Castelgrande

Hey over there,

There are not a lot of things that totally blow you away in life. There are a number of days that sit in my mind as some of the best days of my life. I can say though that this day was easily one of the top 10 best experiences.

There are some things that you have to sit back on and understand that you had the experience of a lifetime. Let’s set the stage.

You are sitting on a stone carved table, overlooking Bellinzona and can see two other castles in the mountain-scape. The food and drink is fabulous and the service is beyond professional and uniquely personal to the environment. The shadows of vines are dancing on the castle behind you and the light breeze is soothing, lightly over the space. The space is a series of stimuli etched into your mind. The mixes of the smells of rabbit, fish and beef. The smiles and laughter of those around you. The meal is simultaneously carried not only be the food which you personally cannot afford for a decade to come, and the company is now friends you could stay in touch with in the future.

It is the speed of the moment, the excitement of a single event that passing time becomes  the experience for an eternity, mulled over by the mind to learn more, to understand and to reminisce into the future. The moment is now part of a continuum that is your personal story. Forward thinking, but self-reflective in the past. That life could be perhaps lived in a series of events without regret.

I was talking to another student during the meal and this mindset brought something forward that I had not connected but now realize is how I might actually choose to live for the future. Life is perhaps best lived for me as being prepared for opportunity when they come, utilizing my skills to make the most of the moment, and then moving forward, that if something was left on the table it is a learning experience to not repeat mistakes in the future. It is better to have tried and failed that to safely remain in the background, without drive and purpose. Safety and comfort and not one in the same.

You can remain safe and outside of your comfort zone while trying to engage your own future.

I am grateful that this trip continues to give more and more opportunities to experience truly unique circumstances that brought me here. It all started with an simple question: Hey, why not take that class on contemporary pedagogy since you might want to teach?

Why?… well why not.

Ken

 

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sitting in villa moderni

Hey over there,

I did not ever see myself getting to sit in the Villa Moderni in Riva. I simply could not responsibly afford to attend neither the Europe Travel nor the residency in Riva program. So I labeled it a high improbability.

But you never know what is going to happen.

When I learned that the GPP programs was going to be in Riva for the second half of the trip, I was stunned. Yes, the program was largely in Switzerland, but I believed that most of the time we would be traveling. Turns out our base of operations would be the villa.

I am glad that I have had the opportunity to see the new addition, the renovated spaces and the outdoor gardens. Once again I was able to experience something that would have been quite difficult to do alone.

Gardens fascinate me so I took some time to be in the gardens near the new entrance to the villa [the old side entrance].

It is very peaceful in the gardens, aside from a very loud Vespa every so often. The double row of hedges guides you to a smaller storage structure and walking back a picnic bench allows you an opportunity to rest under a trellis structure. Honestly, I was not expecting palm trees in Ticino.

But then again you never know what you might find.

The trees cast thankful shadows along the ground during the day. At night the glow from different light cascades into the small oasis of softly chirping birds and insects. As you walk the pea-gravel crunches to you movement underfoot.

A Baa of a sheep carries into the twilight.

You never know to what places you will go and what will happen when you get there.

Ken

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preliminary reflection research topics

Hey over there,

So I had a series of learning objectives that were rather simple. Essentially they boil down to look, listen, and learn.

Look and absorb what is around you. Listen to what others have to say before opening your own mouth. Learn from the experiences you now have encountered. These three things are combined and then internalized into new knowledge and understanding to formulate new questions for the future.

This method of learning has served me well, materializing into a mountain of notes on a myriad of topics associated to the Swiss educational system and a few ideas about education.

For my actual research topic, which as essentially social media in Swiss higher education, things had to adapt to the different conversations and was more a photographic study of implementing social media in public forums and online university resources.

At a glance, it appears that universities are not using social media as universally as higher education in the United States, that being said, links are often provided as full urls on posters and QR codes which leads to a more website-based method of conveying information.

Social Media sites that have been used are facebook, twitter, Google+, Youtube, Linked-In and Xing. (Xing is a professional network for German-speaking countries). Of all of the universities so far PolyMi was the most active on disseminating information similarly to a university in the United States.

I have come to understand that social media is a very vision-oriented method of communication. In later reviews of my research topic much if it will be looking graphically about how social media is handled on pamphlets and posters in these institutions.

Ken

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converging parallel lines

Hey over there,

To have a quick understanding of the Swiss educational system I would look here and then also there. This gives and overview of compulsory education before university and then post secondary education. Visually this can be seen here in a diagram with other associated links.

For those outside of the United States an overview of the US system can be found here (this is in reference to Minnesota and can and is slightly different between states). For example here is another explanation aimed at international students.

