a person imagine asking: “What does he/she think of me?” vs. “What is his/her life like?” vs. “How can I make this person’s life a little better?” vs “Why am I even talking to this person?”
Depending on which question(s) you are asking (consciously or subconsciously) you will most likely have a different perspective, experience, and outcome.

As I was conducting a review the last 10 years of research on papers presented at the bi-annual CATaC conference (Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication), I was again impressed by the questions we ask in a research context. They are all laden with assumptions (usually unstated) and have an impact on how the research is conducted – including what end up being the findings and recommended future research.

For this paper we looked at:
• Who is asking the questions? (where are they from, what discipline do they represent, who do they work with)
• What questions are they asking?
• How do they go about finding answers to their questions? (what literature do they cite, what methods do they use, what population do they sample, etc.)
• What answers do they find?
• What suggestions do they have for future research?

Additionally, I kept asking myself, what assumptions might they be making in the questions they address?

Even working with great colleagues like Javier and Brooke, it was a ton of work (reading at least some sections of all 199 papers) – but perhaps one of the best things I have done professionally or personally. I now have a better idea for what has already been done in this field, what gaps there are, and what lines of inquiry have been more fruitful than others. On another level, I am more conscious of the assumptions behind the questions I ask and the potential impact they might have. I wonder, out of all the possible options, are these really the most valuable questions?

Your thoughts/reactions?
• In your personal and/or professional life, have you ever had an experience where you noticed that when you changed the questions you were asking it altered the way you saw the situation?
• Do you ever stop to examine the assumptions you are making which led to the questions you are asking?
• Of all the questions you could ask, why did you pick the ones you are asking? Do you think they are the most important or valuable ones you could be asking or is it for some other reason?

As a side line of thought:
• Do you think we ask ourselves enough questions? Why as we age do we seem to lose some of the curiosity of children and ask less questions?
• If not all questions are created equal, how can I lead myself to asking better and better questions?

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

I am here now getting all the last minute details organized for the upcoming On the street international conference and workshop on Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). Just for fun, here are some of the interesting images that jumped out at me today while walking the streets of Kampala, Uganda…

What if you are not the “management”? Then is it OK to put up posters?
What if you are not the management?

Aren’t you glad that some advertisements don’t come with pictures?
I guess different things are attractive in Africa?

You probably couldn’t even comprehend this hall if you saw it!
Complex Hall

Conflicting messages?
Conflicting messages?

I walked in here and asked them if they could make me beautiful. They said they had a lot of faith there, but not that much.
God is Able Beauty Salon

Don’t get your hopes up. No “slushees” inside.
Seven-Eleven, but no slurpees

And some others…
Dancing for your soul

Blessed Videos, Kampala

America’s Greatness: It Has Never Really Been Politics

America’s Greatness: It Has Never Really Been Politics

Everywhere I go, I am surprised how much people all over the world know about the U.S.
• When I was in Russia a couple weeks ago, a young man came up to me and asked me if I was from the US. American FlagThen he began to ask me all kinds of questions about the housing market and sub-prime loan crisis. He wanted to know when I thought the market was going to recover, and what the relationship was going to be between the stock market and the upcoming elections.
• When I was in France, a woman who was originally from Scotland but now living in Norway taught me some interesting things I didn’t know about the current US presidential political candidates.
• When I was in China, a few people talked to me about wanting to move to the U.S., one man describing to me the uniqueness of some of the freedoms we have.
• When I was in Finland, I heard a black man from Tanzania defend the current situation in America to a white woman from South Africa who was speaking against certain parts of it.

I know other countries are talked about (e.g. French president’s new wife, Spain wining the Euro 2008, Russia’s and Putin, Zimbabwe’s election scandal…) but the situation in the US seems to command so much of the discussion of ordinary people around the world. To be honest, sometimes the discussion has made me feel somewhat awkward to be from the US, and at other times it has made me feel some degree of pride – but always it makes me think what a big responsibility it is to be the focal point of so much discussion.

I heard the CNN news host Glenn Beck talk at the Freedom Festival on the BYU campus about how much America craves for a Glenn Beckleader, but how the greatness of America was never found in Washington DC or any of its politicians.
He talked about how in America we all now have been bombarded with talk and recognition of all of the problems and all of the dangers we face – and now the whole world knows all our problems. We often talk so much about the problems we currently face, that we totally miss the blessings and opportunities that we so easily take for grant it. So what is it that contributes to the ways in which America is great?

There has been a lot of new technologies and innovations which have come from America:Freedom Festival Logo
• Light bulb
• Car
• Television
• Movies
• Telephone
• Assembly line
• Artificial heart
• Safety pins
• Computer
• Water tower
• Popsicle
• Polio vaccine
• Cotton candy
• Blue jeans
• Scones

But this is not really what he thought makes America great.

Where is the greatness?

From his message, at least part of greatness of America is captured in two phrases:
1. “We the People” – the first three words on the Declaration of Independence – in large print. This is the belief that government does not solve our problems, but we solve them by serving our families and communities. Glenn Beck said: “We can solve any problem. Not in Washington, but right here. The answer never comes from Washington, it never has… The answer comes like a beacon in these three words – ‘We the People’”
2. “In God we Trust” – this phrase should bring humility, not arrogance. It is the belief that if we humble ourselves and trust in God, He can guide us into an uncertain and difficult future to do things that will benefit ourselves and those we care about (both in and out of the country).

George Washington, the first president, was a good example of this – not looking for power of government position, not interested in being a politician, but simply in doing his duty to serve for the sake of freedom. Glenn Beck pointed out that when George Washington was making his stance at Valley Forge during the war of independence, he was just a short way from the government capitol (which at that time was Philadelphia). During the cold winters, his wife was the one who made shirts and pants for the soldiers. “The government and congress did not do much to help them then. The situation has not changed that much today.”

As a strange side note, one of the news stories in the U.S. this year is that the fireworks displays tonight might Freedom Festival Logonot be as spectacular this year because it was more difficult to get fireworks from China due to the recent earthquake.

So even in talking about the positive aspects of American society, I can not get beyond the reality of how interconnected the world is now-a-days.

Question Mark
Since we are so interconnected, I’m curious – from an international perspective what do you think have been some of the positive and negative impacts America has made on the world?

Games people play in different countries and cultures

Games people play in different countries and cultures

I would sometime like to do a study on games people play in different cultures and countries.Head Wound
Going to St. Petersburg this last weekend, we joked about a ‘Russian game’ called the “Everybody get down!”-game – and how this man on the bus didn’t learn how to play it very well…
(sometime ask me more about it for a funny story)

But as I have been thinking a lot about games lately – Clint in St. Petersburgand have started inventing one or two games that deal with intercultural communication and collaboration – I wonder these questions about the games people play around the world:
– Who is involved (adults and children, people of what ages, and what relation)?
– Are the games based on cooperation or competition?
– Are they team based or individual?
– Are they thinking/skill based or games of chance/luck? Children Playing Games
– If it is a game you can “win” what do you win?
– Are they played indoor or outdoor?
– Are the games just for diversions or what deeper things do you learn from playing them? etc…

Here are my questions for you:
– Do you know any games you (or others) played as a kid that people from other areas of the world might consider unique?
– What are your favorite games to play and why do you like them?

