Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 7: The adventure continues

It was hard to believe our week was over.  The farewell dinner was bittersweet as I realized we would never be able to replicate this experience.  What I said at the dinner was true, when I see my cohort it feels like being reunited with family.  Our dinner was delicious, but I was so tired, I was not good company.  The highlight of that evening was seeing all the World Cup revelry as we walked back to our room.  Honestly seeing an entire city united around one purpose was so cool.  You could hear the entire town cheer or groan.  It was great!  I think I am going to pull for the Netherlands to win the World Cup!

For Chris and I, our trip was not quite over.  We had a late flight from Amsterdam to Dublin and a layover day in Dublin.  I have to say though, if I had it to do over again, I would be heading straight home at this point.  I did enjoy our Saturday morning in Leiden. We went into a windmill, strolled through a small street market close to our hotel, and then walked into the center of town for the real market.  The market in Leiden has been taking place in that very location for over 800 years!  It was truly a site to see.  Stalls as far as the eye could see selling everything you could imagine.  We sampled some of the freshest and tastiest fruit I have ever eaten, bought some cheese, and were generally amazed and entertained by the vastness of the market.  It was like a portable Wal-Mart. 

All too soon it was time to head to the airport.  I could have spent more time Leiden.  I think it was my favorite place we visited.  It felt like a college town.  Dublin was ok, but honestly I was so ready to be home.  I am so grateful for this opportunity.  The entire trip I kept thinking how I would never have come to these places on my own.  Not only did exploring other universities expand my perspective as an administrator, but also the simple act of traveling to a completely different place expands my perspective as a person.  I missed my boys so much though.  There is no real way to describe the way I felt when I saw those smiles welcoming us back home. 

Day 6: Leiden University

Our earliest morning yet!  We headed back to the Netherlands and Leiden University at 7:15.  I think the entire bus took a nap as we made our way there.  I was surprised when we pulled up to a very modern looking area and found this was where our hotel was located.  Our rooms weren't ready so after checking our bags we set out walking to the school.  The modern area gave way to a gorgeous Dutch town that was everything I had expected to see in the Netherlands and more.  Leiden if everything Amsterdam is not.  We walked a good ways until we were met on the street by dapper little man named Peter.  It turns out he was our host and he began to talk the second we met.  He did not stop they entire time we were together.  Honestly, he was one of the highlights of the visit and I am really sad I did not get a photo of him.

Leiden is steeped in history and is the oldest university in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in Europe.  The immense pride of earning the University by withstanding a long siege is evident.  A shocking feature of the tour was the amount of space that appears to go unused.  I think we were all in awe of the lush conference rooms and the regalia storage!  I loved that Leiden is still so steeped in tradition, and we got to see the sweating room, signing wall, and the master of ceremonies.

After a most extensive tour of the main vicinity of the campus and a thorough but condensed history of the Netherlands all from my new friend Peter.  We went to the faculty dining room for lunch with some administrators and graduate students.  I was seated next to Peter and while we didn't discuss higher education, I did get some insight into the life of a Dutch administrator and the tax rates in the Netherlands.  The funniest moments of the entire trip occurred next when Peter determined we were going to see the Pilgrim memorial placard (a word he kept looking to me for) regardless of the fact Ingeborg had completely different plans set with student tour guides.  We went to the pilgrim memorial.

As our sweet, collegiate tour guides attempted to show us around they were frequently interrupted or corrected by Peter.  It was so funny.  The students were hospitable and were studying history.  Unlike American students, they were not overly concerned with what job this degree might land them.  At last our tour took us to the student center.  The service concept was over the top and I cannot imagine the sense of entitlement our students would feel if we ran this way.  It is an interesting concept though.

The Student Center completed our tour of Leiden and we strolled back to the hotel.  Chris was waiting for me and even though I was totally exhausted we hit the town.  We went to the old Roman fort which Chris had scoped out while riding bikes earlier.  It was really neat and offered breath-taking views of the city.

Pretty soon it was time to meet up for our farewell dinner.

