Ways to Keep Up With Me!!

Sadly smooshy-face Cooper isn’t going with me!


I can’t actually believe I’m headed half a world away in just 14 days! Holy Cannoli!!

If people are interested, here are ways to keep up with me during the trip:

  • The Global Perspectives Program website:
  • My Facebook:
    • Katie Elizabeth Ruth Ayers
    • I’ll  make my GPP photo albums public so you can see them without having to friend me or even have a Facebook account
  • On Twitter
    • Search for #gppch17 to see all the group’s adventures
    • I’ll be tweeting photos and short thought snippets
    • You don’t have to have a Twitter account to view these
  • On TripVis
    • An online map that allows you to follow where our group is at the moment
  • On this blog
    • I’ll try and blog at least every other day

Covfe’fe’ and More Covfe’fe’ (Only Sometimes in Decaf)

The Donald and his middle-of-the-night nonsensical tweet inspired an internet field day.

One of the most magical things about this trip (aside from everything) has been the coffee and espresso available anytime I want it…at the coffee shop, at the bar, at the restaurant….before, during, and after meals…to wake up and to fall asleep…in tiny and regular (but never large) sizes.

Naturally, as a Sociologist with an eye for detail, I decided to photograph the cups along the way.

Never before a complete photographic collection, I present “Covfe’fe: A Tiny Cup Tour Through Switzerland and its Neighbors!”




Dear SUPSI – I Love You


I love you. It’s true.

You, the University of Applied Sciences of Italian Switzerland, have stolen my heart. 

And it all started with this hands-on computer programming board. 

This thing – the computer programming folks wrote the program, the engineers designed and built it, and it could potentially be given to the elementary education students to use with the little children.

Instead of staring at a screen, mashing mouse buttons and being still, little ones can play with a circuit board that forces the children to place shapes on the board correctly to create a path that when finished leads to a fun outcome.

Also, this solar panel project. 

Most of the panels look like what we expect, but (and it’s hard to see) if you look to the very left there are some beautifully designed panels. Combining solar panel engineering with architectural and art design to create an aesthetically pleasing panel typical homeowners will want to buy? What a novel concept!

True interdisciplinarity at its finest. 

So often in the US, and in some of the universities we’ve visited on our trip, interdisciplinary teaching and learning means sharing a classroom space with folks from other departments learning about a similar subject for a few weeks. Ideally, folks learn from each other in ways not possible when they’re only with other students in their discipline. More often, it feels to me like the different disciplines just talk past each other. 

Another thing I love about you SUPSI? Your focus on application of the skills the students learn right from the beginning of their BA degrees. Many of your instructors are still working in their own fields and then spend part of their time teaching their trade to the students at SUPSI.

Best of all?? Your instructors must have pedagogy training!!! And it has to be done within the first three years of being hired. So not only do your instructors have real-world experience, but they also learn best teaching practices and about the theory of teaching to better serve your students!!!

The BA is three years, and in each of the 6 semesters your students are working on real-world projects with folks from different fields (majors) working on the same project. There are no academic silos here; rather, students work together to create solutions not possible without input from other areas. 

Last thing and then I’m done – I love the different BA degrees which You consider “applied” – including non-traditional ones like visual communication, social work, music and theater, and primary and high school teaching, along with degrees in things like civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering, computer science thatmost people associate with “applied science.”

Including those first degrees in an “applied science” university elevates their status in ways I don’t think we do in the US. No more parents asking their children “what are you going to do with a degree in theater or music or art?” Instead, because you have an eye always on the practical application of skills outside the university, and your students work with teachers who have spent time in the profession, students are prepared to leave the university with a job in hand. 

And for most students, that’s the case. Over 95 percent of your students are employed in their field within a year of graduation. 

So yes, dear SUPSI, I love you. I graduate in 2018. Please love me back. 

And hire me. 

Reflections on Time

I’m currently laying in a hammock under some palm trees, listening to church bells play after having just finished a combined cone of hazelnut gelato and blueberry sorbet. Earlier this morning two other students and I hiked to the top of Monte San Giorgio.

View from the top of Monte San Giorgio

What I keep thinking about is the pace at which everything moves here. I remarked to a friend that it feels like Riva is a resort town, everything here is unhurried, the “gelato lady” shuts down for a lunch break in the afternoon, no one is running everywhere and I have time to breathe. But Riva is not a resort town at all. Rather it’s a typical example of Swiss culture in a small town. And that has been the case everywhere we’ve travelled since Monday. 

The people we’ve met at the universities have been efficient, but they still have time for relationship making around lunches, playtime on the weekends, and certainly for good coffee and cappuccino. There’s not the “hurry up and do all things today right now five minutes ago!!” that I seem to find in the US higher education system and in the US in general. 

My friend Khaled recently remarked that he hates eating. Unpacking that a bit, I discovered that it’s rather the feeling of taking time away from his work that he dislikes. Having to stop for 20 minutes just to shove a sandwich in his face just so he can go back to work isn’t fun for him, but it’s what’s expected.

What would it look like if the US changed our culture to be more like the Swiss and Italians? I think we could be just as efficient, clearly the people we’ve met get things done and are highly accomplished, but without all the stress and responsibility to feel guilty if we aren’t constantly working. 

I feel what’s missing in the US is self-care. We spend so much time focusing on work until a health (or some other) crisis forces us to slow down, but I wish it wasn’t that way. Spending an afternoon in a hammock, still working, is better for my mental health then any time I spend in a windowless room in the 5th floor of McBryde. 