Why would you want to be a Buddhist monk?

Why would you want to be a Buddhist monk?

Early I had a blog entry about Catholic monks. Thai Buddhist monks Now I had the opportunity to ask the above question to two Thai Buddhist monks who were visiting Joensuu for a few days. I spoke with them briefly before a couple of meditation sessions that my good friend Antony invited me to (which they kind of took us through).

So why would you want to become a monk?
I was told earlier that in certain Buddhist traditions every boy is expected to spend a period of 3-6 months as a monk (as a sign of love to his mother), but only certain ones decide to continue to live in the monastery and spend their life as a monk.
One of these monks said that he wanted to become a monk since he was a small boy. He always spent all his extra time at the temple which was in his village, respected the monks, and knew that is what he wanted to do.
Buddhist monks getting ready for meditationThe other monk said that he came from a very poor family and always wanted an education beyond the primary school. Being a monk allowed him to continue his studies, and he has now graduated from the Buddhist university in linguistics, having studied semitic languages and Buddhist traditions.
Both seemed very happy (aside from the cold weather, that is.)

I’ve never tried Buddhist meditation before, but I found it quite difficult yet enjoyable. I also think it is a healthy thing to do. There are different kinds, but we sat with our legs crossed, back straight but not rigid, and hands comfortably in our lap. You close your eyes and only focus on “seeing” your breathing. Wherever you feel your breath the most (tip of nose, throat, stomach, etc), you try to focus on that area – and clear your mind of any other thought.

meditatingI don’t know if you have ever sat for an entire hour before in the same position and just tried to only focus on one thing in the moment – but it is tough. As I was sitting there, my brain kept rushing through thoughts of things that had happened or things that were coming up which I needed to do. It was also difficult not to be distracted as my legs and butt slowly felt more discomfort from sitting in the same position, as I felt an itch on my face, or as some other distraction occurred in the room – but supposedly those distractions provide the best opportunities to really focus on your breathing in deeper way.

Me with monks

Why I think meditation is healthy?
Here are my thoughts, but if anyone else knows better – feel free to correct me.
There seems to be something good about being in the present moment. Slowing down enough so that your conscience can speak – digging past appearance to substance – transcending the immediate emotion or feeling to the deeper parts of existence and the core of who you are. (Although it is not about Buddhism, it reminds me of movie called “Peaceful Warrior” which I would recommend that deals with being in the present moment. It is one of my favorite movies at the moment. 🙂
Maybe I’m totally missing some of the most important things, so feel free to correct me if you know any better.

I’m curious what stuff other people do to slow down for a bit and contemplate?
Or does anyone know any other reasons why meditation is healthy?

Finland Productivity Levels: An international success story

Finland Productivity Levels: An international success story

Attending a conference at Oxford last week (“Confronting the Challenge of Technology for Development: Experiences from the BRICS”), I heard several of the speakers refer to Finland as an example of one of the mostProductivity Chart successful countries in terms of development and productivity growth over the last couple decades (one speaker even referring to it as one “Superstar model”). Being back in Finland again, I have asked myself why has Finland been so successful (when so many other countries struggle and fail to do what Finland has done)?

[FYI – There are all kinds of quotients and formulas out there to measure the “productivity” of a country, and people are constantly debating about what should be included in them. Usually included are a combination of things like GNP, import/export ratio, capital accumulation, growth per capita, patent applications made, publications, Research and Development ROI, etc…]

So why can you give money to Finland, and they very effectively turn it into productivity and growth, when you could give it to other countries and not have nearly the same result?

Here are some of the ideas I have thought of or heard from others (You should vote for one of them or suggest your own). Why Finland has been so productive and successful:

  1. Because Finland has such a low corruption rate (one of the lowest in the world), the money doesn’t get embezzled by government leaders, and people work together better because they can trust each other more.
  2. Finland is very homogeneous – this also helps with getting people to work together and trust each other.
  3. Finland is very egalitarian (perhaps due to the Lutheran influence?)- and so this helps to mediate some of the gloryFinland seeking and conflict. [e.g. I heard from one man that all government officials at a certain level are required to take a business economics course in which they get assigned a role that is not their own, then use real data and numbers from Finland’s economy to make decisions and policy recommendations. This helps them see that they need to work as a team, and appreciate the insights they learn from those with another expertise.]
  4. Finland is used to pulling together to face very difficult challenges and great odds. [e.g. when China started becoming more of a threat economically, they flew over some of their top people who came back with a much different approach.] This is like the “sisu” mentality – which comes from things like enduring months of freezing cold weather with virtually no sunlight, living in the woods for years without talking to another person, or sharing a boarder with a country that likes to keep you on your guard.
  5. There is a hypothesis that a country’s productivity level and growth is directly proportional to the amount of Karelian pasties they consume? 🙂
  6. Perhaps by requiring men to wear speedos at all public pools – this bring a special camaraderie, creating a better environment for working together? Kind of symbolic of stripping issues down to the meat and bones and avoiding anything extra.
  7. The fact that Finns don’t engage in much small talk (e.g. ignoring each other rather than saying “hi” to each other as they pass each other) maybe saves time for them to be more focused and productive?
  8. Perhaps it is because people around the world serendipitously thought “Nokia” was a Japanese company – and so invested in it heavily? 🙂

Any other ideas that you can think of for why Finland has been so successful?

Is the Dalai Lama lying? Conflict, hypocrisy, and miscommunication – the Dorje Shugden

Is the Dalai Lama lying? Conflict, hypocrisy, and miscommunication – the Dorje Shugden

Shouts with a call: “Stop lying”

Response (by the crowd): “Dalai Lama”

What are some human tendencies in responding to conflict?

While walking this morning along the streets of Oxford (to a conference I am presenting at this weekend), I saw a group of people gathering and asked what was happening. They said the Dalai Lama was coming. Is the Dalai Lama lying?So, like any tourist, I wanted to see him and get a picture if possible. I came back in an hour when there was a much larger crowd and heard people shouting something in a chant.

I will soon post here some pictures from the event. I didn’t end up getting a picture of the Dalai Lama, but I did get a lot of conversations that were perhaps even more valuable.

