While you are reading this, I am in China. I had to write this article before I left so I can't really tell you how the trip is going so far, but I'm sure I will write an article or two about my experience when I return. What I can write about regarding this trip is what I learned through the feedback I received from people when I first started talking about the opportunity.
First, some background on the trip. It is called an inspection tour and is similar to a familiarization tour (fam tour). The company, Citslinc (China International Travel) offers to send chamber of commerce executives on a trip at no cost so they can scope it out. Upon their return from the trip, Citslinc would like to see the chambers host identical community trips from their own community. A subsequent trip would not be free but it would be very reasonably priced. The Alpena Chamber Board of Directors will have to make a decision upon my return whether or not we want to pursue the community trip.
With so many chambers of commerce in the state, I thought I would be traveling with a group of several dozen people. The reality is, there are less than a dozen of us going. That was surprising to me because my first thought about the trip was that someone would be crazy to pass up this opportunity. But after hearing responses of others regarding this trip, something important was reinforced to me.
When I first started telling people about this trip, I heard all sorts of responses. The most frequent response I received was along the lines of, "that's awesome!", or, "I want to go!" A few people said something like, "that's really cool but not for me." One person said, "If you are brave enough to fly across the ocean, have fun." And one person (anonymously of course), sent me a note that said they hope I have a one-way ticket. That person must really like me.
I also received many questions. The most common question was whether or not I was excited. I was also asked frequently about what cities in China I would be visiting (Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou). And I was asked quite often if I would be visiting the Great Wall (yes by the time you read this I already have).
I had many people kindly offer me advice, resources, and contacts so I could research the country and their economy. I appreciated that tremendously.
So what was the lesson this reinforced for me? We are all very different and are all interested in different things. We all have different passions and likes. Traveling is interesting to me. But it is not appealing to everyone. Just like everything else - some people like it, others don't. And that's what makes the world work. If we were all the same, what would happen to innovation? What would lead us to improve services and products? My mom and I were talking not long ago about the need for different personalities in an organization in order to fulfill job duties because not every personality would be successful in every role in a business. That results in the need for a management style that embraces those differences and creates an environment in which they can all be effective.
When you are with a mix of different personalities, backgrounds, skills, passions and interests, it can be a challenge, but the benefits outweigh the challenges. We need to learn to use the differences to add value to our own lives. Being reminded that not everyone would jump at a chance to travel across the world reminded me just how vast our differences are. It was also a reminder to embrace those differences, and learn from others who are different from me. I hope to learn from the differences I experience on this trip. And I hope to teach others something from what I learned upon my return. But I also want to embrace and grow from the differences I experience every day back home. Embracing the differences and understanding that not everyone is the same only makes us all stronger.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.