Working with international partners brings many unique challenges and opportunities. Communication can be difficult, as there is often more than one language involved and cultural differences often leads to various interpretations of the same words. Even learning how to ask questions in a way that leads to understanding the situation can take years. Expectations are generally highly variable among the parties. Logistics that seem simple in the U.S. can be extraordinarily challenging in developing countries. However, the good news is that all these barriers can be overcome and the end result be incredibly fruitful and exciting scientific efforts.
The most important step to fruitful international collaboration is to stop talking and, rather, learning to stay open to information from a variety of sources. This is very hard for most scientists, as we are trained to 1) be problem solvers and we often try to solve problems before we truly understand them and 2) we demand information be quantitative before we believe it. (Information can come from surprising sources if we remain open to them.) In addition, a new type of communication is often required from us if we are to be effective. Working in developing countries requires a great deal of patience, as service levels we expect in other situations are not likely possible and setting expectations too high leads to frustration. This talk will illustrate these points using examples from teamwork in Mongolia, China, and Africa.