"I was trekking over the Milke Danda toward Taplejung. ... It was very clear and fine and soon I caught sight of Kangchenjunga. I've often seen the Himalayas take on an ethereal appearance as they seem to float above the horizon. As I looked at Kangchenjunga, I could not believe that I could possibly be in the same place, at the same time, as anything so utterly beautiful. Then I saw fire-tailed sunbirds drinking nectar from the rhododendrons. Superficially they are like hummingbirds. They were the most brilliant birds I had ever seen, scarlet and gold with sapphire blue heads and incredibly long tails. Words cannot do justice to the experience. The sense of presence was extreme. ... Since then my definitive description for a magical experience has always been like Kangchenjunga and the sunbirds."
Strange Lands -- we were all born into one. Most of us over the years have by choice or necessity molded ours into the much more familiar and predictable place we call "home." But strange lands are still out there, everywhere. By "strange lands" I mean those relationships, teams, organizations, or foreign lands within which we must deal effectively with new peoples, cultures, places, and technologies. Increasingly we confront these lands abroad on global assignments for multinationals, in foreign study, or intercultural marriage, or even as tourists. We encounter them face-to-face or online as we participate more and more in geographically dispersed teams. And, of course, we encounter them at home every time we wander into our culturally diverse office, classroom or bar. Presence in Strange Lands focuses most significantly on those literal new lands encountered on sojourns abroad, though it deals significantly with these others as well.
"Why do we journey to such lands?" That, in a nutshell, is what this book is about. In spite of ecoshock, frustration, fatigue, failure, and sometimes danger what lures we sojourners from home to the road? What causes us to journey to these strange lands for an assignment, a career or a lifetime? What keeps us there? And, what entices us back there, again, and again–the job, the money, the adventure, the people and cultures we find, the challenges we encounter, the stories we can later tell? That is what this book is about. It is also about the tools we need to take with us to be optimally effective in these lands. But most particularly, it explores the experience of a "sense of presence" -- the heightened immediacy, broad awareness, vividness, responsivity, and clarity so commonly described by sojourners on these journeys. It explores what a sense of presence is, what induces it, what nurtures it, and its key role in helping us deal with the challenges to success encountered in these lands. It introduces the “presence-seekers” -- sometimes presence “junkies” -- for whom a heightened presence is the allure of a life on the road. And it describes what happens as we return to that once familiar land we called "home." Presence in Strange Lands unfolds through the words of numerous sojourners on a broad variety of journeys to very diverse lands (an excerpt from one opens this summary). These descriptions of a sense of presence were elicited through several research projects with methodologies ranging from informal interviews, to focus groups, to web-based forums. They are intertwined with interpretation based on current research and theory to guide readers to a better understanding of their own experiences and to better deal with the challenges encountered in their own strange lands.
Presence in Strange Lands is a book for "travelers," but one that deals not so much with the wear on the feet, but the changes to the mind and the spirit. It opens with the view of Kangchenjunga floating in the sky and along its trek encounters much both outside us and within us. After journeying through the many ways that a sense of presence affects our experiences as we travel the globe--both literally as we get into airplanes and figuratively in geographically dispersed online teams, it ends with an appeal for continued dialogue designed to nurture both the exhilaration and insight that we all have of the Strange Lands in our own lives. And those that by choice, or necessity, we will face in the future.