I survived last night. It was touch and go for a few moments, but we made it safely to the top of a mountain for dinner. The dinner was wonderful. The company was great. The view was spectacular.
First we started out with our own private van to take us to dinner. A large passenger mini-bus to hold 20 people. Hopefully this will provide a good mental image of our transportation. Keep this image in mind.
We began traveling through Riva well enough, however soon we began climbing up, up, up a mountain. The little narrow road had so many tight switchback it made the crooked road of Highway 8 seem like slight curves.
Next we made a quick stop to pick up our dinner guest, Lucy Ferrari. She is one of the benefactors of the Steger Center Villa where we have been staying. Mrs. Ferrari is so interesting and shared great stories about how the Villa came to Virginia Tech.
Then the true death-defying driving began. We came into this small mountain town. The tunnels and houses were just barely wide and tall enough to allow us to pass. BARELY. Imagine as you pass by a building, seeing all the scrapes and dings were previous travelers did not go through unscathed. We passed through and the walls were merely inches from my window. It was like the scene in one of the Harry Potter films where the double decker bus squeezed into the narrow passage between two other busses. I held my breath.
The view made up for it, especially at night. You could even see an Italian town in the valley. Dinner with Mrs. Ferrari was a joy and her stories were fascinating.
The trip down…well, that is another tale for another time. Nevertheless, we all returned safely.
The bells are chiming and lunch will be served soon, so I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts before we head out on some new adventures this afternoon and evening. Two points I want to make with this moment of reflection.
First, so many of my initial thoughts on education, educational systems, and context that brings us to understand these things have shifted. Being in Switzerland, France, and Italy has given me a different perspective on the ways in which we educate our people. I am happy to see how valued the vocational tracks are and that they have a different route of education. We need more of that in the US, in my opinion.
Second, exposure to different cultures has made such a big impact on me. Not just being around someone from a different culture, rather being submerged in a different culture to witness things through the eyes of the stranger has given me a whole different outlook. It seems that it was such a short while ago when I was contemplating my application and now I sit today in a library/study in a villa in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland typing this post as I look out on the beautiful gardens through the window. The view of the Swiss mountains in the distance remind me of the distance I have traveled; both physically and mentally while on this study abroad.
I am so thankful for this experience as it has brought me precisely what I have needed to shift my thoughts and perspectives on higher education. One thing I know for sure is that I will forever be altered because of this experience. Enhanced in so many ways. So I send a BIG thank you to Dean Karen DePauw for selecting me out of the many who applied.
The bells are chiming and I hear the clanking of dishes, so I must be off! Lunch, a debriefing meeting, and adventure awaits! Chao!
Friday we visited Politecnico do Milano in Milan, Italy. One of the things I was most impressed with was the Polisocial, which is the social responsibility the school encorages. This is public education as a public good at its best.
Not only do our counterparts at PoliMi offer a fantastic education, but like us VT Hokies they are about service. Our motto is Ut Prosim, which is Latin for “that I may serve”. At PoliMi they use their knowledge to help serve and educate others.
I learned how this school takes their knowledge and training to other areas in the community or other parts of the world. Not only do they share their information, but they learn about what is needed in those local regions. They work to find what is needed, work with the local experts, and train them in the shared knowledge to help solve the various community needs.
I so appreciate how this community of learners is encouraged to share knowledge. This is service to others. It makes me glad to know that we have a relationship with this school and are like minded in serving others. So, my post is titled Ut Prosem Italian style!
With such historical cities and towns that we have visited or trained through, it seems that every one has a church, chapel, or town hall with a bell tower. The Swiss are known for their punctuality and precision. Churches were the meeting places and epicenter of the city. The church bells would chime to call for various reasons. Ringing would signal the time, could call the town people to services, celebrate events or holidays, and alert of emergencies.
Today, they may not always be the hub of the city, but they still sing their glorious songs daily. Every city we have visited so far in Switzerland I always hear the bells. They make me feel warm and comfortable, because the chimes remind me of my childhood. Where I grew up there was a nearby historical plantation that had a bell tower which would chime every hour. The bells make me think about playing in the woods with neighborhood friends . I go back in my head and heart to when life was simpler and many of my lost loved ones were still alive. It was nice to think of such a wonderful things from home in a land far away.
