Why I Love This Travel and Work

John Stanturf

John Stanturf, exhausted in Korea

While in Bangkok I got an email from John Stanturf (USFS Scientist in Athens, GA).  It was a pleasant email just asking about my trip and saying that we can catch up later.  In the message John said that he was in Denmark eating at a Thai restaurant and thought of me.  I just chuckled and knew that John was getting much better Thai food in Denmark than I was in Bangkok!

International travel has a mystique and I suppose that it adventuresome and exotic when you are doing it on your own time but traveling for work, especially for USFS work, the experience is mostly grueling.  You spend lots of time in cramped airplanes along with long waits in airport terminals to arrive alone and sleep deprived in a foreign land in search of a reputable taxi to take you to the correct hotel.  The rooms are usually fine but not extraordinary and most of the meals you eat are from hotels and catered events – not the best quality of food.  Trust me.

Preparing for presentations, to me, require much more effort than for other venues because you need to strike the balance of presenting material on a high level for Ph.Ds but also keeping in mind that to most people in the audience, English is a second or even a third language.  Since I only speak English, conversations with people from other countries can be difficult and I sometimes resort to having to type things out on a computer so that people can see the words I am trying to say past my lazy southern tongue.  Of course, some people are experts at English and I often find myself wondering if I am speaking with good grammar. ;-)

There are “junkets” in the USFS but my experience with international travel is that is is time consuming, difficult, and underappreciated.

So why do it?  After a trip or two why do I go back for more?

Easy.  It’s the people.

One morning in Bangkok I stumbled down to breakfast and as I was eating my rice and cabbage I looked across the room and recognized a man I had met in Hanoi.  He is a forest restoration scientist from Mongolia and he was attending FORTROP conference.  It was great to see him again and we immediately struck up a conversation about what has been going on over the last few months along with his current work.  Of course I had to bring GFIS into the conversation and do my part to keep promoting the people who are paying for my trip.

Over the past two trips I have meet and started friendships with people from several countries.  The desire to cooperate and share information is amazing.  I see it from scientists, technicians, and everyone involved in making these events happen.  And more than just goodwill, I see tangible results of how these cooperations benefit developing nations and the world at large.  Real data sharing.  Real advancing of science.

When I get unmotivated (and dismotivated) at my job because of bureaucracy and general unpleasantness of how people don’t get along at work, I just think about these trips and how it is possible to find enthusiastic and intelligent people willing to work together to solve complex issues.  Then I remember, yeah, its worth it.

Plus, when all the work is done, when you physically and mentally exhausted – you can go ride an elephant! ;-)

Randy and the Elephant

Randy and the Elephant

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