If there’s one thing (among the millions of things) I’ve learned in this trip, it’s that the US culture has a long way to go in terms of recognizing that self-care as a need rather than a luxury. But if no one is going to give me permission to lay in my hammock and do my work, the I’ll permit myself!!

Long Live Self-Care!!

Vocational Training for (Almost) Everyone!!

Entrance to Uni Zurich

In the past three days, our group has visited the University of Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) (both in Zurich, Swiss)), the University of Basel, the School of Arts and Design (both in Basel, Swiss), and the University of Strasbourg (in Strasbourg, France)! Holy cow, that’s a lot of universities to take in.

One of the coolest insights I’ve had so far, and one reason I’m really starting to like the Swiss system, is about the value they place of technical and vocational education. Where in America,, there is a class stratification between who attends a 4-year university, a 2-year community college, and no schooling beyond a high school diploma, the same is not true in Switzerland.

Rather then automatically spend 2-4 years in college post high school whether or not they’re ready, students can opt to move into the Vocational Education system, start an apprenticeship right away. From there, the student gains hands-on job skills and can eventually earn a number of federal certificates of higher education through work and testing and eventually a federal diploma of higher education.

A look at the Swiss educational system. On the left are the vocational track pathways.

Given that many more students opt for the  vocational track (ses chart below), clearly it’s not seen as a second-rate option but rather just a different life course. According to the 2017 Swiss Report on Vocational Training (it’s in English):

The Swiss VPET system enables young people to enter the labour market and ensures that there are enough skilled workers and managers in the future. It has a high labour market relevance and is an integral part of the education system.

And the students are not getting an inferior education, rather they’re just starting their specialized training earlier and beginning to earn real money sooner. A Time Magazine article on the vocational system in Switzerland reports on a 19-year-old male vocational student

This spring, after he completed his three-year business training at an insurance company, the 19-year-old was hired by a telecommunications firm; his job as a customer care representative offers a starting salary of $52,000 a year, a generous annual bonus, and a four-week paid vacation – no small potatoes for the teenager who is still living at home and has no plans to move out.

What if America began valuing vocational education students on the same level as those who attend bachelor’s program? How would that change our social class stratification at all? Could it even work?

Probably not, according to the Time Magazine article. Mostly because

…the idea of ‘sorting’ high school kids into different tracks, with some going to college and others into vocational programs, is unacceptable.” The VET program such as it exists in Switzerland would require a higher degree of market and business regulations, which would (also) be overwhelmingly rejected in America.

It seems a shame really. With less debt for students and more qualified students entering the workforce, and even getting trained by the companies that hire them, the Swiss systems seems like a win-win for everyone.


Love Locked Down in Zurich

Walking to lunch in Zurich yesterday, we came across the Muhlestag bridge which crosses the Limmat River. The bridge was covered in “love locks” which, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, are:

padlock(s) which sweethearts lock to a bridge, fence, gate, or similar public fixture to symbolize their love.Typically the sweethearts’ names or initials are inscribed on the padlock, and its key is thrown away to symbolize unbreakable love.

On the way home from a Swiss twist on a very American brunch at a place simply called Restaurant Movie, I snagged a few pictures.



I’m not one to usually post pictures of what I eat, and I’ve never been one of those people who take artful photos with the lighting just right and the pieces arranged just so, but yeah, can we talk about dinner last night?!?

If you’re ever in Zurich, check out the Nachtjäger. The menu is hand written in German on the wall, everything is clean and crisp, and the food is amazing!!!

Herbed focaccia bread with duck fat butter
Vegetable tartlette with goat cheese, Welsh onions, artichokes, and cherry tomatoes

Flexibility is the Key to Airpower (and train travel…apparently)


During my time in the Air Force, we had it drilled into our heads that flexibility get us everywhere. Good thing that understanding stuck as my travel companions and I had to do a little rerouting on the fly last night.

We had purchased 2-country pass Eurostar train tickets week before we travelled and planned to use them to go between Paris and Zurich, but were under the impression that we could easily add a leg from London to Paris. So we stopped by the train ticket office yesterday evening around 845p and yeah…no. Everything was full.

Did I mention that she couldn’t book the tickets without our paper tickets? And those were back at the hostel? And the ticket office closed at 10p? And there were only 13 seats left on the only train available, a 729a train to Lille, in the Northern part of France?

We never did get any Fish and Chips, but the fresh made spinach and mushroom risotto from this place was an amazing end to our long day.
We sprinted (or quickly walked, whatever) back to our hostel to retrieve the paper tickets and returned in time for the agent to book 3 seats. We made the train this morning and easily booked an in-country hour-long train ride from Lille to Paris. We’re waiting to leave as I write this post. So all is well.

On the Day of Departure…Packed (yes) and Ready to Go (sort of)

Pierre the dino!
Meet Pierre, he’s the French dino who somehow made it to Utah in 2015 and is now traveling with me on this trip. There’s a backstory here, feel free to ask me!

Today’s the day! I haven’t been able to get super excited about this trip until almost 11p last night because…school. But then I couldn’t sleep.

It all seems surreal. I’ve never travelled outside the US and in a few short hours I’ll be on a plane halfway across the world. I’m nervous and excited and approaching this trip with a sense of wonderment rather than with any expectations.

I don’t know what else to say except that I’m not sure how I managed to pack 18 days worth of stuff into one suitcase and a backpack, but I did. Here goes nothing!

Along the way I’ll be blogging and Facebooking and tweeting and emailing (ayersk14@vt.edu). I also have Viber installed on my phone, so if you do that you can add me as a contact and we can chat there.

Assuming all goes well, I’ll be landing tomorrow at 10:30a (5:30a here) at London’s Heathrow airport. Then off to find our hostel and explore the city!!