Reflections on Teaching Abroad

Teaching ethnography and brand tracking in two distinct cultures was humbling. Each city inspired me to see the world differently and I hope my students felt the same. Together we opened our ethnographers’ eyes to new cultures. In the process we learned a lot about people, how they consume, and the essential rootedness of consumption within cultural experience. Along the way we also began to see how brands move across cultures.

The truth is, I could only guess at how this class would unfold. I had a plan and a lot of industry contacts. I had set up many agency visits, selected pertinent cultural sites and consumer hot spots to visit, and planned on site exercises. I had students from two universities - 15 people who did not know one another. Dropping them into foreign lands was not a sure bet for success. It was, however, an assured adventure. And what an adventure it turned out to be.

Together we immersed ourselves into worlds unknown. We opened our senses to unfamiliar cultures in search of their unique cultural codes. We were like sponges. We traversed each city moving from ad agencies, to neighborhoods, and then on to shopping malls, auto dealers, and perhaps too many pubs. We attended classical concerts, visited museums, and walked historical streets. In short we were students of culture.

More than ever I am convinced that experiential learning is the most salient. Ethnography in particular can not be taught from a book. It can only be understood by doing. And cultural codes can only be explored within the day to day lives of people - on site and in culture. And so I leave this class behind a richer person and a better teacher (I hope), humbled by the generosity of my colleagues abroad and inspired by the rich diversity of cultural experiences and kinds of many strangers.


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