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The Challenge (and Surprizes) of International Relationships

The world news each day reveals the complications of maintaining and building bridges between the U.S. and nations with cultures different from our own. On a macro-level, the Department of State officially assumes the reponsibility of building lasting and trusting relationships. On a micro-level, one of our Quinlan students who was part of our Santiago study-abroad experience learned a personal lesson in international relationships. In this case, she found her local contact to exhibit more trust and loyalty than expected.

Denise Barton relates her tale of reacquainting herself with a guide and friend she had met in Santiago years earlier:

“Having been to Santiago three years ago, I decided to come to the city one day earlier than the rest of the group and was eager to again utilize the services of a tour guide named Leo who had become more of a friend than a tour guide after spending almost every day with us during my last visit.  In the weeks leading up to the Santiago trip I had been extremely busy and wasn’t able to contact Leo until about two weeks before coming, but I felt that this was actually plenty of advance notice by South American standards.  However, when Wednesday came and went and I was due to leave on Friday, my coworkers could not believe that we still had not finalized plans and were amazed that I was not worried about what would happen when I touched down in Santiago alone on Saturday morning.  At this point my American mindset took over and I actually started to think that Leo was giving me the slip because he had found another client to take around and was going to abandon me in favor of other more profitable business.  Then I stopped myself and deliberately tried to adopt a Chilean mindset.  By this time we had already done a lot of readings about cultural adaptation and the one thing that was repeatedly stressed was “tolerance for ambiguity”.  Well, not having plans for the first day of travel in a foreign country is about as ambiguous as I could tolerate!  However, I remembered that Chile is a relationship-driven country and scolded myself for not trusting Leo, with whom we had stayed in periodic email contact and to whom we had sent several other American travelers to help his business. ”

“Sure enough, Leo came through and even though he was not able to do the tour himself, he set me up with another terrific guide named Marco.  We took quite a lengthy tour up in the mountains away from the city and even though it was clear that Marco was going miss out on a Saturday night because we did not get back until 9:30pm, he did not seem to be in a hurry at all.  And Leo didn’t bat an eye when we got back too late to meet up with him to pay for our tour.  I expected him to call Marco’s cell phone when we didn’t get back by 7pm because we owed a considerable sum of money, but nothing happened and even though he knew where we were staying,  Leo didn’t call the hotel immediately either. In fact, the next morning I was the one who called Leo and (quite nervously) informed him that we were in a huge hurry and that I wouldn’t be available until the following day to give him the money.  An American would have made sure to be paid for the transaction before even unlocking the doors of the tour vehicle and would probably have had me jailed for theft had I made him wait two full hours, let alone two full days, for payment.  But Leo had already given me his trust based on our prior relationship and in the end I was a bit ashamed that my lack of “tolerance for ambiguity” almost derailed an absolutely fabulous tour through the Andes Mountains.”

If all our international relationships and transactions exhibited such levels of trust and  patience, we would be living on a less tense and more peaceful planet.  Such positive personal interactions,  however, cannot help to build  bridges across nations.

Mary Ann


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