I assumed the shouting were either from Tibetans protesting China or Chinese protesting the Dalai Lama. Then I looked over the crowd and started to realize it was separated into three parts. Only a part of the crowd was holding Tibetan flags on one side, there was a small gathering around a Chinese flag in the center, and then a large group on the other side – many of which were dressed in long Buddhist robes – holding signs that said the Dalai Lama was lying. This is where the shouting was coming from. Buddhists protesting the Dalai Lama?

So I went back and forth between the different groups in the crowd in order to get a better understanding of what was happening. I have captured the conversations that came from it, and I think you will it interesting how people reason and make sense of the situation.

The situation itself is interesting, but the conversations around the protest is what I am more interested in discussing and hearing your thoughts about. They surprised me in some ways, and helped me understand a little more how people deal with conflict: always questioning the motivations of others (especially repelled by any sign of hypocrisy), making quick judgments based upon assuming negative motivations, asking so few questions (and usually only the kinds of questions which help them justify their previous opinions), and then giving labels for the people they feel are opposed to them.


Conversation #1 (To a person with a Tibetan flag)

Who are the protesters, and what is their concern?

“They are all just a bunch of communists.”

Conversation #2 (Walking over to a protester who hands me a pamphlet)

What are you protesting? What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?

“He is lying because he says he is hypocritical saying he supports human rights, but he suppresses them amongst his own people. He has outlawed people from being able to practice something called Dorje Shugden (a prayer to a certain Buddhist deity) – said there was an evil spirit in it – and if people do practice it then they have had their houses burned down, and some people have even been killed.”

Why do you think he outlawed the practice?

“For political reasons. He wants to unite Buddhists, and while politically that might make sense, spiritually it is very destructive.”

Oh, someone told me that you were communist protesters

“Yeah – they don’t really know what they are talking about.”

Conversation #3 (Walking back to someone with a Tibetan flag draped around them)

What do you think they are protesting about?

“Oh, they are angry that about the practice of a certain kind of prayer that the Dalai Lama has spoken against. It is a complicated split in Tibetan Buddhism. But they don’t even know what they are talking about. Go over there and ask them, and most of them are just westerners and don’t even know why they are protesting. They don’t even know what they are talking about. You don’t see any Tibetans over there, do you?

The Dalai Lama just said that he wasn’t going to practice the Dorje Shugden anymore, but he does allow religious freedom to people, but just asked if they follow him not to practice the Dorje Shugden as well. He doesn’t say that they can not practice it, just that he finds an evil spirit about it.

You don’t see any Tibetans over there, or hardly any. They don’t even have any intelligent chants. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were paid to come together. You know that happens. Paid mob.”

[And she handed me a statement from the Tibetan government describing their view on what had happened.]

Conversation #4 (Walking again over to a different protester)

What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?

“He has suppressed the practice of Dorje Shugden – even though his spiritual leaders practiced it. In Buddhism, you are supposed to follow your spiritual leaders. Now, people in the Tibetan communities of India (where they are living in exile) are forced to carry cards that indicate that they do not practice the Dorje Shugden. If they do not have the card, they get persecuted – and even their lives are in danger. There are even stores that say above the entrance that if you believe in Dorje Shugden then you can not shop there.”

Why did he think the Dorje Shugden was an evil practice?

“Oh, it was just some dream he says he had. Stupid. Really he is both a spiritual and political leader, and so he makes certain decisions for political reasons that are devastating spiritually. Westerners understand that you can not do this, that it is unhealthy and wrong, and so we are speaking up to try and get his attention. We do not hate him, we love him, we have peace in us, and we cheer at the end of each chant to show it is a peaceful rally. But we just want him to listen and he is not even open to dialogue. It is not democratic at all, but more like medieval ages in the west when the rulers made spiritual decisions for political reasons and then forced them on people. That is the problem when someone is both the spiritual and political leader. In the west we know that is wrong, but that is where they are stuck. It is not a democracy at all, he won’t even discuss it with people. Western media is just so nice to the Dalai Lama, not recognizing the hypocrisy – but we are trying to change that with demonstrations like this.”

Why do you think there are not more Buddhists protesting?

“There is a couple, but they are putting their life at risk by being here. The Dalai Lama has a group that will find him out and punish him if they can. All the ones over there feel they need to be submissive to him no matter what, they think that he can’t be wrong because he is their spiritual leader, and the Buddha. [He did a mock bowing motion]. Crazy. In the west we know that is not right.”

Conversation #5 (To the Tibetian on the protester side)

Why are you protesting?

“I went into the monastery when I was 12. I was there for 40 years, but because I did not want to agree and so I was cleared out. After 40 years! That was my home. If I had a family in India, and they did not have the passes, then the children would be cleared out of their schools, they would be cleared out of their community.”

Why do you think that the Dalai Lama felt this Dorje Shugden was evil?

“There are four branches of Buddhism in Tibet, and he is only the spiritual leader for only one of them. He wants to weaken the strongest branch, if he can, so that he can be a stronger leader by making all the branches more equal. The main thing is that in the west is freedom of speech – and he does not allow that.”

Why do you think more Tibetans don’t stand up to this?

“They just don’t understand.”

Conversation #6 (Then talking to a couple of Chinese representatives who gave me a pamphlet about how beautiful Tibet is)

Why are you here?

“We just want China to be one – to be united.”

Why do you think Tibet want to be free from China?

“I really don’t know.”

What percent of people in Tibet want to be free of China?

“I don’t think there are many left in Tibet that want to be free anymore. It is just a small percent. But they are doing violent things, surrounding the Olympics, and that is not good.”

What do you think the Dalai Lama wants?

“I think they were just in power before China took over, and so they just want the power again.”

They say that you might be getting paid to be here. Is that true?

“No! We are just here. That is not the reason we are here! Just look at the flag – we don’t even have enough money to buy a good flag.”

What do you think about the recent talks between Chinese government and the Dalai Lama?

“We support them. It is a good thing, and we hope it continues. The Dalai Lama just keeps speaking the same things – and there is no progress. We want to see things improve.”

Conversation #7 (Walking once again to the Tibetan side and talking to a caucasian woman holding a Tibetan flag)

Why do you think the people over there are protesting?

“I can’t imagine!”

Why do they say that the Dalai Lama is lying?

“They’re just horrible people! They are shouting horrible things! I’m Roman Catholic, but I know the Dalai Lama stands for peace! I don’t know why they would do such a horrible thing!”

Why does Tibet want to be free from China?

“I would want to be free from them! They’re barbarians – they murder their own students. They are just horrible barbarians.”

Conversation #8 (To a Tibetan man holding a Tibetan flag)

Why does Tibet want to be free from China?

“The Chinese do not allow any religious freedom. They make it so that we can not pray and practice as we would like to.”

Why do you think the people are protesting?

“They are upset about some direction that the Dalai Lama gave on changing something. But it was even his own practice, and he recognized that he needed to change too.”

