Well, I’m back in Blacksburg after an incredible global adventure. Many more pictures and stories will follow, but for now I have two goals: (1) to express how incredibly enriching of an experience I had, and (2) to report back on all of the excitement that has occurred since I have returned.
It’s difficult to enumerate what I learned through my travels, but it was certainly a great deal. Some involved simply learning new ways of doing everyday things (like turning on the water at the sink with a foot pump– brilliant!). I was exposed to three new languages as well. However, at a more complex level, I learned a new culture of education. For 10 days, we, as a group, visited multiple universities in Switzerland, Italy, and France, learning about how each dealt with a vast multitude of responsibilities, including teaching, outreach, tenure and promotions, research funding, fundraising, alumni relations, examinations, and more. Oftentimes it was easy to find similarities between the European and US systems. Other times, the differences were more apparent. In both cases, it was clear that institutions of higher education could benefit by keeping a global dialogue and collaboration of ideas alive.
It certainly was a life-changing experience. The Chronicle of Higher Ed recently released an article to solidify this feeling– they say that studying abroad can change one’s brain!
Life since I’ve returned has been equally enriching. With the help of two trusty research assistants, I am preparing to collect data for my dissertation. With IRB approval standing behind me, I’ve charged head-first into recruitment. We’re all reviewing and practicing research protocol, and are looking forward to soon swarming in 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, the lab remains busy in the midst of many other projects with a variety of age groups.
It’s an exciting summer. I can hardly wait to report back on all of the excitement to come!
***Started writing on departure from Villa Maderni and reviewed once settled in the US (which is why it is just being posted).
The last day at the Villa Maderni is a bitter sweet one. An early rise to prepare to leave and press toward the final leg of my journey that has me feeling sad. Yet, through this lived experience, I am happy that I was afforded the opportunity to live it. Without a doubt the fastest 3 weeks I’ve ever lived and certainly one of the most life changing experiences I’ve ever had and probably will ever have. The GPP experience has benefited me in ways I would have never imagined. The collective minds of a multi-national and multi-disciplinary GPP cohort provided the sink of knowledge that inundated my mental sponge…multiple view points of opinionated subject matter, philosophical discussion and factual information on various topics have made me ‘enlightened’. Personally, I sit…I think, no words…stimulated by the intellect of this group of GPP participants, GPP administration, UNIBasel GPP, and the various students, staff, and administrators of the various universities we attended. I leave with a bounty of knowledge that no other 3 week period in my life could have provided me.
With one more day to sling my bag over my shoulder, I can honestly say that it is NOT full of regrets. The immersion into a society with so much to offer has no doubt changed my life, only for the positive. The people, the sites, the culture, and the languages amazed me. If anyone asks, I cannot provide negative feedback of either the program or the environment as it is a part of the experience…sometimes perfection lies in imperfection, and having all the answers affords no spontaneity, thoughtfulness, and learning. I loved the program as if it were my kin. It is my wish that growing professional students have the same opportunity I was given to improve themselves. Even though the GPP tasks are not 100% complete, I can say with confidence that I have increased my level of “Global Perspective” not only taking me outside of the box, but assisted in understanding the box and the world around it.
Auf Wiedersehen! - Au Revoir! – Arrivederci!
We met to leave the Backpacker hostel at 8:30AM. The sun had been up for a couple hours so many of us had been awake for awhile. Zurich was busy with commuters to work as we walked to the train station. The sun was out and it was a beautiful morning. David had left earlier to make sure he had enough time to maneuver his bike through the train and onto the airplane to Dublin. We met up with Sheldon in the train station, as he had stayed with a friend the night before. So seven of us caught the train to the airport. We said goodbye to Mike who was heading to Sarajevo at the airport. We checked in, had breakfast and headed to the gate. We met up with Jonathan and Sreoyshi, who had stayed near the airport, at the gate. So in total Libby, Amanda, Cat, Sreoyshi, Jonathan, Sheldon, Kenneth, and I headed to IAD on United. The flight was uneventful and I watched 3 movies and read my book. It was odd to spend so much quiet time without talking. We had spent so much time in community, so to sit next to a stranger for 10 hours was the beginning of my adjustment back to Blacksburg.
When we arrived, we collected our bags and went through customs. We dropped our bags for re-check to ROA, except for Sheldon and Kenneth. We then went through security and after that we said good-bye to Sheldon and Kenneth who left IAD and were getting rides home. Sreoyshi was held up in immigration due to some missing signatures, but joined us about 30 minutes later. For the next 6 hours we amused ourselves with reading, walking through the airport, eating dinner, and sleeping. We finally boarded for ROA and arrived a little after 10PM. Jonathan’s wife, Cat’s husband, and Libby’s friend were there to meet them and take them home. My husband landed about 15 minutes later from Boston via Philly and Amanda, Sreoyshi and I joined him in the car service his company provides. We dropped Amanda off and then Sreoyshi. After 23 hours, I finally made it home at 12:30AM.