In a previous post I began to compare the two different methods and is reproduced below:

This and other universities are designed to teach the ability to think to its students. To be critical un understanding material and the implications that each provide. This one thing is what I admire most in the Swiss system is that there is an incredible amount of professionalism that goes into not only the work done by the students but also the dedication of the professors and academic staff. This consistent level of professionalism is transferred to the students and then results in both vocational and university schools both being of equal prestige.

I feel that this is something that we should take into greater consideration in the United States. We have not only a inconsistent level of professionalism across different professionals, but more importantly a lack of appreciation for those in every profession. This is then tied to the method of pay and amount of support and pay everyone receives. But that is a conversation for later.

Now is that time to bring this topic, though not simple, to the front again. The one thing that I will compare is the amount of support for teachers and professors between the two systems. This is purely my initial reaction to this and not representative overall, but there is something to learn about the method that the Swiss use to support professors and academic staff, specialized to post-secondary education.

Granted there are different tracks such as the vocational and more traditional high school methods with applied arts and university tracks respectively. The vocational track is set up for industry experience in high school, other option is like our more traditional high school concept. The vocational track prepares students for the workforce and help place them in positions and gain expertise for a job while still in school learning: a protected internship environment. The high school track sets students up for university similar to the United States.

Now this sounds similar to the US system in theory, but the implementation and support is widely varied. Here is an example of an applied arts school, continuing through the vocational track. The amount of research and support of the Swiss National Science Foundation is incredible.

This is the difference between the US and Swiss systems that I wish could be implemented in United States. The consistent support by the cantons allows professors to have a base research system and then be able to pursue extra research funds outside of the university system through either the Swiss NSF or other international EU proposals.

This initial support is around 1.5 million Swiss francs before pursuing other funding sources. What could the United States do if we supported our researchers in this fashion? This is why we are trying to converge parallel lines. At this time we could not drop the Swiss system of support into America and not expect a disastrous result. (Mainly due to how America funds education and its NSF much differently in volume and percentage compared to Switzerland).

Therefore, this starts a much longer line in inquiry, generated from seeing and comparing the two systems. How could be combine the two and get as many of the benefits as possible?

What merit is there to a fully endowed American Global University?

Ken

 

 

 

 

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a tiny balcony

Hey over there,

I took some time to sit on a tiny balcony attached to our room at Hotel St. Josef in Zurich. Its small iron bars, its concrete pad, its aluminum chair, its atmosphere, was not only what defined the experience though.

The balcony was not the only space, hidden from view and isolated. It extended beyond its own site starting to interact with and allowing me to interact with the city.

It is not the space itself that creates a wonderful space, but also how we interact with it. There was a path, a singular method to getting on the balcony: moving up the stairs, into our room at the end of a common space, releasing the noise and action of the city by opening the window and stepping through, then finally sitting down and relaxing, you enter the space.

People walking by, cars moving quickly by, the sun peeking in and out of light rain, bells chiming in the distance.

These small balconies are all over the city. Some are smaller, others planted, some new, other old, some panned and other additions, some quiet and other loud. The balcony is such an interesting and enjoyable space. The experience of which I will not easily forget after Zurich.

Ken

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first impressions of switzerland: zurich

Hey over there,

The first stop on the 2015 Tour was Zurich. It was fun to see place that I had been to before back in 2011 on the larger Europe travel trip with the Honors Scholarship Program.

We went the first day [23 MAY] to the Bratwurst place that we had traveled to before. It was very similar to how it was when we went those few year prior.

This may change over time, but it was great to see how a place can also remain the same as well. Although our view of the lake was restricted by roadway improvements, I could still remember the view of the lake.

You can see how a city such as Zurich keeps itself alive by its people and its demeanor. Buildings are not the only thing that makes the character of a place.

Switzerland, especially the northern, Germanic portion is very clean. Even in the construction zone things were kept tidy and while plywood was painted with graffiti, they were actually very good images. By painting temporary structures for construction it actually make the plywood more interesting without damaging the permanent image of the city.

There is a pride in their conduct. This control, promptness, order and wealth creates a fast-paced but clean and somewhat blunt society. It is simply so different to see and be in such a trusting and safe place. You could not leave nice bikes and have an over-sized community park chess set and expect this things to remain intact.

This sense of community and societal good is interesting and I hope to learn more about this country educates such citizens.

Ken

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ETH: Polytechnikum

Hey over there,

So during the trip we will be visiting a series of universities in order to see the commonalities and differences between Swiss and American university/higher education methods and implementation. The first one I will cover is ETH, which was one of the two universities we visited on the second day of the trip.

Some fast facts about ETH include:

It was founded in 1885 and now has 10,000 employees, 20,000 students of which 4000 are doctoral students. There are 500 professors and the school claims 21 Nobel Laureates.

There are two main campuses, Zentrium, which is in the city and Honggerberg (science city) a few minute tram ride from the first campus out of the city.

