The ups, the downs, the joys, the frowns… June 4th, 2008
So I’m not in a castle – technically it is a palace. In two days I’ll be in a castle. This won’t actually be posted until I get home because I forgot a thumb drive for my laptop, but know that as I type I am sitting at the top of a grand staircase in a comfy blue chair while the morning sun streams through the high paned windows. Britt Q, another author on the blog, will be spending her summer in this fantastic, if a bit drafty palace. Seriously, ladies and gentlemen…it is colder inside than it is outside. Watch for Britt Q’s postings as I’m sure they will be rife with grand descriptions of what she is seeing and doing.
As a reminder, my job is to blog on my internship. As a part of my internship we are required to post about our challenges and successes. I’ve opted to include them both in one blog and write them both while I am living my experience. It could be argued that giving more time for reflect would be a better choice but logistically, I need to do this while I am here because I won’t have time when I get home prior to commencement. Also, I feel there is merit in journaling about my experiences as they happen with my initial reflections. There is something very honest about this style of reflecting…more raw than if I were to reflect well after the experience. I’m sure in those reflections I will learn more and be able to apply my experiences in different ways but I am excited to share with you the “as I live and think them” experiences.
This is my second day here and later we are off to Edinburgh today for free time. Having been before I am excited to go back. We had an orientation to the Wisconsin in Scotland program (tune in to Britt’s postings for more depth) yesterday and took a long walk on the estate which is Patty’s (our hosts) cure to warding off jet lag – I think she is just cruel but it worked to some degree so I can’t really whine too much. Thus far the most challenging part of the experience has been discovering my own identity within this group. I am the only person from Oregon State and one of only two people on a trip of 28 who is a single (not here with someone from their institution). My own identity is tied very closely to my job and “my place” wherever I live. That has been thrown for a complete loop as I am no longer the RD (ironically I have heard me refer to myself as an RD to other people no less than four times – it’s almost as if I am reaffirming my own identity to myself) and I have no place at this point in time. It’s been challenging at some points – when we arrived at our gate in Detroit everyone sat together – except me. I felt very alone and yet instead of getting up to move I remained in my own seat. I’m going to own the introvert in me was out in full force. I really needed time to myself. Last night we walked into Dalkeith for dinner (I had fish and chips…of course!) and I felt myself gravitating to the extroverted personalities in our group so I know I am ready to begin to put myself out there more.
Part of the experience was an online portion of the class and I have to say I felt that to be a very disconnecting experience for me. People didn’t seem to write replies to things on blackboard, probably because most people saw each other every day in class, but for me it was the only way to really connect with people. I felt somewhat disenfranchised from the group upon arrival and now I am beginning to feel overwhelmed. Everyone’s names and institutions are a big blob of goo in my brain. I’ve gone from knowing everyone to knowing only me. It’s so odd to feel this way. I am normally a very confident individual but right now I feel like a little girl seeking approval. I know in the days to come I will settle in and find where I belong but right now, despite the fantastic learning experience this is, I just want to go home. No one ever has a pair of ruby slippers when I need one! J
Alnwick (pronounced Annick), England
So I’m over the homesickness and having an absolute wonderful time! We have been to Edinburgh University and Glasgow University (think Princeton and Stanford). We’ve talked to quite a wide variety of their student services professionals and I am seeing how different their philosophical underpinnings are from those in the United States. It is easy to get a little attitude about this and think we do a better job than they, but the reality is their retention and completion rates are phenomenal so something obviously works and works quite well. I notice in the group a general learning towards the familiar. That which is most like a US institution tends to be the one many people gravitate to while those institutions that have different values tend to be ones with whom people express dissatisfaction.
We had a fun conversation today (Alnwick is the site of the St. Cloud study abroad program) on the topic of student development theory. It was so good to talk theory again. I’ve missed that. Let it be known, missing theory is different than missing think cards…alumni and current students of CSSA will understand exactly what I am talking about. Of course, I stuck by the tried and true…Jones and McEwen. Seriously, I can make the MDI work for anything. *sigh* LOVE it!
It was interesting to hear of some of the challenges of running this type of program and some of the things Wade (our host) deals with on a daily basis. I think, having heard him speak, I have ruled out this as a functional area for my future. I believe in service learning, passionately, and think service trips abroad are a fantastic way to integrate learning into action and help develop a globally competent student and I would be excited and honored to lead these…I just don’t think I want to live abroad and coordinate semester long programs. Woof!
I just felt the need to write someone while in Cambridge. I don’t have much to say but I’m sitting here in one of the premiere schools in the world and it seemed stupid not to sit down and write something. Today has been an enlightening experience. We met with two gentlemen who serve as both professors and tutors (the equivalent of advisors in the US). They also work on the admissions team. I’ve often thought of Cambridge as a stuffy, elitist school and in my mind elitist meant white. But it meant intentionally white – preventing anyone from a different race or ethnic background access to the same system as a white person would have. This, I discovered, is a very American lens to bring to a situation…in some ways. For example, Cambridge could really care less what color your skin is; they were quite clear on this point. Grades are all that matter to them. If a person doesn’t not have top notch grades they have no prayer of admittance to Cambridge. They were almost proud of the fact race played no part in their admissions one way or the other…until it was pointed out that even in the UK those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are statistically still those of non-Caucasian heritage and that people living in those conditions do not have the same access to educational opportunities as those with comfortable means of sustaining themselves. It doesn’t matter to them…the standards have been set for Cambridge and it is what it is. This is something that is going to require more thought and reflection on my part before I can draw a conclusion.
Tomorrow I head for home. This has been a wonderful experience and now I am ready to go home, see my puppy, sleep in my own bed, and sit down in a restaurant and be served ice water automatically.
Below are two things I have continued to think about since our first days in the country that I think will end up as most influential in this learning experience. Please know that these only reflect the professional things I am mulling about at the moment – I experienced key personal growth as well but am not prepared to delve into that at this time – we fly out in 11 hours and I don’t have enough time!
· The salience of identities are irrevocably linked with the transitions a person experiences.
· Student Affairs in the United States seems to come with a “group think” notion. We do things very similar from institution to institution and I think shared values can become a rut (it did for me). It’s good to take a step back and see what other countries are doing to remind ourselves of how different success can look.
It’s nice to be home. This experience has been great for me to look in depth at my own dualistic tendencies and see the world beyond Oregon State University and American Higher Education. Being thrown into a situation where my identity within the group was undefined has been fascinating to look at from the perspective of a woman fascinated by identity development. My own identity has been clarified in some ways for me and is very murky in others because of this experience. Certain identities are definitely more salient here than they were abroad just as certain identities in the UK were almost entirely new to me. All in all this has been a fantastic capstone experience for me and look forward to, in the coming months and years, uncovering more and more about this experience that has relevance to my philosophies and values surrounding Student Affairs and therefore impacts my practice.