Global Perspectives: Leg 2

Zurich->Basel->Strasbourg->Basel->Riva S. Vitale->Milan->Belenzona->Lugano->Riva S. Vitale

My arrival in Zurich on the morning of May 26th marked the official beginning of the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) and my exploration of European systems of higher education.  My bike, kit, and sleeping bag were stowed safely in the basement of hotel St. Joseph.  My bags were repacked to expose the khakis, collared shirts, and dress shoes I would be needing for the next week and a half.  And after a hot shower, good deal of scrubbing, and a quick nap it became hard to tell that I had just spent a week traveling by bike through the rain in Bayern.

The program consisted of 13 participants, Justin Shanks (logistical guru), and Dean Karen DePauw (Mastermind of the program).  I was the second youngest of the team at 24 years old and one of the two master’s students represented in the group.  The majority of the team was comprised of Doctoral candidates and Post-Docs from a wide range of departments at Virginia Tech and none of us except perhaps Justin and Dean DePauw knew in full the amazing journey we were about to embark upon.   Sunday was devoted to sharing our goals, transitioning, and preparing for the pace of the program.

Over the next 11 days we traveled Switzerland, France, and Italy by train, bus, and foot in search of a more global perspective on higher education.  We learned that an international perspective is a limited viewpoint.  What we were looking for was something bigger, something more holistic, something more relevant in today’s interconnected society.  Being in such communicative proximity with all our neighbors now more than ever makes having a global perspective important as we try to make sense of the impacts our decisions will ultimately make on those around us.

Our meetings with students, staff, and Rectors from more than eight universities and intense interactions with the students from the University of Basel helped to shape these new perspectives.  The informal interactions that arose during meals, down time, and personal excursions added to the depth and power of the program as each of the participants were allowed to explore their own passions.

What I learned more than anything is that each system is unique, they each have their own focus, strengths, and weaknesses.  None of these characteristics make any one system particularly better or worse than another.  They just make them different.  They simply challenge you to examine them, without comparing, from a vantage point that is different from any you have previously stood upon.  These explorations let us—the participants of the program—return to our own system with a new set of experiences and a more holistic understanding of the global system we are all a part of.  We can then examine our own system through a newly crafted lens.  One that might allow us to more effectively adapt our own systems to the quickly changing and continuously evolving world we live in.

The expeditionary part of the program came to an end before you realized what happened and each participant trickled away from the Villa in in their own ways.  It had been a place and a space with a feeling of home.  I left with a sense of awe at what we had seen and experienced, a sense of gratitude towards those who accompanied me on that journey, and a sense of respect for each participant’s ability to teach, share, and live as a tight knit community for the time we were together.  I learned a great deal, met some amazing people, and could not have imagined a better way to spend the beginning of the summer of 2013.  Thank you.

For anyone interested a more detailed description of my journeys explore: leg 1 and leg 3.

Professor for one year (week 10): I’m substituting

My current job title in English is "Acting Professor", although I'm not sure if this is correct and what impression people have when they read it.  The German term is "Vertretungsprofessorin", showing my gender, confirming that Germans love compounds, and providing a precise job description, all at the same time.  One also finds this position translated as "Guest Professor" or "Visiting Professor".  However, these two are different as the guest or visiting professor can choose on their own what to teach, a "Vertretungsprofessor" teaches the courses the professor she substitutes for would have taught.  The term "Substituting Professor" seems to cover the duties, but reads rather odd.

I guess, "Vertretungsprofessor" is a rather European or even German concept.  When a professor cannot teach, someone else with equivalent qualifications is substituting for her.  This can be rather planned for professors on sabbatical or for the period after a professor retires and before a new one has been chosen.  Sometimes you can even apply to substitute, because there will be an official advertisement.  Most of the time, the person substituting for a professor will be contacted directly.  So one should have a good network, have an uptodate website, and be prepared to teach something new on short notice.  There are also rather unplanned occasions, when a professor get's seriously ill or even dies, when a professor applies for some kind of sabbatical that might or might not be accepted, or when a professor accepts a new position at another university on short notice.

Several concepts exists how substituting works: Other faculty members or staff members teach single courses as additional teaching load to their regular classes.  Sometimes a course is taught by an external or internal lecturer who is paid for this course as an adjunct lecturer. So the teaching load of the professor is split up between several lecturers.  It's not uncommon in Germany that adjunct lecturers get paid rather symbolically, the paiment is a few dozen Euros per hour taught, i.e., excluding time needed for preparation, grading assignments, or answering students' questions. 