And then I had to get back to the conference…

I’m sure there a lot of nuances in the actual conflict which I am not aware of. But I don’t want to discuss the conflict itself – I am more interested in discussing the approach to the conflict that was taken by people on different sides of the argument.

First let me say that I am aware that people frequently can have less-than-the-best of intentions – and so it makes sense that as humans we are always questioning the motives of others.

My questions for you:

  • At the same time, doesn’t this tendency to quickly label the intent and intelligence of others frequently lead to unnecessary labels/judgments and miscommunication?
  • Do you agree/disagree – or see anything else in these conversations?
  • Any suggestions for how to get around skepticism, quick labeling, and the resulting miscommunication?

A war with Iran? Islamic perspectives and efforts toward peace

A war with Iran? Islamic perspectives and efforts toward peace

Shirin EbadiToday I heard Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi speak about the laws and policies in the US, in her own country (Iran), and around the world – and the ways in which they contribute to peace and human rights or promote war. The stark differences in views toward women and children contribute to very different policies.

I had never heard the Iranian perspective on these issues before, and so I found it fascinating to hear her thoughts and how she wished that things would change. I wasn’t aware before of the many men and women in Iran who are trying to establish more equality, democracy, and peace. She said that they realize that improving the situation in Iran is needed, but that it is the responsibility of Iranians alone and has nothing to do with foreign military troops. She said even a threat of a military attack would significantly worsen the efforts for human rights in Iran. [To applause from the audience.]

“We are fully aware that democracy and human rights can only flourish in a sound and peaceful environment.”

“There is no doubt that Saddam Husein was obviously a dictator. But I have a question for you. Was he the only dictator in the world? Unfortunately the world is full of those people. Perhaps the only difference between Saddam and the other dictators is that he sat on a lot of oil.

So the Iranian people understand that the problems in the government will not be solved by foreign military force. Long live the friendship between the people of Iran and the United States!” [Applause]

She talked about the different interpretations of Islam, and her belief that using Islam as a pretext to enforce will upon the people is wrong. She said against the government there is a weight of Islamic intellectuals who believe that they can come up with an interpretation of Islam that promotes peace. She said Islam is open to very different interpretations, and gave as an example the varying status of women across the Islamic world (Saudi Arabia where women can’t even drive vs. Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan where they have had women presidents). She said people in the Middle East are demanding an interpretation of Islam that demonstrates it is compatible with human rights and democracy.

Hero from Hotel Rwanda spoke at BYU: “Don’t stand by, stand up, and do what you can”

Paul Rusesabagina spoke on Tuesday at BYU. I liked how he titled his presentation: “Hotel Rwanda: A story yet to be told” – because the story is not over yet, and each of us can be a small part of making it a better story than it otherwise would be.

In both Rwanda and Burundi there was a genocide of nearly a million people in the last two decades (15% of the population). Paul Rusesabagina stands in stark contrast to the ethnic violence as an example of someone willing to risk his own life to stand against the prejudice and senseless violence that erupted there.

He argued that the majority of the ordinary people do not hate each other so much, but that very poor leadership will take advantage of differences in order to divide and conquer.

He shared some powerful and sobering stories of the past and current situation.

For example, imagine trying to rescue dozens of people from an ethnic group (different from you) who are being called “cockroaches” and exterminated – police stop your car, they call you a traitor, and demand you to take their gun and shoot everyone in your car or else they will shoot you. You know they are serious because you see dead bodies scattered around you. What would you do?

Paul Rusesabagina faced this exact situation, he did not back down, did not give in, and through quick thinking was able to tell the guards that he understood they were tired and frustrated, but that there was an alternative situation, another option to solve the problems they face. He said he learned through this experience that as long as you can get people to speak with you, then you can always negotiate an alternative course of action. He was able to save the lives of not only these people, but over a thousand others who took refuge in the hotel that he managed.

Towards the end of his speech he encouraged all of us there: “Don’t stand by. Stand up, and do what you can, do what you can to help Africa. You can do something.” He said that if you don’t stand up for what is good, then the world will fail, but that we are the hope of the world if we do stand up. He said that if you want the world to get better, you can make it better. If you want it to stay the way it is, it will stay.

The question I ask myself is:

How can I stand up? What best could I do that would actually make a difference?

Listening to him made me think about the conference I am helping organize in Africa (Uganda) this summer – Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). It seems like a small drop in the ocean of what could be done to assist those in disadvantaged situations, but at least it is something.

I am always keeping my eyes and mind open for other meaningful things that I could be involved in, or even just be aware of and support in some way – so if you can think of anything, then let me know. I feel like getting involved in things that help are usually reciprocal and end up benefiting all involved.

A visit from the UN ambassador to the US: Differences between Europe and the US


The ambassador to the United States for the European Union (“His Excellency” John Bruton, former prime minister of Ireland), gave a Kennedy Center lecture at BYU yesterday.

He shared a lot of interesting information about the EU, how it functions, and why it is important to the US (e.g. over 70% of foreign investment in the US is from Europe). Two things stuck out in my mind from his speech. One is the imbalance of wealth in the US and EU compared to the rest of the world (Europe has 30% of world’s wealth with 7% of the world’s population; the US has 28% of world’s wealth wit 5% of the world’s population) – and ideally as a result the stewardship we should feel to make the world a better place (I know that is optimistic of me, but at least I can hope).

The second thing that stuck out to me, although I wish he would have gone into more detail, was when he mentioned the differences between Europe and the US.

In response to a question about public opinion in Europe toward the US, he said he would not talk to a US audience about it, but then he told us what he would say to a European audience. My paraphrase of the speech he would give to Europeans:

“Even if the president of the US changes, or even the party in power charge changes, don’t expect too much change from America. It always has had its:

  • Own special interests that it tends to cater for
  • Own sense of history, what works and what doesn’t work
  • Own political system with certain reflexes built in

We are different. It is OK that we are different. Just recognize the difference, try to understand those differences and respect them. Just like American’s should understand that Europe is different, and we have different expectations, reactions, etc.”

So the most obvious question is whether you agree that it is OK that there are differences between the US and Europe? I imagine that some differences obviously cause more concern than others (e.g. policy towards war vs. favorite foods).

But that is not where I want to start. I prefer to explore and try to understand what more of the differences are first before judging some of the most obvious and controversial ones. So I want to start by asking:

What do you think are some of the differences between Europe and the US? (your personal perception)

He didn’t go into that much from his perspective, but I wish he would have. Then I’d like to ask:

Of those differences, are they “OK” and should we just “understand” and “respect” them? Why or why not?

Santa Claus, Christmas, and New Years traditions around the world – road trip above the arctic circle

Santa Claus, Christmas, and New Years traditions around the world – road trip above the arctic circle

I just got back from one of the best road trips I think I have ever been on! At the end of some of the days I think we hurt from laughing too much.

