Are You a Turtle or a Frog? Address by Larry Foster, EWCA President
November 13, 2008

Bali, Indonesia


Two years ago in Hanoi, I talked to you about the on-going debate between Christopher Columbus and Thomas Friedman as to whether the world was flat or round.

Today, I am going to talk to you about frogs and turtles. Those of you familiar with the tenants of Taoism will no doubt remember the parable of the frog at the bottom of the well from the Autumn Floods chapter of Chuang Tzu.

The Frog had lived his entire life at the bottom of his little well. The well was his entire universe, and he was very comfortable in his familiar little world. One day, the Turtle From the Eastern Sea, a seasoned traveler, passed by the well and told the frog about the exciting world beyond the well and urged him to leave the well and explore the world. But the frog was so comfortable in his tiny, yet safe and predictable universe, that he was not willing to leave his well.

Many of you are no doubt beginning to wonder what is the relevance of a 2,500 year-old Chinese parable to the East-West Center in the 21st century.

I see at least two valuable lessons to be learned from this parable. First, the voyage of personal discovery as symbolized by the Turtle from the Eastern Sea, is one of the most common motifs in world legend and literature: Ulysses in Homer’s The Oddesey, and Monkey in the eighteenth century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, and all of you in this room today, are all travelers who had the courage to leave your wells, your cultural comfort zones, and embark on a life-long voyage of personal discovery.

You travelled across oceans and cultures to a distant, yet alluring place called Hawaii, the home of one of the most renown race of travelers in the world, the Polynesian voyagers.

Your time at the East-West Center forever altered the way you think, the way you act. At the Center, you mastered something you can only learn through direct experience: how to live, work, and flourish in diversity. Wells are tidy, comfortable places while the world of cross-cultural interaction can be messy, uncomfortable, and even downright scary. But, in spite of this, you came to realize that, once you had left the well and successfully engaged in the wider world, you were no longer willing to settle back into your old well; you became a life-long member of the East-West Center community, a cross-cultural traveler.

The second message of the parable of the frog at the bottom of the well is a simple one: you cannot think outside of the box unless you come to realize you are in a box. Creativity (artistic, intellectual, scientific, and other) seldom comes from complacency or parochialism. Rather, creativity comes from stimulation by different ideas and perceptions which challenge our old paradigms.

Welcome to the community of the East-West Center: community building, mutual understanding, tolerance, and civility.

But enough of preaching to the choir. Let me now address the substance of my remarks today: What has the EWCA done since our gathering in Hanoi two years ago?

I will address five broad areas: conferences, assistance to participants, our strategic plan, chapter development, and community service.

1. Conferences

We organized several very successful conferences including:

The June, 2007, the Asian Studies Pacific (ASPAC) Conference at the Center which attracted nearly 200 participants;

The August, 2007 70s Reunion Conference at the Center with over 200 participants;

In November 2008, the Bali Conference with some 500 alumni.

We are now in the advanced planning stage for a very special Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary Conference from July 2 – 5, 2010 to be held in Hawaii. We are estimating over 1,000 attendees from all around the region.

Finally, preliminary planning is underway for our 2012 International Conference. Several expressions of interest have already been received. We will be talking more about this at our General Membership Meeting on Saturday afternoon.

2. Assistance to Participants

I am pleased to announce that, through the hard work of the Center, particularly Terry Bigalke, Mary Hammond, and their fine staff, students have now been taken off the endangered species list and are, in fact, back to near record levels of the 60s and 70s. This August, 159 new students arrived from 36 countries. Adding in our continuing students, we have a total of 374 students from 50 countries. This year we have the highest total number of participants in thirty-four years, over 500.

Supporting degree students is one of the major goals of the EWCA Strategic Plan. We meet this goal by providing Alumni scholarships to incoming students, arranging for mentoring of students by professionals in the Honolulu community, providing travel grants so students can participate in professional conferences and carry out research in the field, and by arranging for orientation meetings with local chapters before the new participants come to the Center.

An essential way EWCA supports participants is through financial scholarships which provide opportunities for qualified students to come to the Center who otherwise could not afford to come. The 60s and 70s Alumni Reunions raised nearly half a million dollars for the EWCA Scholarship Endowment Fund. This year, these funds provided ten EWCA scholarships to deserving students.

I would like to give special recognition to the following endowments recently established by alumni to support participants: Sumi Makey, Amanda Ellis, as well as Buddy and Melga Torre Gendrano. The generosity of these alumni and many of you here today will go a long way to ensure the continued flourishing of the student program at the Center.

In addition to money, alumni have also given of their time and talent by assisting in recruiting new participants from their region.

3. Chapter Development

New Chapters have been formed in Chandigarh, India; Aceh, Indonesia; Arizona; and Timor Leste.

We spent the past two days in lively discussions at the Chapter Leaders Workshop focusing on using technology to network, energizing our chapters, supporting participants, and planning for the 50th Anniversary.

4. Strategic Planning

We approved the EWCA Strategic Plan at our last conference in Hanoi. The three primary goals of the Plan are to Build Chapters, Expand Networking, and Support Participants. We are regularly reviewing our accomplishments and plans to ensure that we are making progress with our Strategic Plan.

5. Community Service

One of the initiatives that came out of our previous Chapter Leaders Workshops is community service. This initiative has been continued in recent years and includes natural disaster relief, preparing students for taking the GRE exam, teaching and feeding street children, and supporting orphanages.

6. Finally, a few Mahalos

I would be remiss if I failed to publicly acknowledge the strong, on-going support for the Alumni provided by President Charles Morrison and the Board of Governors. Both Dr. Morrison and the Board recognize and celebrate the value of the Alumni.

The most exemplary recognition of the value of the Alumni is the recent election of our very own Puongpun Sananikone as Chair of the Board of Governors. The current board is one of the strongest we have had. The fact that the Board chose Puongpun, an alumnus, speaks volumes about the quality of our alumni and the high regard the Board has for our alumni.

Next, on behalf of the proud Alumni of the East-West Center, I would like to extend a heartfelt Mahalo to Gordon Ring, Alumni Officer and Noreen Tanouye.  Without their tireless efforts, few of the accomplishments over the past two years could have been achieved.

Finally, I would like to thank our fellow alumni in Indonesia for their efforts in organizing this conference. Bali has a vibrant culture and friendly people, and is a safe place for tourists.

And to all of you,

Mahalo and Aloha. A hui hou.