While here at the Villa in Riva San Vitale, four of us get to stay in an apartment in the old historical church. We get to hear the bells up close and personal whenever we are in our rooms. It is quite loud but we are growing accustom to the ringing multiple times an hour.
The bells ring. They are timeless. The bells have been ringing all these many years. Can you hear the bells?
Switzerland has many lovely fountains scattered all through the cities I have been in so far. There are other fountains that are basic and utilitarian. Each one you are able to fill your drinking bottle from the spout that is pouring the water into the fountain. From these fountains you can get the refreshing and clear alpine water straight from the source. It is even better than the tap water.
Since traveling through London and Paris, I have discovered that public water fountains or “bubblers” are few and far between. I am getting spoiled in having such access to this amazing liquid whenever my water bottle gets low or empty. Yesterday as we left Basel for Strasbourg, France, I remembered that there are not accessible water fountains in Paris and I assumed that there may be a similar situation in Strasbourg. I was sure to fill my bottle full as possible before boarding the train.
True to form, there were no fountains to be seen in the Strasbourg in all the places I visited. When we were visited before the trip by the GPP alumni, several people stated to be sure to drink the water there and you would always miss that water once you are gone. Taking one day in France away from the beloved fountains proved this to be true!
I am now considering a campaign for some prettier water fountains at VT…or at least creating an esthetic fountain in my own living space.
Today was the second day in our meetings with the GPP cohort. We visited the University of Basel this morning. Our schedule has been so full and time has doubled since we started that it I find it difficult to keep up with everything! I want to write everything down and keep track of the people we have met and the places we have seen. I want to take pictures so I can capture just the smallest glimpses of what all I am seeing, so I can revisit when I get the opportunity to slow down. This will probably happen once I have returned home and get caught up on sleep! I only hope that I can recall what all I have seen, heard and done while on this whirl-wind tour.
One thing that was mentioned today, as we stood in the courtyard of the amazing original town hall in Basel, was how we as future professors will be charged with figuring out how we can keep doctorate degrees current and relevant in the 21st century. Although I know that may have been a comment casually tossed out to be something to be provocative or inspire a different way of looking at how things are done, it left an impression on me.
Only a few minutes before, I had been enjoying a stroll through the market just outside of this historic location looking around while making sure my carmello gelato did not drip down my hand melting from the cone. I could almost feel the juxtaposition of these two moments in my life. It was a reminder that I will be starting my dissertation and research. While I know this will be something I will begin soon, I have taken a few moments to experience something different. Being in Basel taking in some sunshine and enjoying one slow moment in this study abroad was like knowing I will have a lot of work ahead of me, but not fully realizing the depth of what is to come.
That brief conversation in a court yard far away from home is a conversation I will revisit. A conversation I will continue regardless of my location.
Today I sit, on a bed in a hostel in Zurich, Switzerland. Tomorrow I will connect for our first official meeting with the Global Perspectives Group at the Hotel St. Josef and our orientation. Since Wednesday afternoon, me and two of my GPP cohort members set out on a quick (& I do mean quick) visit to London, England and Paris, France before taking a train to Zurich to meet up with the group.
This has been such a learning experience already. What a wonderful world this earth can be when we stop to appreciate the moments. I have no idea what all else will be in store, but let me share a few things of what I have learned already.
1. The middle seat in the economy class section is not conducive for sleep when you take a red eye flight and do not know your seat neighbors. What little sleep I did get gave me flashbacks to middle school when we had to put our heads down on our desks when the class was being a little disruptive.
2. Heathrow airport has hardworking immigration staff, but nothing can prepare you for the long line for this. Long, long, long. Like waiting on a ride at Disney World when you are 12 years old long. But we made it through. Plus the gentleman that helped me was quite nice.
3. London can be seen on rainy days. We walked and rode all over that city to see some sights. I think my step-tracker clocked me in at almost 21K steps!
