I’m now back in Toronto after three months of traveling. We’ve just passed Thanksgiving day last week and the holiday weekend, and as I’ve been unpacking and starting to catch up on my work I’ve been feeling reflective.

The progression of holidays at this time of year, when the sun retreats and the darkness looms, is structured for looking inwards. As we move from the Autumnal Equinox to the Winter Equinox, we are taken deeper down into the tunnel of our own life, encouraged to reflect on it in the present moment. Halloween triggers it, with the transition from the light of the sun outside to the light of the hearth, symbolized by the Jack-o-lantern pumpkin fire. Then comes Thanksgiving that is, according to the examples provided by my Facebook and Twitter friends, a time for thinking about that for which we are grateful. Next come the Christmas and other related holidays, with their lights and fires to brighten the darkness and their gift-giving rituals to enculturate and strengthen social bonds. Finally, we have the New Year’s rituals that are both ecstatic and celebratory, but succeeded by a serious assessment and reflection of changes to come.

In that spirit of reflection, I wanted to dedicate today’s blog entry to my gratitude for all the people who made my sabbatical travel this year possible, and who made it such a delightful adventure.

First, I’m grateful to Marylouise Caldwell and Paul Henry of the University of Sydney. You both initiated this venture and persisted in making it a reality. If it wasn’t for you, there would have been no Oceania travel. Not only were you officially responsible, but you completely went the extra mile. You drove my family and I around, you took us to visit new places, we had wonderful dinners together, and you were incredibly considerate at every turn. Seal Rocks Australia

I’m grateful to my Ph.D. students at the University of Sydney. I know I overwhelmed them. They were just starting their program and here came this fast-talking professor from overseas with his 20 kilo reading pack and pile of assignments. I’m grateful that Bettina the wonder-manager was there to help me at every turn.

I’m grateful to the University of Sydney’s faculty and students for their support of my presentations about online communities and netnography. Also to Boss Magazine, the U. Sydney Uni News (Allison), the Group at Mitchell & Partners, and the Australian Marketing Institute for the press coverage and exposure.

Elizabeth Cowley and Arnold, Charles Areni, Theresa Davis, Donnell Briley, and the other faculty members and your spouses and families, you are gracious hosts. We dined with you, we enjoyed fine wines, we picnicked and played at Coogee beach. In a month living as Randwick residents we gained a lifetime of memories.

Dunedin New ZealandI’m grateful to Shelagh Ferguson for inviting me to Dunedin to spend time at the University of Otago, to Ken Deans (the Head of Department) and to the rest of the faculty there for hosting my family and I in fine style and for the tickets to Jane Eyre. To Shelagh and Mike, and your two gorgeous Samoyeds: thank you for the wonderful meal overlooking the mountains, for advising the Lord of the Rings trip to Queensland (and the gift of the book, which now sits proudly on my shelf), and for recommending Nature’s Wonders, which provided one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand-or anywhere.

I’m thoroughly grateful that Mike Lee was my host for my time at the University of Auckland, and that I was invited to come spend time there. His organizational powers are beyond impressive. First, he managed to win the very first Hood Fellowship to fund my visit, which made everything easier (money has a way of doing that). I’m thankful of course to the Lion Foundation for that generous fellowship.

Wai-o-tapu, near Rotorua, New ZealandMike had my time scheduled so efficiently that I felt like not a minute was being wasted. Shortly after arriving in Auckland, I presented a highly academic topic about ideology and consumer resistance, then had time for lunch and some meetings, and then spoke to a crowd of 200 alumni and businesspeople about the marketing potential of online communities and how to strategize around it. We had a wine tasting from the University’s own vineyard, which was exceptional. Department head Rod Brodie’s oenological expertise was much appreciated then, and in our subsequent Thai dinner that he hosted for faculty, my family and I.

