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10 Unique & Random Things I Learned During My International Travels

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If you follow me on Twitter (@KPCTKen), you know that I recently completed a 31-day international trip that included stops in Mexico, France, Spain, Czech Republic, and multiple stops in the UK. This trip was a mix of seminars and private consultations where I met many wonderful people and had many great experiences. But I also learned some random, and probably irrelevant, information that I found interesting and worth sharing.

It takes longer in Czech

Whenever I speak somewhere that requires a translator, the organizers arrange for consecutive translation—meaning I say a sentence, then the translator says the sentence. Normally I expect to cover approximately half the material I would normally cover in the same amount of time if the seminar were in English. Once the translator and I get into a rhythm, frequently we can cover even more material. In Prague, much to my surprise, a standard 3-hour seminar required 9 hours! A contributing factor may have been that the translator who was scheduled, and who had practiced by watching videos of my lectures, became ill. Her last-minute replacement, who spoke excellent English, was unable to keep up with the unique terms of our profession. At the first break, one of the attendees offered to help translate. He was excellent and he had two other translators sitting with him for support.

Once in a while during that seminar, when I’d use a term like “behavioral momentum” or “default position,” the translator would say, “Please wait!” Then, he and the two assisting him would huddle for a lengthy discussion to determine how best to translate that particular phrase. That evening I worked hard at editing my presentations, simplifying terms where appropriate, and cutting illustrative stories that I knew would not translate well. Day two went much more smoothly; we even made up for lost time. The Czech hosts have already invited me to return, so next time I will know how to prepare properly!

This was a really good experience; translation is never easy and they handled it very well. There are countless stories I could tell about translation nightmares! But, it is helpful to be reminded of the benefit of distilling my messages into their simplest forms—a valuable lesson and reminder for any teacher.

Don’t ask “How are you?” unless you really want to know!

In the United States we often greet people with a “How are you?” This greeting is usually meant as a polite or alternative way to say “Hi” or “Good morning.” In the Czech Republic they take the question literally. Each time I, mistakenly, asked, “How are you?” I would receive a long and detailed response. One of my hosts finally explained to me that “How are you?” is not used as a greeting in the Czech language; thus people responded with a sincere and often personal answer. It only took three times of me asking the question before I adapted my daily greeting. (I am NOT a one-trial learner.)

Behavioral lessons in politics

I am not a big political follower and certainly do not push my political convictions on others, but I could not help but marvel at some of the political systems I witnessed at work in Europe. England and Spain were both in the middle of elections while I was visiting. The British system limits candidates to a very short campaign period (short at least by US standards). They also restrict the candidates to a limited campaign budget. Boy, would those two things change politics as we know it in the United States! In Spain I was amazed to see what a high turnout they have at their elections. Perhaps that’s because they hold the elections on a Sunday to make it easier for everyone to vote? From training we know that to see behavior change, make it easier for the learner to accomplish the desired task. I guess I see the laws of learning at work everywhere I look.

Nothing wrong with a George Costanza wallet 

When I take my wallet out of my pocket, friends and colleagues will often make comments about my “George Costanza wallet” because I keep so much stuff in it. Their frequent question is, “Doesn’t it throw your back out?” Apparently there was a Seinfeld episode in which the show focused on the character George’s very fat wallet.

I carry what I need in my wallet and have never let the comments bother me. During my trip, I was wandering through Leicester Square in Central London in an area that was very heavily populated. (Dwayne Johnson was there for the debut of his film San Andreas—people were packed in everywhere). Suddenly I felt someone pushing against my backside, so I quickly spun around, and found a man’s hand stuck in my back pocket. He started screaming; I had turned around quickly and his hand was trapped in my back pocket! Next thing I knew, a police constable was at my side and he assisted in extricating the pickpocket’s hand from my pocket. The man was writhing in pain. He kept saying that I had broken his wrist, when all I had done was spin around quickly! The constable replied, “You should have kept your hands to yourself.” The pickpocket was arrested. As I helped an additional officer fill out some paperwork, he commented, “That George Costanza wallet kept your valuables safe!” I am now even more pleased with my fat wallet!

Always set a back-up alarm!

I have never been late, or overslept, for a lecture, seminar, or consulting job. In fact, oversleeping is something I have rarely done. But during my travels the first stop after arriving in Europe was Paris, where I was speaking along with Susan Friedman, Kathy Sdao, Grisha Stewart, Joey Iverson, Chirag Patel, Kelly Gorman Dunbar, and Jo-Rosie Haffendan at a 4-day dog event. On the second evening, many of us who were still dealing with jet lag decided to go to the Moulin Rouge—the 11 pm show!