4. Whilst I did not get to experience true British Fish & Chips, I learned that most food places we found closed much earlier than we thought. Nevertheless, ended up at a place right by our hostel and had the most helpful wait staff. The food was really great too.
5. Paris is a large city that can be overwhelming if you do not speak the language (which I don’t) or have not visited a major world city (which I have). I learned how brave people are when they visit, move, or work at places that are not their familiar or home countries. Especially those who have a language change on top of the cultural differences.
6. The Eiffel Tower is much taller in person. It felt surreal standing looking at the tower, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triumph in real life.
7. Regarding subways (or metros, or undergrounds) – public transportation in these cities rock! In London the overhead public announcement system reminded you to “Mind the gap” when stepping off the train and gave signs to show you the “Way Out”. In Paris, look for “Sortie” to help you exit back to the world on top of the streets.
8. I need to learn more languages. Just some basic attempts and little skills seem to really take you a good way. Even so, I need to learn more.
9. Hostels are interesting places if you have not had previous experience with dorm life or something of the like. We met some cool people overall.
10. Graffiti seems to be a form of art that crosses cultures, seas, oceans, and countries. It is evident and somewhat familiar where ever we went.
Finally and most importantly, I learned to be open. To new experiences. To forming new relationships. To opening your mind and heart. Just by taking that opportunity, you can see new things. You may even see old things in new ways.
Technically this is not the eve of my departure, but I wanted to be sure to capture my thoughts and current experiences on what will happen before I get so swept up in the urgency of packing! I leave this week on Wednesday for a brief stop in the UK and France before connecting up with the rest of the GPP group in Zurich on Sunday.
My thoughts…well they are currently a jumbled mess. I’m constantly thinking about what I need to do before I leave, while thinking about what all the business that needs to be taken care of to be sure my trip is successful. Mix that with the anxiety and excitement for the unknown. All on top of being a bit sad and upset that I most likely will not get in a visit with my family before I head out. I worry about when I’m away what my poor fur babies will think and will my partner remember to feed the dog and put fresh water down for them daily. I wonder how he will do with me being gone for awhile, although he needs to be studying for his big step one medical school exam coming up (so I’m a little glad to not be a distraction for his studying for a bit). And I am very thankful. Thankful that I have this incredible opportunity to be able to visit and learn at 8 different universities. Thankful I will meet some European counterparts to connect, discuss, and collaborate about higher education as a public good. Thankful I will get to see and explore some places that have been so very far away from me until now. Thankful for this blessing.
What I am hoping will happen is I will have such a rich experience and learn an immense amount about higher education from a global perspective. Then I hope to be able to translate that experience into something meaningful and purposeful to give back to others. Sharing this through my research, writing, and discussions on my experiences. I am hoping for that experience that will change me in great ways, challenge me to see things from a more broad perspective, and inspire me to think more about my legacy. Nothing to big. 🙂
Thanks to Dean Karen DePauw for making this program happen and including me in it! Mostly thank you for encouraging us to take a moment before our departures to think about this. It has been helpful to spend a few quiet moments in contemplation before the blur of the next moments before I fly away.
Stay tuned! I hope to share more information as I go along and as time permits. We have a busy schedule and I plan on spending more time absorbing my environment than having my hands on a keyboard or my eyes on a screen. Nevertheless, I will be doing what I can to share parts of my journey as it unfolds. Until then…. à bientôt (see you soon – in French!).
The semester has finally ended, I have completed the last of the assignments/exams, and I’m gearing up for some exciting things. First off, I’m attending graduation today to support one of my dear colleagues who will be officially “hooded” today and crowned Dr. I will also be there to support the counseling masters graduates whom I have walked with through their full journey. Way to go y’all!!
As for me, this marks my week away from heading out to Europe for my first adventures! Passport – check! Plane tickets – check! Train tickets – check! Still working on collecting my things and getting all the other necessaries together. I never realized the details that go into such a trip.
Needless to say, I’m excited; although I do still have some research to do for the meetings at all the universities. That is more fun research.
If you want to keep up with me or track the whole #GPPch17 group here is some ways to do so:
Our itinerary (a living document that is ever changing with our schedule).