Thursday, September 3, 2015

International Collaboration: What's It All About?

As a scientist and teaching professor my work has always been pretty solitary. Obviously I spend lots of time with students--that's not solitary. And committee work is collaborative at some level. But with the launch of my Fulbright project in Sri Lanka things have taken a real change. 

I was tweeting happily away about my upcoming Fulbright when a tweet came back from Kelsey Brannan, the senior video producer at the US State Department Exchange Programs. Kelsey laid down an interesting proposition. Maybe we could get a videographer in the field with us to record my work with students studying the ancient irrigation systems in rural Sri Lanka. What a great possibility! To introduce the local rural landscape of Dry Zone Sri Lanka to the world would be an amazing opportunity. 

Suddenly I was part of a large team that included Fulbright people in the United States and Sri Lanka, embassy staff, and assorted other players. Suddenly there were lots of cc's going around, lots of debriefing, and a big effort to get the story straight in writing. Lots of moving parts. 

Not least of the moving parts are my dedicated Sri Lanka hosts and colleagues, for whom a stranger coming to study their landscape is no small deal. We've been writing back and forth for months. And while I see our work together as an exciting opportunity (well more than that--it's a once in a lifetime opportunity) they have had to make room in their busy schedules and extend their scope of operations to welcome me on-site. So, as the gears in Washington and Colombo were just engaged, not yet churning but primed and ready to roll, I had to send a note to my colleagues in Anuradhapura, asking for their permission to bring in a videographer. 

International collaborative work takes place at many levels. Professionals of all sorts are pulled in to make a 2-3 minute video project work. But at the center of it all--what it's all about, are the people who are welcoming me to their corner of the world. 

I just sent them my email. But it's 11PM in Anuradhapura so we'll have to wait half a day to hear back. And given that there's no "no" in Sri Lanka culture, I can only hope for an unqualified "yes." Must be sensitive to people's feelings and big plans are fine..but in a way I'm already an intruder. How much more is too much?

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