ETH is a federal university meaning that it does not receive as much of its funding from he cantons, but rather directly from the central government. ETH serves the area as a innovative force aiding the industry with products and services, that the school is “a solid scientific education combined with practice”.

There are methods of support for international students such as help with registration, immigration, housing and forums from a welcome Center through the university. The work conditions, working environment and personnel have a high standard of living, but are asked to have exceptional social skills and respect for others.

ETH is a polytechnic institute that is more limited in scope and more heavily shifted towards doctoral students than Virginia Tech. This limitation in scope is mainly due to the faculty (department) split between it and its neighbor, University of Zurich.

This and other universities are designed to teach the ability to think to its students. To be critical un understanding material and the implications that each provide. This one thing is what I admire most in the Swiss system is that there is an incredible amount of professionalism that goes into not only the work done by the students but also the dedication of the professors and academic staff. This consistent level of professionalism is transferred to the students and then results in both vocational and university schools both being of equal prestige.

I feel that this is something that we should take into greater consideration in the United States. We have not only a inconsistent level of professionalism across different professionals, but more importantly a lack of appreciation for those in every profession. This is then tied to the method of pay and amount of support and pay everyone receives. But that is a conversation for later.

Ken

 

 

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flying in a composite tube

Hey over there.

I have often found that flying is both a worrying and exciting endeavor. You fly through the air using essentially controlled falling, propelled forward by accelerated explosions, in side a pressurized composite tube.

Its like saying cars are powered by liquid dinosaurs (stole that joke).

We have an opportunity to learn and explore. Now we are insulated by a group of like-mined students, but we have the opportunity to learn from not only the experience but from each other. I believe that to take full advantage of the opportunity we must be able to not only engage ourselves with the material, but also with our peers.

This plane is the beginning of the trip, the culmination of a semester of time reflecting on intentions and questions and the beginning of a period of international study. When we engage our hosts we must come prepared with pointed questions that will be discussion and thought provoking. We cannot afford to simply agree with any message that is given to us.

This does not mean being indignant or purposefully confrontational. What this means is that we should not be placid in the discussions. That both our and their time is valuable and that both sides have something to benefit from the combined experience. I feel that information combined with specific experiences, creates new knowledge or understanding.

So when we step off of the plane in Zurich, it is important to not only understand our position in the world, but the position of others in the world that surrounds our existence. In this method, we are not necessarily the center of observation, but that we understand our place within the world.

This understanding will give us the ability to utilize the opportunity given to us, and then return and share this new understanding with others so that we may grow together. This sense of shared or combined experience is critical to the model that the Global Perspectives Program hope to achieve.

 

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the beginning of an adventure

Hello from afar.

This summer, as you know, a group of us will be traveling around Switzerland in an attempt to understand and begin to synthesize a new global pedagogy and understand what a global university is and potentially be.

This trip will take us to a number of Swiss Universities and places of higher education and to Polytechnico Milano. I will attempt to blog consistently over the next two weeks, although my access to the internet will be limited. In the case that the blogs are erratic, they will be uploaded to the date in which I wrote them in my journal.

I hope that the trip will be not only informative, but engaging.

Ken

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one for the road

Hi everyone,

I know that this is a little early for a going-away blog, but things get busy and I do not want to forget this one before I go.

I think it is amazing that time moves so quickly when you are not watching. Just a few months ago, I was thinking about how much time we still had and how the summer trip was so far away. I cannot really say that now anymore. In a few weeks (about three) the group will be touching down in Zurich.

We have the amazing opportunity to see and experience things that simply would not be possible without the established program that Virginia Tech provides. While in the past I have not been able to take advantage of such programs before, this one is hopefully when and where it can begin. We just have to meet at the hotel on time.

When was it again?

Honestly, I have traveled before, but there is something different about international travel that makes it a whole different adventure. It is something I cannot quite put a finger on, something that makes the time slow as you try to take everything in. You are experiencing a whole new culture, a way of living, philosophical mindsets, that make this new place different, but not incomprehensible. Our culture is based in the western thought, and though it has diverged over the last few hundred years, we can still find traces of these commonalities.

This allows us to have some sort of connection to the places, even if we have a difficult time expressing ourselves.

But not everything can be known, or should be. This is what the trip is mainly about: learning as much as possible in a very small frame of time; to learn about others and to reflect on how this might change us for the better; to see places of education and know that tradition provides a basis, a guide, for others; to understand that we do not know everything, but we can know more in time.

This is my main goal as the trip to Switzerland steadily comes closer: to actually experience the place that I am in. This does not mean running around and seeing everything possible, but that I use the time I am given to the best of my ability and desire.

There is something powerful about sitting and staring out over a lake you may never see again in your lifetime. To burn that image into your mind as a permanent memory of your being. To take that image and use it, re-create it, and represent it again to others. To take your memories and gift them to others who could not make the same journey with you.

The lessons, the learning is in this journey.

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