It had been a long day for me, I did not sleep well the night before, I spoke for the full day, and then I had a late dinner and attended the show with the group. It was after 2 am when I finally got to bed. Not that late for me, but given the time difference and the long day, I must have been more tired than I thought, because I fell into a very deep sleep. Kathy was speaking the next day and she was set to go to the venue early. The rest of us were going to meet at 8 am in the hotel lobby and go over together (it was a bit of a walk combined with a subway ride) and I was one of the group that knew my way there. I don’t really know what happened, whether I slept through my alarm or it didn’t go off, but I was jolted awake by the phone in my hotel room. I stumbled out of bed and answered the phone. I heard the very calm and measured voice of Dr. Susan Friedman. “Hi Ken. Were you still planning to meet us at 8 am in the lobby?” I remember replying, “Yes! What time is it?” Just as calmly and patiently, Susan said, “8:15.” “WHAT? I’ll be right down!” I screamed incredulously. I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, and dressed; I was in the lobby in about 8 minutes. The entire team was waiting for me. The only thing worse than oversleeping is having a dozen people waiting for you and having Dr. Susan Friedman be the one to have to wake you up!

I want Grisha Stewart to be my friend

The Paris dog event was a great experience. It is always nice to share the podium with colleagues that I consider to be friends and to meet new colleagues. During Kathy’s first day, her computer, a new Mac, was causing her some difficulty. She was new to Macs and her videos just were not playing. Chirag, Susan, and Grisha, all fellow Mac users, were immensely helpful and worked with Kathy all day to resolve the problem. By day two, everything worked perfectly for Kathy!

What caught my attention was just how attentive Grisha was to Kathy’s needs. The minute there was even a hint of an issue, Grisha would jump up and be poised to help. If Kathy had trouble finding a file, Grisha had learned Kathy’s filing structure and was able to quickly and without hesitation tell her what to click on and then guide Kathy to the correct folder. At one point near the end of the day, Kathy was looking at her computer and seemed a bit perplexed. Grisha was out of her seat ready to assist. Turns out Kathy had solved her problem, so Grisha sat down. I remember leaning over to Susan Friedman and whispering, “I wish when I traveled I had a friend like Grisha Stewart to help me!” It was a team effort, but Grisha really shined—selfless and helpful throughout!

Butterflies ARE animals!

One of the highlights of this trip was the Butterfly Project (see my letter from last month for details). Because I tweeted about the project frequently and wrote an article about it on the KPCT website, many people asked me questions about the project. The one question that I heard several times and that was most surprising were variations of: “I thought you were an animal trainer; what drew you to training butterflies?” I always responded, “Butterflies are animals!”

One individual thought about my answer a moment, then said, “No, I think they are insects!” I stared, a bit puzzled, wondering why we were not on the same wavelength. Finally, I said, “Yes, they are insects, and insects are animals!”

Ultimately I was unable to convince this individual, and we agreed to disagree. But I was truly flabbergasted when I had a similar conversation with several other people. I know it is difficult to convince people that training applies to all animals, but I never thought I would have to argue about or convince people of the definition of an animal!

Anything is possible

The previous discussion notwithstanding, the butterfly project reaffirmed my long-held belief that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. A seemingly impossible task: train 10,000 butterflies to fly on cue, and do all the training in less than three weeks! I always tell people that if you keep an open mind, do your research, and apply learning principles properly, you can accomplish pretty amazing things! But I must admit this project worried me; would we fail to accomplish this task? Would we do it in the timeframe we had? I worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew. But the team pulled through and renewed my faith in the power of applying the principles of learning.

I’m a Pepper: the power of a reinforcer

One thing that gives me great pleasure during a seminar is being able to sip an ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper throughout the seminar. It is a guilty pleasure that I truly enjoy. During this trip to Europe I went almost the entire month without a Diet Dr. Pepper—the drink exists in some places, but it is much harder to find. I concluded my series of seminars with two in the UK, organized by Lynda Taylor of Positive Animal Solutions. She knew of my preference, and went out of her way to get a large supply of my favorite beverage. Lynda even had each venue provide a bucket of ice so that I could have the soda ice-cold every day! I was in heaven, and I found myself enjoying the last two seminars more than ever—it was very reinforcing. Each day I found myself thinking about and waiting for my Diet Dr. Pepper. I truly realized the power of a reinforcer that has been unavailable for a long time—it was huge! No matter how much I know about reinforcers intellectually, I continue to marvel when I see them work on me!

31 days is too long!

I love to travel. I enjoy consulting, and I truly get pleasure from teaching seminars. The people that I meet are wonderful and the experiences are so worthwhile. But I also learned that being away from home for 31 days is too long. In the future, I will make shorter trips, because there is no place like home!

Happy Training,



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