21 May 2012

Teachers taught

It's been a week now since I've returned from the sunny Balkans to my equally sunny balcony. Enjoying a long weekend in my freshly assembled garden furniture (not worthy of the Ikea case study), my thoughts wander back to the two weeks I got to spend in Macedonia. Teaching and learning, there was plenty of.

However, it was not as unidirectional as I had expected. Yes, we did work through a pretty sophisticated IVEY curriculum in a short time. Yes, we were able to share some Canadian business knowledge in our lectures and consulting sessions. And yes, some real-life examples mean that our flock of Macedonian students now know more about loyalty programs than they ever cared to - all while still speaking highly about our program in public.

I will admit that even just preparing each day's activities, under the guidance of my freshly graduated MBA colleagues, and then teaching to a class, was boosting my confidence. Who would have thought that I would one day lecture on cash flow analysis? Maybe those profs I disdained back in my university years were not quite so useless after all.

But the most rewarding and eye-opening insights came from our "students". Recruited through the local Chamber of Commerce, they were really all entrepreneurs, with first-hand experience of Macedonian business reality, an asset they were happy to share. Through examples, anecdotes and invitations to visit their companies, they shared with us a commercial and social environment few North Americans will ever get a glimpse of. While our course participants seemed firmly rooted in their local contexts, I was impressed by how well aware they were of what we, somewhat arrogantly, like to call Western Best Practices. Skillfully, they have developed a sense of when to follow them, and when to do things the Macedonian Way.

And that way does not end at 5pm. Instead, our Macedonian friends indulged our desire to discover more of Skopje by giving us tours of the city, taking us out for dinner, and introducing us to the local poison. But custom has it that you enjoy Rakija with salad - and salad is good for you.

Two weeks in Macedonia were good for me to. Who would have thought that such a small country can open up such a wide horizon?

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9 May 2012

Macedonia-on-the-lake

Throughout our first week of teaching in Skopje, the entrepreneurs in our class had talked about the beauty of Ohrid and its lake, which we were about to discover on a weekend tour organized by our hosts, the Macedonian Chambers of Commerce. When, after an intense first week of teaching, the time came for us to head out on our gettaway, our driver seemed very keen to get us to Ohrid's sights as fast as possible. We survived, and were not disappointed.

The UNESCO World Heritage site, and the pride of Macedonia, welcomed us with a crystal-clear, turquoise lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, deep blue skies and and impossibly scenic city perched on a hill. As we found our way up narrow cobblestoned streets, past Ottoman houses and by an amphitheater some 2000 years old, our tour guide explained the town's significance as the cradle of Macedonian culture and religion (they had 365 churches!). He also mentioned how he had planned to emmigrate to Canada at some point, but now enjoys brisk business in showing foreign visitors around his city (and he hadn't even attended our LEADER trainings!).

Unfortunately, the lake's waters were still too cold for swimming (even for Canadian standards), but hanging out by the beach we quickly made friends with a few local guys, who took us out to a fabulous long lunch on a sunny lakefront patio. Later, we were welcomed to their home for a few drinks, before heading out into the Ohrid party scene... ah, Macedonian nights under a full moon! :-)

The Sunday sun was already high in the sky the next day, when we tip-toed our way around the resident peacocks at the 9th century St. Naum monastery for one last patio lunch before heading back to our "home sweet home" in Skopje, were we're throwing ourselves into the second week of teaching with souvenirs in our pockets, great memories in our hearts, and just possibly a bit of a tan on our faces.

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