Global Development Opportunities for Leaders Working in Arts, Screen, and Creative Sectors

Finding your place & the ICE fellowship

Jack Nissan is currently on his ICE placement in Beijing. This piece was originally posted on his blog 3 Months in China (along with a few more photographs), where you can read more about Jack’s experiences.

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I’m quite prone to being swept up in the moment and coming out with wildly enthusiastic comments, and I’m sure some of my friends might roll their eyes at this, but honestly I’m not exaggerating when I say that this past couple of months in China has been one of the most profound experiences I have ever had!

I am here on a fellowship with the International Creative Entrepreneurs (ICE) programme from Scotland, and this programme in combination with my wonderful host organisation Hua Dan and this extraordinary country has flipped me upside down, turned me inside out, hurled me around, knocked me about, and then left me dazed and bewildered and seeing things from all sorts of new angles! Or just asleep and exhausted with my colleagues on the Beijing subway…

Jack in Beijing

But I’ve started to come round a bit recently and things are seeming a little clearer, so maybe it’s not a bad time to look back at this placement and try to share a few things about it, what I’ve been up to and what I have got out of it. So I’ve decided to start a blog. And this first one is really about the ICE programme, and the process of having to find your place in very foreign lands when you don’t really know what you’re supposed be doing there!

It is difficult to pin down exactly what has made this placement so good, there is so much to it, but one big thing for me has been the unusual position in which you come into another organisation and into another country. Are you working for someone else, with someone else, alongside someone else, or on your own? What exactly is you’re role with this placement? What is your role with your host organisation? What is your role within this foreign country and its culture? Perhaps you have some expectations, perhaps your organisation does. These are certainly things that you think about before you go, and there are plenty of negotiations and discussions around them. But the truth is that you are dropped into a new country, a new organisation, in some cases a new industry or cultural sector, and you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing there! And that’s just the point! You have to figure it out yourself and find your place in all of these areas. And in the process of doing this you learn so much about yourself, how you work, what you value, what you want, what works, what doesn’t and where you might want to go. Plus of course you learn about other cultures, other ways of doing things, different values, new ideas and inspiration from living and working in a foreign country too. You are forced to question so much about yourself, your culture, your way of working, your goals and ambitions. And finally, hopefully, you start to regain your balance and begin to find your place!

This has been a rough summary of my experience of this ICE placement so far anyway. The first six weeks or so was a complete whirlwind of new thoughts, questions and learning. It was like a new phase or direction or focus would emerge or hit you unexpectedly every week, or few days even. At times it felt extremely positive and encouraging, at times completely confidence-crushing! But as of a couple weeks ago I think I have started to find my place a bit here.

For me, this actually came when I took a step back from being engrossed in the amazing work of Hua Dan (my host organisation and a pioneering theatre company in China working with migrant women, workers and families in Beijing and rural Sichuan) and started to link up more with the community that surrounds it. This is a community of artists, freelancers, NGO’s & community organisations, and a host of inspiring people working in and passionate about areas relating to community, arts and social innovation. It is not a scene in China that you hear about often in the UK, and from what I can gather it is quite new and pretty small. But it is also very much alive. Like many other industries, it is being driven by a new and young generation of people from within China. And like many other industries here, things move fast! While there are a lot of very real difficulties and restrictions, people still just seem to do things and find a way to make them happen. There seems to be an emerging support for this kind of work from people in a range of sectors, and it has a real energy and a sense of purpose and possibility around it. And I’ve been swept away with it! I’ve met so many inspiring people, made some lasting friends and got involved with a bunch of really exciting projects too (will write more about these later!).

It is a scene similar to that in which I work in Scotland, with a youth arts organisation I founded just over 2 years ago called the Tinderbox Project, and it is clearly one that is close to my heart. Only my experience here is very different from at home. Here I have had to come at it from the outside; I have had to actively find it, rather than just existing somewhere (and truthfully never that sure where!) inside of it. It has been so refreshing to have had the space to look around, to properly engage with and be inspired by what other people are doing, and to figure out how I (and Tinderbox) might fit into this bigger picture and some of the amazing work people are doing here. The ICE placement and Hua Dan has given me the space and a wonderful context in which to do this; it has taken me away from the all-consuming and somewhat manic lifestyle that comes with starting and running an organisation, and let me lift my head and get some clarity and a broader perspective about what I do. And this has come with a hell of a lot of learning and new ideas too! As sad as I’ll be (very!) when I have to leave China, I’m actually really excited to come home and actively look for my place in this scene in Scotland and the UK too, and to try and incorporate all of the new ideas and inspiration I’ve picked up here into what I do at home.

So this finding your place business has been one of the biggest revelations of this trip for me. I think this could probably translate as something like being more comfortable with my strengths and interests, more aware of my weaknesses and where I lack experience, and more inspired by what is going on around me. I feel this about myself in relation to Tinderbox and other work I do, and with regard to Tinderbox and how it fits in with a wider sector and the other things it might do too. I hope these new experiences will help me better position myself and Tinderbox to grow in the right way so that we can have a more positive impact on society and the people and communities we work with in the future. And I can’t wait to try it out!

A BIG thanks to ICE, Hua Dan and all my Chinese pals and colleagues who have made this such an amazing trip so far – I’ve still got a couple of weeks left so won’t get too emotional yet! And a big hello to friends and family back home too! Hope you’re all doing well.



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