Readjustment to life in Blacksburg has been tougher than I imagined. I left as a graduate student and returned as a graduate. I left in Spring and returned in the Summer. As I try and process the trip as well as the changes in my own life, I am left feeling a bit out of place. It has been wonderful to see my beautiful children and their social calendar has kept me moving since I returned home. It might be a couple more days or weeks until I fully adjust to the new phase in my life. But what a way to make the transition with this amazing trip to Switzerland. I am truly grateful for Dean DePauw and the opportunity that she gave me to be a part of this life-changing trip.
We said our goodbyes this morning as the group splintered in several different directions. Most of the group headed directly to Zurich where nine out of fourteen of us will fly out tomorrow. Five members are planning some additional traveling before returning home. I did not head directly to Zurich. Instead, Cat, Kevin, Kelsey, David and I took the train to Lugano and stored our bags in lockers. We then had lunch in the park and headed to the marina with a coffee stop along the way. We then rented a sailboat. David had made a reservation the last time we were in Lugano. Although our communication in Italian was pretty poor we negotiated the launching of the six man sailboat into the lake. It was a beautiful day and we all took turns participating in the sailing process. What a way to end the trip. Kevin and Kelsey were catching a 4:30 train so we brought the boat back at 3:30 and negotiated the removal of the sailboat from the water and storing it back in the marina with limited Italian. It was a bit of a race to the train station but we made it, while coming up with enough loose change to ride the funicular to the top. The Zurich train was delayed which worked out perfectly for Cat, David and I. Although I was exhausted I could not keep my eyes closed as I wanted to take in the Switzerland landscape one more time. We walked to the hostel where I am finishing this blog. Zurich is alive with action and people as the weather has finally turned here. I am glad to have some quiet time although I can hear the busy streets below. It has been an honor and a priviledge to come on this trip. From the time beforehand with my husband, to all I have learned, and to the wonderful friendships I have made. I am anxious to get home to my boys and I am ready too call it a night.
We enjoyed being with the Basel folks again today. After breakfast we met in our groups and continued our discussion. We broke for a coffee break a couple hours in and the met briefly as a whole group to learn the details about our visit to the Swiss Embassy in a couple of weeks. We met back in our group hashing out a skeleton of our presentation that we will continue to refine via Google Docs prior to our meeting in Blacksburg in a couple of weeks.
The Villa treated us again to a fabulous three-course lunch with asparagus salad, pasta, and fruit-compote with ice cream. I can’t say enough about the cooks and the Villa. We said our goodbyes to the Basel group as they headed back home and gathered our notes and thoughts together before our research topic meeting.
Each of us had picked a topic that directed our thoughts and questions as we visited different universities. Mine was about rewarding excellence in teaching. We gathered as a group and each of us had 15 minutes to present what we learned on our topic and have others give us feedback or add to the conversation on the topic. Although it took several hours, it was really fun to hear each of us share what we had learned.
We had planned on a closing reception together in the garden, but because of rain we met in the library room. It was bittersweet to reflect on our time together and for me especially. I was struck by the fact that after leaving this group I will no longer be a graduate student. It has served as my identity these last 5 years and I will be leaving that title with this trip. I walk into the unknown now. It has been an incredible journey where I have made life-long friends. It hasn’t been easy, but overall being a graduate student has been incredibly rewarding. We had another incredible dinner in the Villa and then it was time to celebrate our last night together. We headed to the local spot where on Wednesday nights they do karaoke. We had a blast singing, dancing and enjoying being together.
The students from the University of Basel arrived today so our morning started out with some free time to get ready for their arrival. We also will be presenting to our own group tomorrow about our research topics so the free time this morning was a blessing to get organized. It also gave me a chance to go for a nice long run along the lake. The beauty here is amazing and I have enjoyed getting a chance to take it in today. We met as a group for lunch and a meeting afterwards where we got to give Dean DePauw feedback on the trip. The Basel folks arriving at 2:30PM. We moved upstairs for a presentation by Dean DePauw getting us thinking about university and society. This is our topic for our presentation together at the Swiss Embassy.
After a coffee break in the garden we broke into three groups: university, society, and student. I was in the university group and therefore we talked about the role of the university and how that fits into society. We had really stimulating conversations as it is not very often you bring a group of bright minds together to talk about deep topics. After great conversation we moved into the Villa for a signing ceremony between the two groups about our collaboration. Then back into the garden for a wine and appetizer reception where we got to visit more with the Basel students.
Dinner deserves its own paragraph. We had dinner in the Villa and it was over the top. The starter was squid ink risotto with squid. Then we moved into the main course of sliced lamb with bacon wrapped potatoes and veggies. Dessert was mint ice cream. The Villa out did themselves. I called it a night after that relishing some quiet time although many of the Basal and VT students headed to the local spot for some more socializing.