At Auckland, there were meetings with some great students and faculty members such as Rod Brodie, Biljana Juric, Ana Ilic, Mike Lee, Denise Conroy, Sussie Morrish, David Sundarum, Rick Starr, businessman and actor John Summers and Lorraine Friend and Javlon Kadirov who visited from Waikato. I had my own completely equipped and comfortable office-with my name printed professionally over the door. And I had the pleasure of working with Mary Hoong, a delightful and magnificently efficient admin assistant for the department.

Bethell’s BeachAnd here’s where Mike’s scheduling came in again. He advised, assisted, and helped arrange a number of very memorable voyages to locations my family and I will never forget: Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, Rotorua, Wai-o-tapu, and Bethell’s Beach.

San Francisco and ACR are a big blur. I’m intensely grateful that I could meet up with family and friends there. I owe a big debt of gratitude to my co-chair and friend Meg Campbell for making my time with ACR Doctoral Symposium so enjoyable.

I’m thankful that I went to Ireland, and have Pierre McDonagh and his Centre for Consumption Studies to thank for it. The hospitality of the Dublin City University group, my friend Darach Turley (thanks for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Gate Theatre–it was fantastic; and for recommending Newgrange, a high point), their Dean, Bernard Pierce, and the students were all outstanding.

I also am grateful that I got to meet Norah Campbell at Trinity College, share ideas with her, and loved the whirlwind personal tour she gave me of this historic college and its sights (“Book of Kells, there it is, okay, let’s go….”). Dublin was super-cool (and rainy) and I think my family and I made the most of the many opportunities it provided. A traveling hint: If you’re in Dublin, do not miss Kilmainham Gaol.

View from Mt. CooleyThanks to Andy and Pierre, and their great group of boys, for a wonderful stay at their beautiful home in Carlingford. And for a terrific hike up into the Cooley mountains. The birthday cake, the gifts, the vegetarian meal, the sleeping arrangements, the views of the Mountains of Mourne, the great conversation-everything was perfect, even the hunt for the (still?) missing corkscrew!

My time in Austria was an absolute delight, and I’m exceedingly grateful to Andrea Hemetsberger of the University of Innsbruck for inspiring and arranging my travel there. Not to mention hosting us at your and Klaus’s home and making an incredible dinner for my family on a particularly challenging evening.  That salad and pasta, the wine, the grated truffle, the “hot love” (oh, yeah hot love), your patient cooking assistant, the evening view of sparkling Innsbruck, the Harry Potter download–what a superb time we had with you. Thank you Klaus and Andrea (pronounced, finally, “on-dray-uh”).
Innsbruck and Munich are cities where I have found kindred souls and I feel very at home there. Hans Muhlbacher is a new friend who I had known only by reputation before this visit/ I greatly enjoyed meeting him and speaking with him. I got to spend some time with my brilliant colleague and fellow netnographer Johann Fuller as well as with my talented colleague Marius Ludicke (sorry for the missing umlauts, everyone my OS-Wordpress interface doesn’t seem to be accommodating them today).

I also had the pleasure of meeting some new colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, including Gunther Botschen, Oliver Koll, and Sylvia von Wallpach. Ralf Weinberger, Thomas Kohler and Dagmar Abfalter are Ph.D. students I met with extremely interesting topics. I hope we stay in touch as they move to the important publication stage.

Innsbruck AustriaInnsbruck is a stunningly beautiful city, with some great skiing. I also had the opportunity to travel to Langenfeld and stay in a wonderful Tirolean resort called the Aqua Dome Hotel. The Aqua Dome hotel was fantastic. The room I stayed in was luxurious, with wooden walls, a fireplace, lots of room, a beautiful mountain view, and even a sauna in the room. The hotel itself had incredible food, wonderful wellness and resort facilities, and we were delighted by the terrific service. If you are ever near Innsbruck, I highly recommend this hotel and its facilities. At the Aqua Dome, I presented to a group called the Freundeskreis, the “Circle of Friends,” a group of business people gathered with academics to brainstorm and discuss current ideas and issues. The presentation and discussion were enlightening and very enjoyable.

