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Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast

That title is brilliant! Hilarious! Thank for it.

I will give one example, of what it means to feel cultural norms impact at even the most basic level, and then another of what these differences meant to me in practice as I struggled to open and run my own preschool abroad.

1. In a tiny airport somewhere near the Black Sea in Turkey, knowing I had to find perhaps 8 different modes of transportation for the next leg of my journey to the Kackar (Caucasus Mountains), I decided to take advantage of the bathroom in the airport before there were no more bathrooms to take advantage of. As I waited my turn for the one stall this airport boasted, I found myself praying quietly that it would be an "a la Franca" toilet, i.e. a commode one can sit on--apparently the Turks think the French invented it. When the door finally opened into this very public hallway and I saw the "French" toilet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my thigh muscles would be spared and my shoes and ankles would not carry the mark of a trick I had not yet mastered. Meanwhile, the mother and daughter pair in front of me let out a disappointed "tsk tsk," that sound of disapproval Turks have perfected by sending the tongue to the roof of the mouth over and over. "Shoot, it's not an "a la Turka" toilet. Should we wait until we get home?"

And their answer was a unanimous "yes!"

2. I had nine staff in my international preschool in Turkey: Eden's Garden International. Three were either British or American, and six were Turkish: a cook, gardener, cleaning lady, assistant teachers, etc. We would have staff meetings once a week, which was a totally novel experience for the Turkish employees who had never been included either in a participatory decision-making process nor in very open and direct sharing of opinions, thoughts and feelings. In the end, while I may have contributed much and more to these staff members, what I learned from this experience was much more valuable. Everyone would be assigned new duties in the summer months to prepare for summer camp, and we would all pitch in. On the first day of camp, when the kids are stowing their bathing suits for the afternoon inflatable pool extravaganza, I ask the cook if she has filled the pool yet and she answers that it still has a hole in it.

Taking the pool to get patched had been her assigned duty, and after visiting a shop in town, the one repair idea we had come up with during the meeting, and finding they couldn't help, the pool had been left deflated and unprepared. To her, she had done what was asked of her: visited a repair shop. To me, she had not done what was asked of her: fixed the pool. That's when I discovered this invaluable truth: initiative is not innate, it is learned, and it is not currently being taught in Turkey. There were exceptions, and when I found them I kept them for as long as I could, but the assumption that whoever saw something missing or needing to be done would either do it or alert the right person who needed to know, was a completely culture-based one that needed attention in order to work without meltdowns and disappointments.

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