The fact that another researcher -- who in principle would be eligible for professorship -- acts for the professor on sabbatical, is rather special.  The substitute does not only do the teaching, but also overtakes all duties and responsibilities like supervising masters' theses, grading final exams, and attending meetings.  However, most of the time the substitute gets paid according to the PostDoc scale -- i.e., according to the current status of the substituting person.  The University of Konstanz pays acting professors according to the salary scale of the professor who is substituted for.  This is rather unusual, I guess.

However, I'm still a PostDoc, I'm not a regular Professor and I'm not allowed to use this title.  In some occasions a researcher substituting for a professor might even be allowed to use the title during the time they substitute.

Professor for one year (week 10): I’m substituting

My current job title in English is "Acting Professor", although I'm not sure if this is correct and what impression people have when they read it.  The German term is "Vertretungsprofessorin", showing my gender, confirming that Germans love compounds, and providing a precise job description, all at the same time.  One also finds this position translated as "Guest Professor" or "Visiting Professor".  However, these two are different as the guest or visiting professor can choose on their own what to teach, a "Vertretungsprofessor" teaches the courses the professor she substitutes for would have taught.  The term "Substituting Professor" seems to cover the duties, but reads rather odd.

I guess, "Vertretungsprofessor" is a rather European or even German concept.  When a professor cannot teach, someone else with equivalent qualifications is substituting for her.  This can be rather planned for professors on sabbatical or for the period after a professor retires and before a new one has been chosen.  Sometimes you can even apply to substitute, because there will be an official advertisement.  Most of the time, the person substituting for a professor will be contacted directly.  So one should have a good network, have an uptodate website, and be prepared to teach something new on short notice.  There are also rather unplanned occasions, when a professor get's seriously ill or even dies, when a professor applies for some kind of sabbatical that might or might not be accepted, or when a professor accepts a new position at another university on short notice.

Several concepts exists how substituting works: Other faculty members or staff members teach single courses as additional teaching load to their regular classes.  Sometimes a course is taught by an external or internal lecturer who is paid for this course as an adjunct lecturer. So the teaching load of the professor is split up between several lecturers.  It's not uncommon in Germany that adjunct lecturers get paid rather symbolically, the paiment is a few dozen Euros per hour taught, i.e., excluding time needed for preparation, grading assignments, or answering students' questions. 

The fact that another researcher -- who in principle would be eligible for professorship -- acts for the professor on sabbatical, is rather special.  The substitute does not only do the teaching, but also overtakes all duties and responsibilities like supervising masters' theses, grading final exams, and attending meetings.  However, most of the time the substitute gets paid according to the PostDoc scale -- i.e., according to the current status of the substituting person.  The University of Konstanz pays acting professors according to the salary scale of the professor who is substituted for.  This is rather unusual, I guess.

However, I'm still a PostDoc, I'm not a regular Professor and I'm not allowed to use this title.  In some occasions a researcher substituting for a professor might even be allowed to use the title during the time they substitute.

THREE KEYWORDS TO BOSTON

Boston Tastes Delicious 
 
We bought cupcakes (chocolate and coffee, cookies & cream) at Newbury Street. The pastries did not only look stunning but also tasted delicious. We hope that we are given the opportunity to eat more of them...
 
 
 
Boston Sounds Special
 
We saw a special musical instrument at Harvard Square Station. Not only cars are larger than in Switzerland but also tubas. We hope that we are given the opportunity to see more of them...
 


 
Boston Thinks Green
 
We threw our trash into a trash can that is powered by solar energy. A great idea to compact remains of all kinds. We hope that we will be inspired on our journey many more times...
 


THREE KEYWORDS TO BOSTON

Boston Tastes Delicious 
 
We bought cupcakes (chocolate and coffee, cookies & cream) at Newbury Street. The pastries did not only look stunning but also tasted delicious. We hope that we are given the opportunity to eat more of them...
 
 
 
Boston Sounds Special
 
We saw a special musical instrument at Harvard Square Station. Not only cars are larger than in Switzerland but also tubas. We hope that we are given the opportunity to see more of them...
 


 
Boston Thinks Green
 
We threw our trash into a trash can that is powered by solar energy. A great idea to compact remains of all kinds. We hope that we will be inspired on our journey many more times...
 


Back to Blacksburg

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!

This Day Came Too Soon

***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!

-Ken

Day 23- June 7th “Going Home”

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.

Day 22- June 6th

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.