President's Perspective - January 2020

january 2020 peggy pusch president's perspective Jan 15, 2020

Remembering Margaret (Peggy) Pusch (1936-2019)

It was 1979, the annual SIETAR conference was being held in Mexico City where I first met Peggy Pusch. Her knowledge of the intercultural field was impressive and she impressed me as one of the leaders of SIETAR (yes, that is what it was called in those days; International got added later and USA even later than that). Little did I know then that this was the beginning of a 40-year friendship.

I soon realized that although she was not shy about taking the reins and being the public face of SIETAR, she was a master of the behind-the-scenes work that made the organization hum. In those days the field was small and Peg knew everyone and their special skills. She was also willing to take a chance on someone new because she could quickly size a person up and recognize whether she could work with that individual. She had a keen sense of who could fill the roles required to organize the annual conference, serve on the Board of Directors, or take on a project like one that I worked on to assess whether SIETAR should get into the business of certifying interculturalists. As Executive Director of SIETAR USA, Peg kept future requirements in mind so that she would start working with someone she thought could put on a good conference well before it was time to get started. Of course, she was there to support the person every step of the way and we all knew that she had our backs.

Peggy’s diplomatic skills saved SIETAR USA many times. She had a way of reframing a situation so that all parties felt that they had been heard. She seemed to be creating an “island” on which both people could work together. Very early on, I sent an insensitive message to someone who had proposed a paper-reading session for a SIETAR conference when I was the Program Chair. I said, in essence, that I couldn’t imagine anyone reading a paper in one of our conference sessions. Peg responded to me, acknowledging that indeed we did tend toward interactive sessions but that a paper-reading session wouldn’t hurt. And to the other person she explained that even though we preferred an interactive session, that she could see including her session especially if the proposal included an active Q&A at the end. A very small example, but we both felt supported and ok with the outcome.

Anyone who trained with her or took one of Peg’s workshops, recognized her skills as a trainer. In fact, she was so good that she was a bit intimidating. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would sit in on one of her workshops to learn from watching her in action. It wasn’t until later in my career that I actually trained with her doing a full-day workshop on simulation games at the Summer Institute. We carefully planned the day together but forgot to discuss a few details. It turned out that when we were running Barnga that we did it differently. I wasn’t about to back down nor was she, so the participants got a first-hand look at how co-trainers can work out a process disagreement without disrupting the entire activity.

One other skill Peggy owned that surpassed most others was her editing ability. She always had in mind that she did not want authors to be embarrassed by less than skillful writing. She also insisted on clarity. Murky sentences were an anathema. She was anything but timid in her editing and if she sensed a better, clearer way of saying what she thought the author had in mind, she would rewrite it to her high standards. I on the other hand, as I began editing the 2-volume Intercultural Sourcebook, tried hard to keep the authors’ voices, which often meant some (maybe more) murkiness crept in. As I submitted the first few completed sections of the Sourcebook, she applied her heavy editing pen and freed me up to do the same, reminding me that one needs to hold high standards and to apply them whatever the situation. 

I learned a lot from her over the 40 years we had together—she could be tough, compassionate,  innovative, traditional, caring, playful, and deeply thoughtful. Where would we in the intercultural field be without her guidance and support over the years? I don’t know the answer to that but I am so very grateful that we didn’t have to find out.

Sandra M. Fowler
President, SIETAR USA