The Crazy World of Cultural Exchange

The Crazy World of Cultural Exchange

Adaptation in Real Time

Multimedia from this Release

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 12:15pm

CAMPAIGN: The New Global Citizen

CONTENT: Article

It was 8:30pm. I sat on an old cushioned couch munching a falafel sandwich, surveying my surroundings with equal parts wonder and joy. I was one of two people in a room of nine Americans not somehow associated with the Peace Corps in Dakar, Senegal. I wondered how, in less than 24 hours, I had found my way from an aisle seat on South African Airways flight 280 to a room full of people I had never met before, and simultaneously pleased with the mysterious web life often weaves.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I was on my way to Dakar from Washington DC to scope projects for a team of 15 IBM employees who will come to Dakar this fall as part of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps. My first meeting was with a representative of the Center for Disease Control working on behalf of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) in Dakar. The PMI was seeking the IBM team’s involvement with a project supporting the National Malaria Control Project (NMCP). As she and I thought through the project together, we considered the difficulty of finding a suitable project coordinator for the team—someone who would be sufficiently fluent in French and English to perform the necessary translation and coordination. “I wonder if Sarah, one of our Peace Corps volunteers, could help with that,” she said.

This exchange, at 3:30pm, was quickly followed by an email to both me and the Peace Corps volunteer she had in mind. As one does in the developing world, I quickly turned to my mobile phone. Sarah answered, laughing that she had just finished leaving me a message. She advised that she would be leaving Dakar the next day and wouldn’t return until late evening, three days later. She was, however, happy for me to come over to her apartment to discuss the project and join her and a few others for dinner. It was this unexpected exchange that led me to the falafel sandwich on the faded cushioned couch.

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