Reflections for Future Hales Fund Trips

August 26th, 2009

Reflections for subsequent Hales Fund trips: what was good, what could be better

1) Group size: For a self-directed group, six people should be the maximum. It allowed us to have real conversations with our contacts rather than meetings, and also meant that we could all travel in one minivan. Groups around this size also allowed for diversity of opinions, disciplinary approaches and areas of interest and expertise. (Note from China group: 3 was not too few.)

2) Scheduling: Unstructured time is good for processing what the group is learning. Travel can also be physically exhausting, so don’t overschedule. For example: We arrived in Reykjavik at 6:30 am on Tuesday, dropped our luggage at the guesthouse, located breakfast, visited the national museum, met up with Wooster folks, took a dip in one of the geothermal pools, and then had a lengthy and intense dinner conversation with one of our contacts (who delayed going on vacation to meet with us) – then finally went to sleep and awoke for an 8:00 am breakfast meeting with our next contact. From that meeting – for which, to our regret, we allotted too little time – we went on to tour a geothermal plant, go on a three-hour hike, and drive several hundred kilometers to our next destination. We crammed a lot in because of our limited time in Iceland, but we do not recommend setting this pace for very long! (Note from China group: our experience was similar, but overscheduling may be inevitable if you’re trying to maximize your time!)

3) Plans: Be flexible and have some ideas for backup plans. One of our Iceland contacts canceled on us, but we were able to put the day to even better use. (Note from China group: This can be hard to achieve, but being prepared to cope with schedule changes is an important mental characteristic.)

4) Group process: Everyone contributed to the planning by pursuing their individual interests in finding background reading, contacts, and suggesting sites to visit. Then by sharing that information in regular meetings, we were able to refine our plans by consensus. This process continued as members took it upon themselves to become resources for the group. For example, members worked on diverse areas of interest such as Danish or Icelandic language, the Icelandic and Danish culture, the Icelandic sagas, environmental science, and travel logistics. Owing to the environmental impact of hydroelectric and geothermal power, it would have been helpful to have a greater background in the flora, fauna and geology of Iceland. (From China group: yes, each person should find a way to utilize their own interests and connections. This makes for a better trip that is more than a tourist experience, and makes it more likely that the trip can have lasting impact.)

5) Focus: Try to focus your interests as early as possible during the year, preferably before booking air travel. We thought that our focus in Iceland would be deforestation, the issue discussed by Jared Diamond. However, after booking the trip we learned that there is now tremendous controversy in Iceland over the construction of huge hydroelectric plants that have destroyed or will destroy precious natural areas. The more we learned about this, the more we wanted to spend time there to investigate further, but our travel arrangements couldn’t be changed.

5) Blogging: We had some problems due to lack of Internet access, and to how complicated we found it to blog from multiple computers and to use Flickr and YouTube. (We are wondering whether it wouldn’t be just as simple to post everything on Woodle.) But if the blog continues to be the communication mode of choice, we have a few suggestions:

* Perhaps IT could investigate what is the best technology to use. We had talked about a satellite link, but there wasn’t enough lead time to arrange it. Other alternatives are updating the blog from a BlackBerry or iPhone. (Bill’s wife was following another blog updated with those, and says that they were frequently and easily updated.)

* The group as a whole should get more comprehensive instruction in creating and using the blog.

* Everyone in the group should have a laptop and be registered as an administrator for the blog.

* IT should do a dry run with the group to make sure all plug-ins work the way they are supposed to.

Follow-up suggestion: investigate alternatives to blogging, such as twitter. It would also be useful to have some guidance about the content for a good blog entry.

6) Equipment: We did not use the video flip cams. We were able to take brief videos with our own digital cameras and that was sufficient. If producing a video is part the intended focus of the group, then the proper equipment, instruction in its use and in editing should be done well in advance. Producing even a short video will significantly alter the group’s activities and will be time intensive.

7) Handling money:

* Have the group’s “treasurer” get a CapitolOne credit card – the only card that doesn’t charge up to a 3% foreign transaction fee. Otherwise you risk attack from a large band of Vikings. (“What’s in your wallet?”)

* Have a backup credit card just in case.

* Everyone should inform their credit card companies in advance of their travel destinations, to avoid blocks on their accounts.

* Set up a PIN for any credit card you intend to use. This was generally required at self-service machines (gas pumps, train tickets, grocers, etc.). Some locations required a special security chip which our US cards apparently do not have.

* The group should also have at least two ATM cards to be sure that cash is accessible if the credit cards don’t work. Check carefully – some of these have foreign transaction fees as well.

(Note from China group: money issues will differ in different parts of the world. If you anticipate using ATMs, make sure you know your PIN number and not just by the spatial arrangement of the numbers, which may change! We like the idea of having one person be primarily responsible for the financial arrangements, if someone is willing to take that on, to make the procedure for reimbursements work more clearly.)

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