I also learned a lot! Being around so many people from different countries, one of the most interesting things for me during this trip (and also this entire holiday season) has been in finding out more about:

What are the different traditions around the world regarding Christmas, Santa Claus, and New Years?

Background of the Road Trip

Five of us from 5 different countries traveled above the arctic circle and among other things we: all went skiing for the first time together, had spontaneous snow fights and dance parties at night, were asked to speak in a school about our countries (the kids laughing ski picturewhen we told them Russia was kind of in a nervous state right now, worried about the potential threat that Finland might invade them and take over), gave an impromptu on-stage band performance to an applauding crowd (through which the name emerged “The University of Joensuu International Publicity Band” – or JIB for short), celebrated Antony’s birthday with a surprise party, enjoyed a “smoke sauna” in the middle of theThe University of Joensuu International Publicity Band woods, ate reindeer stew (which we were informed after was actually found right after it was killed by a bear), learned a ton about each other, met the real-live “Joulupukki” (Santa Claus), and even had a police escort us in our beautiful Audi A3 rental car for part of the way home (after they made me take a breathalyzer test to see if I was intoxicated at 2am).

Because we were from 5 different countries (Malidives, UK, Rwanda, USA, and Russia) and from 5 different religious backgrounds (Islamic, Buddhist, Presbyterian-Christian, Mormon-Christian, and no religion) – we ended up having some very interesting conversations about what holidays each celebrated as we were kids, and how even the same holidays were celebrated differently.

Different Traditions

Santa's OfficeFinland: The Finns know that Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole – he lives in northern Finland. On one of our stops we visited Rovaniemi, called “Christmas Town”, where Santa Claus (called “Joulupukki” in Finnish) has an office. He has elves (which aren’t short), a wife, and Reindeer that pull his sleigh (which doesn’t fly because it doesn’t need to – there is enough snow). JoulupukkiThere are charter flights from Asia, Europe and all over the world to an airport nearby so that people can visit the “real” Santa. And if you want your picture taken with him it will only cost you about 30 Euros.

But who is the real Santa?

Russia: Even though Christmas is more for those who are religious in Russia – there is a tradition of a gift giving Santa Claus (“Father Frost” or “Ded Moroz” in Russian), which Russia Santathey hold lives in a town in northern Russia (Veliky Ustyug). He has no reindeer and doesn’t come through the chimney in secret. Instead, he visits children in person at New Year’s Eve parties and brings them gifts. He doesn’t have a wife, but he’s accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka). Now how he gets a granddaughter without a wife is up for you to decide? There are also two different New Year celebrations based on two calenders (the Roman and the Orthodox ones).

Rwanda: So Myriam said that Christmas traditions were strong in Rwanda, but absent of a lot of the Western ideas associated with Sana Claus, etc. (until perhaps recently with more media influence and Westernization). There is carol-singing, and people often decorate their home with pine branches or fir trees – but there is not the same gift giving tradition.

Maldives: Because it is a largely Islamic country, obviously Christmas is not celebrated hardly at all in the Maldives. Shujau told me that there are, however, two New Years days – one on January 1st, and the other one from the Arabic calender (which is based on moon cycles so it changes each year). Another big holidays is the feast day after the month of Ramadan.

UK: So Santa doesn’t have a wife or a granddaughter in the UK – but he does live in the Joulupukki the Finnish SantaNorth Pole, has reindeer that fly, and he does come down the chimney to deliver presents on Christmas eve. Christmas morning usually starts by opening presents, having a big feast, and then listening on the TV to the British monarch give a traditional Christmas speech. Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is a lot bigger deal in the UK and a lot of other countries than it is in the US. There is also often a tradition of having a “Christmas cake” – but I personally recommend staying clear of it.

In many countries, it seems the Santa figure is not always associated with Christmas day – but sometimes brings presents earlier (December 1st or 6th) or later (on New Years) – or it is even someone entirely different from Santa that brings the gifts.

Czech Republic: Roman and his wife were telling me about how in the Czeck Republic St. Nicholas is called “SvatySvaty Mikalas Mikalas” and comes on the 6th of December with his two companions – an angel and a whip-carrying devil – who give you a good gift or scare you to death depending on how good you have been. But he is not the main person who brings gifts. The person who is the gift-giving figure on Christmas eve is really the baby Jesus (Ježíšek) – putting the presents under the tree on Christmas eve when the children are looking for him elsewhere. Also there is the tradition of foretelling the future year in different ways (e.g. with a floating walnut shell) and you should not eat meat on Christmas eve if you want to see the flying golden pigs out the window during that night. (but maybe in addition to not eating any meat you have to also consume a lot of alcohol in order to ensure that you will see the “flying golden pigs” 😉 )

Spain: Javier was telling me how fast Christmas traditions have changed in Spain. Before the streets on Christmas eve would be silent, and everyone would be at home with family – but in the 90s it completely changed. Everyone now goes to the clubs on Christmas eve – and sometimes even with your whole family. So if you are in Spain during Christmas be careful you are not hitting on someone else’s mom.Christmas Hockey in Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Temtim informs me that people in Ethiopian traditional culture celebrate Christmas by playing hockey. Here is a picture of boys Temtim took two years ago during the Christmas celebration.

So – anyway – there are a lot of different traditions. Listed here are only a few of them.

Does anyone else know of any other interesting differences in holiday traditions around the world at this time of the year?

I’m fascinated to hear more of them.

Finnish Independence Day – and my own slowly growing liberation

Finnish Independence Day – and my own slowly growing liberation

As today (December 6th) is a national holiday in Finland (celebrating 90 years of independence!), I thought it would be fun to point out one way in which I have acquired a new form of, well…I guess you could say “liberation” while living here in Finland. Specifically I am referring to the fact that wearing a speedo is now (almost) within my comfort zone.

This sign is posted in about 5 places at the local pool…

Funny Swim Suit requirment

The only people I know from my hometown in the US who always wear a speedo-type swim suit to the pool are either on a swim team, are a bit loony, are posers, or are any combination of those three options.

I think I would have easily understood if more people in Finland just naturally wanted to wear this kind of swim suit to the local pool (because after being naked so much in the sauna, a speedo actually seems like a good deal of cover) – but I am still struggling to find a good answer as to why it is required to wear it here?

Anyone have any good ideas?

In the mean time, it has helped me break free of old prejudices and fears (…although I suppose the true test of how long that lasts will be the first time I am in a public pool back in the US).

I suggest that men throughout the world should celebrate this day by wearing a speedo to a local pool.

Happy Independence Day! 🙂

The Role of Faith / Religion in Education and Intercultural Communication – Questions regarding peaceful co-existence and collaboration of people with different belief systems

Today I sent an email where I raised this discussion and these questions on the ITForum Listserve. I will try to summarize the best comments I receive from them as they come, but I am also interested in anyone else’s thoughts and feelings.


