Making Connections Across the Globe, via Opera

The New York Times – March 3, 2014
By Joan Raymond

I HAVE traveled extensively most of my adult career. When I started my own company, Urban Planet, which develops and distributes mobile education products, my idea was to build a global company, and although I was used to traveling a lot, I missed the detail that to build a global company I would have to travel, well, globally.

For me, business travel is a double-edged sword. I really like meeting people. No matter where I’m at, and no matter how different a culture may be, people are people. We all want to improve our lives, take care of our kids, and just live our lives. That’s the great part of traveling.

The downside is, I don’t like leaving my family. My daughters are young and every day is a new adventure. I don’t want to miss a dance recital or some other event, but sometimes I have to and that makes traveling tough.

I don’t work on planes. I figure that if you are traveling for business, you are about to give up a significant portion of your personal time and life. So I take the time to sleep, listen to music or watch a movie. When I arrive at my destination, I feel good.

I knew I was traveling too much when I was returning to the U.S. from Costa Rica, and passed through customs in Atlanta. The agent checked out my passport and when he could not find a single blank spot, he looked up at me and, very seriously, said, “Dude! What do you do?” He then handed me my passport back and welcomed me home.

I have also learned a few very important things while traveling, the first of which is that I am allergic to oysters. I found that out while in Indonesia and wound up missing a meeting at the U.S. Embassy. I also discovered that you can indeed get late-night pizza delivery most places in the world. I’m also a professional opera singer and I’ve found, too, that music connects people, so it doesn’t matter where I’m at on the planet, I’ll find someone who knows opera.

Sometimes some strange coincidences can have even stranger outcomes when you travel a lot.

I was in Indonesia with several colleagues for a series of meetings. Apparently, President Obama was going to visit Indonesia and he and his group would be at our hotel. My colleagues thought it was going to be very exciting. I thought it was going to be an absolute nightmare with all of the security.

As it happens, I had brought about 30 inaugural coins with me to give as gifts to my Indonesian clients. Mr. Obama has rock-star status in that part of the world, and I thought the coins would be a great gift.

When I got to my meetings in Jakarta, I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so excited to see me. But since the president of the United States and I were at the same hotel and since I had these coins with me, the people I was meeting with thought that I was part of Mr. Obama’s group.

I kept reiterating that I had planned on giving these coins as gifts and I have no connection to or any relationship with President Obama. In fact, Mr. Obama doesn’t have a clue who I am.

Absolutely no one believed a word I was saying. They all looked at me very knowingly as if I wasn’t permitted to say anything. I eventually gave up trying to convince them.

I think the meetings would have gone well in any event, but I have to say these meetings went extremely well.

As told to Joan Raymond. Email:

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