Monthly Archives: May 2015

On the Eve of Departure

I am just under 36 hours from take-off towards Zurich and there are so many thoughts and feelings running around my head.

First and foremost I am excited. I have been to Europe twice before and love it. I am glad to be going back, learning more, and experiencing a new culture. Earlier in the semester we were asked to journal about our expectations and one of the things I ended up writing about was the food. Dean DePauw and Michael have been discussing the food in Switzerland a lot and I really look forward to enjoying that. In addition to new places and new foods, I look forward to the slight difference in the way foods are made in Europe. I have such clear memories of drinking Pepsi, eating Pringles, and Nutella while in Germany and how different they tasted. For Nutella in particular, how much better it tasted.

I look forward to spending time with and getting to know my colleagues better. We all come from different backgrounds and different disciplines, but have similar career goals. We will all have a unique perspective on our experiences.

We were each tasked with doing a little bit of research on one of the institutions we are visiting to share with the group prior to our arrival. I was doing my research the other day on University of Basel. The further I read, the more excited I got about all that they do and the structure of their university. I am really looking forward to seeing this particular institution and hearing about all that they do. I am hoping the practice is as strong as the websites make it sound.

In some ways I feel somewhat prepared for the culture I am entering into. Yes, Switzerland is unique and it’s own country and culture. Yet, just as there are influences from other areas in the U.S. and Blacksburg, there will be influences from other areas in Switzerland as well. The other countries I have been to are Germany and Italy. The regions of Switzerland we are visiting speak German or Italian. I am hoping that will help a little bit with culture shock. I grew up learning German and am fairly confident in my reading and comprehension of the language. However, if any of you have heard my stories about my time in Germany, hearing someone speak it does not always go well for me. It is where I discovered just how bad my hearing actually is and the fact that people speak quickly and mumble means I have that much more trouble understanding the spoken language.

I am also nervous as I prepare to embark on the trip. More than anything I am nervous about the first few hours in the country. I will be the first to land in Zurich and will need to get money, go through customs, and get to the hostel on my own. Or I just wait in the Zurich airport for others to land a few hours later. Part of why I am nervous about this is what I remember about the jet lag and lack of sleep when first landing in Germany and in Italy. I really hope I will be able to sleep on the flight to Zurich.

Today will be all about packing and trying to make sure I don’t forget anything. The goal is to get everything into a carry-on size suitcase and my travel backpack. That may be a challenge when it looks like it will be cool during the first leg of the trip, but you have no idea about the second half. I have done everything I need to for leaving work for a couple of weeks. And luckily I am not having to close-up a house or anything like that. That makes it just a little bit less stressful. It also keeps occurring to me that the last time I was in Europe, Internet and smartphones were not as good as they are now. I am much more confident that I will be able to keep up with things stateside if need be.

Final Reflections

I was traveling last weekend and had decided to bring with me Ann Patchett’s book of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I was on the plane flying back to Charlotte when I got to the essay, “Fact vs. Fiction.” It was originally her convocation speech to the Miami University of Ohio in 2005. The essay/speech began with discussing her best friend, whom she had met in college. About halfway through the essay/speech was when I got excited about this particular essay. Below is what she wrote:

“There are two kinds of educational experience you can have in college. One is passive and one is active. In the first, you are a little bird in the nest with your beak stretched open wide, and the professor gathers up all the information you need and drops it down your gullet. You may feel good about this–after all, you are passionately waiting for this information–but your only role is to accept what you are given. To memorize facts and later repeat them for a test might get you a good grade, but it’s not the same thing as having intellectual curiosity. In the second kind, you are taught to learn how to find the information, and how to think about it, for yourself. You learn how to question and engage. You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture….Everyone adds a chip of color to the mosaic and from there some kind of larger portrait begins to take shape.”

In many ways, this one paragraph summed up my teaching philosophy and many of our discussions in class this semester.

The essay/speech goes on to discuss how after you have forgotten the classes taken, the books read, the papers written, you remember the people you met while in school. As I reflect back on this course, I find that true. Though I have gotten to know many new people who I may not have encountered otherwise from across campus and that I did not get to know all, I know that through this course we have a large community of budding scholars and professors who are willing to think hard and work harder to progress higher education into the 21st century. I am excited to be the future of higher education with all of you.