I realize that this email ventures into the realm of one of the two forbidden topics in polite conversations – but if it makes any difference, at least I’ll try here not to mention the “p” word ( i.e. politics). 🙂
</end – my weak attempt at being funny to try and defuse a potentially sensitive topic>

In studying cross-cultural issues over the last several years, I have been fascinated by the impact culture has in how people define themselves, their relationship with others, and their perspective of the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like at the heart of education, we are interested in these same issues? Or can someone define the purpose of education in a way that is completely unrelated to these issues ( e.g. identity, relationships, world-view, etc)?

Although we rarely talk about it in academic settings, it seems that one of the most pervasive influences in how people in various cultures and sub-cultures develop identity and purpose is their faith and religion (including, of course, even the belief in no God).

I have recently witnessed several disturbing scenes in which religion became the point of stereotyping, skepticism, and conflict (something not uncommon in the history of the world) – which leads me to the questions that I have for all of you:

  • Is it possible to discuss the role of faith in education (or religion in general) in a safe way in which people don’t feel threatened? (If so, how?)
  • Is it possible to discuss these issues in a way that people can set aside (at least for a moment) any personal agenda or need to convince/persuade/defend – but rather to simply seek for increased mutual understanding and respect?
  • From what you have seen/experienced, how can arrangements be structures so that people of very different belief systems can understand/respect each other, peacefully co-exist, and even collaborate with each other on joint projects intended to make the world a better place?

I realize that this is a deep and sensitive topic, and I realize that in even asking the questions I am making certain assumptions (which, by the way, you are also free to challenge if you wish).

I have some initial ideas of my own in answer to these questions, but I am very interested in any comments that you all might have. Please don’t feel like you need to be an expert in the topic to respond, initially you can just share your personal strategy, thoughts, reactions, etc.

Even you don’t have any answers to the questions, I am almost equally interested in your general reaction to being presented with questions like these.


Experiencing Fall in Finland: Finnish Culture

Experiencing Fall in Finland: Finnish Culture

**Warning** This blog post might not be suitable for young children 🙂

Finnish Sunset

I can’t believe fall is almost over and I have not yet blogged about my “cultural experience” thus far in the land of the Finns (a.k.a Finland). I hope it is entertaining for you (both my Finnish and non-Finnish friends) – at least as entertaining as it has been for the people who hear me try to speak Finnish.

Today, for instance, I used my Finnish to ask someone’s name. She replied “sorry?” – and my mind was racing. I thought for sure I said the words right, so I repeated them a little more slowly and clearly (“Mikä sinun nimesi on?”), and she still replied “sorry.” I started to wonder if she really just didn’t want to give me her name but was trying to being polite, like there was some Finish tradition of not wanting to give your name to funny-looking strangers, or if I was just really mispronouncing the words that badly, or what? I asked her if she spoke English and it seemed almost to turn into an Abbott and Costello act:

– “What is your name?”
– “Sorry.”
– “What’s the matter?”
– “What do you mean?”
– “Why are you sorry?”
– “I just am.”

Well – it turned out her name was actually “Sari,” a fairly common name to Finns – so chalk up another embarrassing experience for me. 🙂

Moving on, these next three pictures I wanted to show are taken in a national park not far from Joensuu in NorthErkki and Paivi Karelia, Finland, called Koli. It is beautiful, especially as the leaves are changing colors. I hear that soon the Aurora Borealis are visible in the night sky here too. Many people here like just going to the woods so that they can escape into the silence (which is much more valued here – making the Finnish band Lordi that much more of an idiosyncrasy). Correct me if anyone knows better, but as I understand it the stereotypical Finnish man is one who drinks a lot (the national way to relax), spends free time in the sauna, lives alone in the woods and eats bear. The picture to your right is not your stereotypical Finnish man and woman, although they still enjoy a good sauna and trip to the woods. It is the legendary Erkki and Päivi Sutinen, some of my favorite people here. Erkki tells a joke about a Finnish wife who asks her husband after being married for 30 years, “Why don’t you tell me you love me?” The man’s response: “I already told you when we got married, I’ll let you know if the situation changes.” Erkki, on the other hand, tells his wife how jealous he is of her. “I tell her that am actually very jealous that she somehow managed to find a perfect spouse.” 🙂

Clint in Koli

They only told me after we arrived to forest that the real place they wanted me to experience was the Paha-Koli cliff and the court stones (Erkki is all about helping people experience new things). The story goes that the people who lived here anciently used this place to hold a court – and if they couldn’t agree if the person was guilty or innocent, they would put it in the hands of the gods to decide by throwing the accused off the cliff. If they died, they were obviously guilty, and if they lived that clearly meant they were innocent. It is not surprising that with that kind of ingenuity running in their ancestral lines that Finns have come up with things like Nokia (which, by the way, provides an entire 1/3rd of Finland’s GNP). In the end, despite Erkki’s encouraging words, I decided not to utilize the throw-me-off-the-cliff method of innocence detection. I did, however, participate in an activity that felt somewhat suicidal, which I will talk about shortly.

As a quick aside – I think walking in the woods and trying not to get lost is considered a sport here. And if you are isolated in the middle of the woods and happen to pass someone that completely ignores your existence – that is actually considered very polite (see previous blog entry about Finnish etiquette).

Of course, the fact that people aren’t paying attention to each other comes in handy when you are walking nakedSauna in Woods from the sauna (pictured here) to the freezing cold water for a quick and painful swim (the near-death experience I referred to) and then running back to the sauna. One of my foreigner friends here calls Finnish saunas a “sight-seeing” experience of its own. It’s amazing how much submerging your naked body (not pictured here) into icy water will do to clear your mind! They say it is healthy, but I’m not sure I buy it quite yet. Of course, maybe it is this kind of conditioning that has helped Finland produce so many champions in Formula One racing, High-speed downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, long-distance running, rowing, even tennis – basically good at any sport as long as you can do it alone and it almost kills you.



Nordic WalkingSpeaking of sports, this is another unique sight on the streets here – Nordic walking. It is like cross country skiing, but just no skis. I’m thinking of bringing it back to America and see if it catches on. What do you think?


Here is a picture of a few of the typical unique foods here: There are Karelian pies, rye bread, and somethiFinnish Foodsng else that I don’t remember the name of, but which is a type of bread thing with fish pieces inside of it. You can also see the cheese off to the upper right, which is really nice to put on all of it. There sure are a lot of hot drinks too – which I think is one of their strategies to keep warm.