This group at the University of Innsbruck is not only an exceptionally nice group of people, they are also very talented and focused. They are focused on brand management, user-generated branding, technology, and user innovation, and the multiple intersections of these topics. You may not have heard of their impressive research work yet, but I’m convinced that you are going to hear a lot more from them in the future. Thank you one and all for your collegiality, help in time of need (!), and intellectual stimulation.

I also am very grateful for my time in London at the University of London’s Royal Holloway business school. Alan Bradshaw was a terrific host, and I greatly enjoyed learning more about his work studying the connections between consumption culture and counterculture. I appreciate his book recommendations and have already ordered several of them from Amazon (I’ll review some of them here after I read them). He even shared some fascinating stuff on the use of tribe metaphors in early countercultural writings. I’ll try to share some of those insights on the blog soon. Chris Hackley, the head of the department, was also a very attentive and considerate host.

It was a very enjoyable and well-attended presentation at the University of London’s Royal Holloway Business School. It was very nice to have the co-sponsorship of colleagues in the engineering school, and affiliated with the IEEE for my talk about the managerial implications of online communities and etribes. Thanks for Rob Caruana, Andreas Chatzidakis, and Sumana Laparojkit for traveling to come and see my talk and meet me (and for the very kind gift from Sumana), and to all the other people who traveled to come and see me.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, IrelandI’m thankful that I had a chance to spend some time with my friend Stephen Brown, who inspired and helped to set up the Irish end of my sabbatical travel. Lunch with Stephen and Audrey Gilmore (who I was delighted to meet) and dinner with Stephen were big highlights of my time in Europe. Stephen provided what I would consider my very favorite introduction thus far to one of my presentations. I especially like how he slandered Queen’s University in Belfast during his set-up to my talk, while also managing to compliment the Queen’s University in Kingston Canada where I conducted my doctoral studies.

I enjoyed presenting at the University of Ulster and meeting the members of the department and students there. And even sparring with David Carson, who advanced the idea that governments should tax companies for every online mention of their trademarked brands.

Miriam Catterall was very kind to sponsor my talk at Queen’s University in Belfast and I’m grateful to her as well (especially after Stephen’s cruel, vile, slanderous, and downright nasty remarks directed at her school during my introduction).

What a beautiful and historic building Queen’s University is! The class I taught at Queen’s was enjoyable (I even got some students to speak), and the talk I gave on the topic of netnography was very memorable. Miriam asked a great, thought-provoking question at the end. She asked me who, besides myself, was carrying the mantle of netnographic work. I gave her a number of stars and rising stars of this field, and I’ll be sharing some of their work with you, Gentle Readers, in future blog postings.

I also very grateful to David Marshall, another CCS partner, and to the faculty at the University of Edinburgh Business School who hosted me with great hospitality. Was that just last week? Yes, it was, and I enjoyed my day in Edinburgh, although I would have loved to stay longer. The talk I gave on online communities was the last one of this sabbatical travel world tour and it was special to me in a wistful sort of way. I recall that group of 50-60 people in the comfortable, cozy, U-shaped room nodding and asking questions. Maybe due to a recency effect, I remember that presentation with crystal clarity. That night we had a fantastic dinner at the Museum Tower overlooking Dublin Castle.

So many things to be grateful for!

To everyone who traveled to see me, who met with me, who sat patiently listening, who asked questions, who wrote to follow-up, who played a part in my being there, I thank you sincerely.

Of course, I’m very grateful to you, my blog readers, who stayed with me on this journey, even though my posting was sporadic at best. I thank you for that.

Above all, I’m grateful to my wonderful wife, Marianne, who made all of this travel possible. You organized, planned, wrote and recorded, managed and maintained. Without you, none of this would have been.

I needed to say it here in the most public and immediate forum I have. There are so many good and kind people out there who are willing to open their doors, their minds, and their hearts. That’s truly an amazing thing.

I’ve written recently in this blog about the environmental and social problems that we are all facing, and certainly in the last three months we’ve had even more problems and pressing issues heaped upon our collective plates. Yet this voyage inspired my faith in the goodness and potential of all of us. I’m very grateful for that.

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