By Hope Belli Tinney, WSU Today
Working to expand global expertise starts at home
PULLMAN - In 2007 Lt. Col. Craig Whiteside had been in Iraq about six months when a care package arrived with Greg Mortensen’s first book, “Three Cups of Tea.” Despite working 18-20 hour days, he said, he read it and became an immediate fan.
Mortensen’s book confirmed many of the things he’d learned the hard way, Whiteside said, and laughed: “I wish I’d had the book six months earlier.”
Whiteside spent 15 months in Iraq, stationed south of Bagdad in an area of intense fighting between Sunni and Shia.
“I still think about it today,” he said. “How we could have done it better.”
Whiteside was one of four panelists speaking Tuesday at a Common Reading Program event, “Assembling a Toolkit for Global Exchange.” This year’s common reading selection is “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and and Pakistan,” Mortensen’s second book.
Mortensen will be speaking at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26. Find ticket information here
The program was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures and featured WSU faculty Barbara Rasco, engineer and professor of food science; Guy Palmer, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health; and Whiteside, professor and department chair in military science. The fourth speaker was Tim Tibbals, a senior automations systems engineer with Schweitzer Engineering Labs.
While panelists described very different international experiences, from a military deployment to business meetings to veterinary research, all agreed on two key attributes in a global exchange toolkit: humility and openness.
“Find out what people want and listen to them,” said Rasco, who added that she has been fascinated with Afghanistan and Pakistan since she was 10 years old. In 2009 she was named to the U.S.-Afghanistan-Pakistan Agricultural Working Group with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Services.
“In many cases, I think our military is doing a better job than our state department in figuring out what the Afghan people need,” she said.
Warm and fuzzy programs don’t work, she said.
“Women can’t eat empowerment and they can’t feed it to their kids.”
Palmer, a professor of veterinary medicine whose international work has focused on eastern and southern Africa, as well as Latin America, said he did not grow up in a diverse community. The first Japanese person he ever spoke to was a chemistry TA in college. Understanding heavily accented English was a problem, he said, but he worked through it because he wanted the information.
By contrast, he said, a week ago he started keeping track of how many international students he works with in a typical week. He counted 11. Recently two graduate students arrived from Portugal and Saudi Arabia and he put them to work with two other students from Ghana and Botswana.
“They are listening to them because there is something to learn,” he said.
A willingness to dive in and work through communication barriers is important, Palmer said, but so is learning a foreign language.
“I think that is one of the most important things,” he said. “You start to learn how language and culture are intertwined.” Plus, he said, you’ll never criticize the efforts of someone learning to speak English again.
“The most diverse place I ever go is Pullman, Washington,” he said. “The opportunity to begin to learn is now.”
Tibbal said he, too, grew up in a fairly homogenous community. Born in Spokane, he attended Gonzaga University. While he didn’t have much exposure to people of different ethnic backgrounds or cultures, he did have opportunities to take college courses in philosophy and history of religion and other courses that stretched is critical thinking skills.
His advice to students was to get outside their comfort zone and be open to new ideas.
“Know yourself, understand yourself, and be open and honest with the people you are dealing with,” he said.
Honesty was also one of the six attributes Whiteside said he thought belonged in a global exchange toolkit. The other five were patience, humility, empathy, respect and trust.
You may think you are patient, Whiteside told the audience, “(but) you are not patient. You do not know what patience means.” Arabs know what patience means, he said, and it is on a different scale than most Americans can comprehend.
Another lesson learned, he said, is that if you want to help, you first have to listen.
“We do not know what we are talking about most of the time,” he said.
But, he learned that if he listened to what the local people were saying and sifted through the conflicting accounts, somewhere in there was the best idea and the one that would work.
“We can’t do it for them,” he said. “They have to choose the when, where, why and how. They’ve got to do 90 percent of the work.”
Palmer, who recently has been working with Heifer International to evaluate the effectiveness of various initiatives, agreed.
“Don’t assume your goals are their goals,” he said. “You can’t tell people what their goals are. They need to tell us their priorities.”
Candace Chenoweth, director of the WSU Education Abroad Program, reiterated Palmer’s observation that Pullman is an extremely international community with tremendous resources for students, faculty and staff who want to be more globally involved.
For starters, the WSU International Center on the lower level of the CUB is open every day 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and a coffee hour is held every Friday at 3 p.m.