Something not in this picture, but which is also pretty common is different types of berries and edible mushrooms. Either people go to the woods to pick their own, or more commonly these days, buy them at the store. After I got my first “moose fly” from picking berries in the woods I think the store is not that bad of an option. Other local favorite foods are Smoked Salmon, Pea Soup (always on Thursday, because a Swedish king hundreds of years ago made his troops eat it every Thursday to prevent deficiency disease, so why not continue?), Meat balls, and Salmiakki (a salt liquorice “treat” which is really a compound of ammonia and hydrochloric acid).

**This next part is where you might want to plug the ears of your young ones**

This might come as a shock to non-Finns, but did you know Santa Clause actually comes from Finland? You can still go and visit his house (I am thinking of trying to go there in early December). Certain Christmas traditions, however, are a little different here. The person I am renting my apartment from told me one of her family traditions at Christmas time is to have Reindeer Stew! We like to talk about Reindeer at Christmas time in the US, but generally don’t think about eating them. Maybe that is where the “rumors” began that Santa moved to the North Pole – to get away from the Finns eating his help.

**OK to unplug ears**

Cute Finnish Kids

There is not really any celebration of Halloween, but in April the children do dress up as witches and knock on your door to trade you a stick they decorated for money or candy. Seems like a lot more work than just saying “Trick or treat” but perhaps that was an intentional strategy from the government to limit sugar consumption.

OK – this entry is already getting a bit too long, so here is one last picture. Just kickin’ it in the leaves. Sleeping in Leaves

When people ask me why I love it here so much, it is sometimes hard for me to capture it in words. Finland has no real enemies, and nobody knows anything bad about Finland. Of course, nobody usually knows much anything about Finland. But I find that there is something just good about Finland. A book by Roman Schatz summed it up well: “Finns really are… they are… let’s say, they are a bit different than your common or garden variety of people. They’re wholesome, if you know what I mean, a bit like their dark bread, the one with the hole in the middle. They’re hard to digest, but very good for you.” 🙂

And who knows, maybe a little “sisu” is even rubbing off on me? (Sisu is an almost super-human Finnish characteristic of non-aggressive, passive, introverted stamina that gets stronger when the odds get worse.)

Suomen kesä on lyhyt, mutta vähäluminen.

Viva Finland!

Finnish Flag

About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons

About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons

In studying cross-cultural issues, as I do, it is virtually impossible to ignore the influence of faith on human identity and relationships. I’m not a spokesperson for my Church, and I’m not interested in imposing my personal beliefs on anyone else. At the same time I think it is good to have thoughtful conversations about things like faith.

Salt Lake Temple

Although academicians are usually mute on issues of faith, I have created this entry for two reasons: (1) I have recently received more questions than usual about being a Mormon, and (2) I have been surprised by how much confusion and misrepresentation there is about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (both on the Internet and in mainstream media) – sometimes by those with malicious intent, but usually (I believe) by well-meaning yet misinformed individuals.

One thing that makes these discussions tricky is that faith is usually not anything that can be proven with the tools of “reason” and “logic” traditionally used in Western society (e.g. scientific method, etc.). I don’t want to get hung up on this, for fear of making the entry too long, but I have put three initial responses to this issue in the first comment (on this post), for anyone interested.

I also think people of any denomination might be hesitant to speak about their faith because they recognize it is a sensitive issue (and a source of far too much conflict). Often, people of faith seem to have an automatic defensive response – waiting for someone to attack (usually on the basis of some obscure part of history or scripture that isn’t really central to who they are or what they believe). My feeling is that although I can not know every minute detail of history, or perhaps even speak very accurately for what happened in the past (because obviously I wasn’t there), I can simply speak briefly about my personal experience growing up and living as a Mormon, what I have seen in the mainstream beliefs/teachings of my faith, and what I have respected so much in the leaders and teachers that I have had.

I have personalized some thoughts into four categories that were originally suggested by a leader of the Church.


  • First, “Mormon” is a nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members are often referred to as “Mormons,” “Latter-day Saints,” or “LDS.” The term “Saint” means “member.” (Why that nick name? What “Mormon” means – which quite honestly would sound strange to me if I was not a member – is explained in the last point about faith.)
  • Second, the Church was restored in 1830 in rural New York – we believe it is a restoration of the church structure taught by Jesus. Today the formal Church headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah, with President Gordon B. Hinckley as the current prophet.
  • Third, there are now over 13 million members in 176 countries and territories. [Source] I have attended Churchglobe meetings in over a dozen countries and consistently am amazed by the strength and faith of the local leadership and local members, the instant warmth and welcome that I feel, and how much I have learned about what it is to live like a Christian from people with vastly different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Fourth, about 6 million members live in the United States, making us the fourth or fifth largest Christian denomination there. As one of the fastest growing Christian faiths in the world, the LDS Church completes a new chapel somewhere in the world every working day. Members voluntarily pay a tithe, which is 10 percent of their income, making this, as well as many welfare and humanitarian programs possible.
  • Fifth, local congregations are led by volunteer, unpaid members. Both men and women serve in assigned leadership positions.
  • And sixth, Mormons are not told what political party to vote for but they are encouraged to serve in the communities which they live according to their conscience and talents. As a result, they are increasingly represented in politics and government (in the United States, for example, there are currently 16 Mormons in Congress, from both political parties). Members also serve in high and trusted positions throughout the world in business, medicine, law, education, media, sports, and entertainment. Approximately one third of all Boy Scouts are Mormon, which is not always particularly “cool” to tell your friends when you are a kid (that you are a Boy Scout), but it was fun going camping and scouting with most of your friends in church, and you appreciate it all more when you are older.


  • If I was going to summarize the purpose of our faith, I would say it is to help each individual develop a personalwashington DC temple relationship with God, so much that you can feel His presence, His love, and His guidance in your life. All aspects of the religion (prayer, baptism, scripture reading, church attendance, service, education, code of health, etc) assist with getting people to that point, and/or come as a result of feeling His love.
  • We believe in the eternity of the soul, that God is the Father of our spirits, and that we can return to Him after death.
  • We believe that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior, and we try to model our lives after Him and His teachings. We commemorate Christ’s atoning sacrifice in our Sunday worship services, similar to taking communion in other churches. We accept as fellow Christians all who believe Jesus Christ to be the Savior of mankind. Many Christians do not understand that we have much common ground with them. Joseph Smith taught that Jesus Christ is the core of our belief, and everything else is an appendage to it (see Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 44). The name of the Church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.
  • We believe that shortly after the death of Jesus and his original apostles, the original church structure that Jesus established was lost (and many beliefs such as baptism, priesthood, nature of God, etc were altered) and that these have been restored again in our day. The priesthood, the authority given to man to act in behalf of Christ’s Church, with apostles and a prophet, has been restored as have all necessary principles by which man can draw near to Heavenly Father and accomplish our unique purposes in life.
  • We believe in and we use the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
  • And we believe in the Book of Mormon and other books of scripture which support and authenticate the Bible and testify of the ministry and divinity of Christ and of God’s ongoing revelation to man. Mormon was the name of the man living around 400AD who compiled the record of his people, known as The Book of Mormon. As it is a record of God’s dealings with them and their faith in Christ, the subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”


Most people already know how family-centered our theology and our lifestyles are, but here are a few facts:

  • Mormons place particularly strong emphasis on family as the basic unit of the Church and of society. We have a deepSome of my family commitment to marriage (defined as a union between one man and one woman), and believe it need not be “till death do you part” – but can continue for eternity. Polygamy, a limited practice in the early pioneer days of the Church, was discontinued in 1890, a long 117 years ago.
  • Families and individuals, whether members of our faith or not, can attend Sunday meetings in our chapels, where we share and learn about living a Christ-like life.
  • Latter-day Saint families are encouraged to hold family home evenings weekly, usually on Monday nights. Although in my home (with 8 kids) they were a little chaotic at times, they were great times for my family to learn together and just have fun. Even many people not of our faith are beginning to adopt this practice with their own families.
  • The Church has special organizations for men, women, youth, and children. These programs provide such things as religious instruction, opportunities for Christian service, sports, drama, music, and Scouting.
  • And there is also much focus on extended family, genealogy, and personal family history, providing young and old with a stronger sense of roots, identity, and belonging. The highest and most sacred practices of our faith relate to our families, both living and dead, and some of these ordinances take place in our temples.


It was Jesus who said “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20; emphasis added). A church, or any way of life, should be judged by the fruits or the results that it generates. Here are a few examples based on United States statistics. But these would be similar throughout the world among practicing Mormons:New Era cover - LDS magazine for youth

  • A $4 million dollar study conducted at UNC – Chapel Hill studied youth and religion – and found that of all the religious groups surveyed, Mormon teenagers fared best at avoiding risky behaviors, doing well in school and having a positive attitude about the future. [Source]
  • One of the fruits is a longer life. Studies show that practicing Mormons are healthier and therefore live longer than the national average. [Source] In 1833 Mormons believe the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the Word of Wisdom, as a way to live in order to enjoy a long and healthy life.
  • Those who are married in and attend the temple regularly have a divorce rate far below the national and world average. [Source]
  • Members of the LDS Church achieve an educational level that is higher than the national average. In fact, there is research evidence that as Latter-day Saints become more educated, they are more likely to be active Church participants, a trend opposite what seems to be found elsewhere. [Source]
  • Self magazine has repeatedly ranked Provo and Orem, Utah as the number 1 or 2 healthiest city in the country for women. The article said that the Mormon influence is the reason women in Provo experience such low incidents of cancer, smoking, drinking, violence, depression, etc. [Source]
  • Over 70,000 members volunteer each year at their own expense to serve for 18 to 24 months in humanitarian efforts, Church service assignments, and full-time missionary service throughout the world. [Source]
  • There is strong emphasis on self-reliance and a solid work ethic. We encourage active involvement in our communities and in providing service to others. The Church continues to donate substantial money, goods, and services to humanitarian causes around the globe [Source], including untold hours of labor donated by members to assist in disaster cleanup [e.g. Source about hurricane Katrina] and relief [e.g. Source about working with Muslims in the Middle East crisis relief].Humanitarian services
  • In March 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to provide members in developing countries with opportunities to gain education and training which lead to employment opportunities in their own countries. Within months of being announced members had donated millions to fund this effort. [Source]
  • I have found so much to respect in most (all though not all) of the Mormon’s that I have met. I am amazed by the time and interest that so many of my teachers and leaders have spent in service to me and others. [Link to listen to recent talks given by leaders of the Church]

Hawaii temple
Well, I hope this entry came across as I intended. It represents some of my personal observations and experiences. I have spent some time studying many religions, and I am fascinated by the topic. For anyone interested in a safe, non-confrontational discussion about any religion, I am open to it.


Some additional links for anyone who is interested:

Day of Defense – Completing a Doctoral Dissertation in Finland

Day of Defense – Completing a Doctoral Dissertation in Finland

Yesterday was my friend Mikko’s turn to sweat, although he handled everything quite elegantly (I think that is the right word).

Whereas in the U.S. we have 5 committee members that approve our initial dissertation proposal and then they are also the same ones in our defense to ask us the tough questions, it is done differently here in Finland.

There is a knowledgeable “Opponent” who must come from a different university, and frequently from a different country. Mikko’s distinguished Opponent was Prof. Seugnet Blignaut from the University of the North West, South Africa.

Mikko's dissertation defense audience

The formalities are taken care of (welcoming the Opponent, the audience, and the Custos – or custodian of the event) and then Mikko introduces his research to the audience, which was nearly 100 people (including even a former Finnish ambassador to Tanzania, and the Provost of the school in Iringa, Tanzania, where he did his research) – all who have access to a copy of his dissertation before they come.

The Opponent then stands and begins by introductions. But the niceties only last so long. Soon questions were revealed about everything from the research design to the validity of the results to the intended future actions. I thought the Opponent actually did a great job at simply highlighting what good research is and pointing to some of the weaknesses in this particular study, giving Mikko a fair chance to address them.Mikko's dissertation defense

After the question and answer exchange (which I think seemed to last about an hour in this case), the Opponent decides if the answers suffice, and then immediately stood to the pulpit again and makes a recommendation (in this case) to pass the defendant. (In the U.S. the defendant has to leave while the 5 committee members confer with each other what their action will be.)

Then the Custos opens it up so anyone in the audience can ask questions. In this case, quite a few did ask questions, including me. I was told that it is Finnish tradition to invite anyone who asks questions to the formal evening party (called the karoukka), and that it is also custom for the person to decline the initiation out of politeness.

Mikko Defense party

Well, I accepted the invitation anyway. 🙂 But I figured since he had already given me a written invitation and a map to the location, it was probably OK. Seeing that I had my name assigned to a place to sit, I felt more confident that I did not make a mistake in attending 🙂 The karoukka is supposedly in honor of the opponent, but in reality most of the speeches are about the soon-to-be-doctor (who is not “Dr.” until after the next faculty meeting). The food was great, the speeches were interesting, and the whole event was as enjoyable as it was enlightening. There is no graduation ceremony for him, but in four years he will have a “promotion” ceremony where he can receive his hat and his sword (should he want to purchase them for himself).

I have a lot more that I could say about his research (which dealt with the contextualizing of basic ICT curriculum for Tanzania), and about a conversation I had with his Opponent following the event, but since this entry is already so long, I will refrain.

Congratulations Mikko! (Now maybe you have time to go running with me again.)

For anyone that might know more than me about this, did I miss describing anything important in the formalities of the proceedings?