Day 5: Kent at Brussels

Up bright and early to bus to Brussels.  The co-hort is a little bummed that we will only have 2 and a half hours in Brussels. Last night, I spoke to Ingeborg about extending our time and she stated that was impossible.  I must admit the schedule at this point has become a little tedious.  I think this is exascerbated by the fact Chris is getting to see twice the sights.  I have remind myself I am not here as a tourist, but knowing that I will likely not pass this way again makes it hard not to get frustrated.  It was nice to catch a little cat nap on the bus, but the traffic was horrific. 

Once we finally arrived at the University of Kent, Brussels campus we were ushered into a computer lounge/ student area.  The site is located in an office park which made me think of some of the for-profit institutions in the States, and the suite does feel more officey rather than scholastic.  The talks took place in a separate classroom.

We were introduced to the two chief administrators, and learned a good deal about the University of Kent located in Canterbury in addition to the Brussels Center.  They make a purposeful distinction between campuses and centers.  The University has chose several of these sites based on their locations for intensive graduate experiences.  Brussels was chosen for the political entities (NATO, the Head of the EU, and more lobbies than Washington D.C.).  They have other sites in Greece and Paris for archeology and art respectively.

The challenges of running an off-site location in a different country are fascinating.  Also interesting were the hoops the institution jumped through to appease other entities i.e. FAFSA regualtions.  The mean age of the student is 28 with 30% coming from the U.S., 40% from Europe, and the rest from other parts of the world.  The Master's degree can be earned in twelve months and the cost is 16,500 Euros.  This is signifigant beccause most other schools do not charge for a Master's.

One of most impactful statements made during the talk was the importance of "managing expectations" with new students.  They feel that is the way to break down entitlement. I will take that statement with me and use it frame the work I do in student services. 

We went on to talk about the British funding model for higher education, which is evolving.  The Brits have moved from a block funding model to a full time enrollment model with student loans.  These loans are very similar to those in the Netherlands with no payback until a baseline income is reached.  The loans are forgiven after 30 years.  Currently there has been no change in enrollment.

After a lunch of heavy hors d'oeurvers, we finally got to see Brussels.  It was another unexpectedly hot day and there were so many people in the city.  Knowing we only had two hours made it difficult to decide what to do.  I wished I had made a plan for seeing the most important things in the city.  We took the short walk to the mannequin pis, which I must admit was so much smaller and less impressive than I had expected.  The town square was everything I had imagined.  We wandered somewhat aimlessly through the streets, sampled local delicacies, and bought some chocolate. 


Day Four: U Ghent

I felt like an elementary schooler as we were led to the tram with Matt bringing up the rear so as not to lose anyone.  As the University of Ghent is an urban campus, it was difficult to know what was the school and what was not.  When we arrived, we were led into a much more welcoming space than Utrecht.  The building was well lit and there were several art displays.  The room our session was held in was top notch as well.  When we walked in, I felt like I was at a meeting room in the United Nations!  The refreshments were top notch as well, and the cold sodas were a most welcome site!  Our hostess was extremely warm and gracious, and her work in policy advisement sounds really interesting.  Turns out we had presentations from five different presenters on various topics.

The University has had tremendous growth in enrollment over the past fifteen years, with a particular spike in doctoral students.  The history of the institution's language evolution is fascinating, and the fact that the language used is law demonstrates what a significant issue this is.  I found the influence of the Germans around the time of WWII especially interesting.

As the presenters began to talk, so many of the challenges discussed mirrored problems in American higher education.  I laughed out loud when they referenced a strategic plan that no one used, but was elaborately crafted.  Another funny moment was when the statement was made that they have a lot of meetings because they have a lot of ideas.

The cost of attendance is 600 Euros for most students, but only 80 Euros for students from developing countries.  Students enter with a "backpack" of credits that cannot be replenished if students do not succeed, but can be added to with success.  It almost reminds me of a video game, the better you do the more tools you are awarded to do even better.  However, the school is committed to access and any student who completes a college prepatory program in high school is guaranteed admission.  Direct admission to a master's program once the bachelor's is complete is also policy.

A theme of pre-entrance counseling is starting to emerge.  Both schools we have visited so far put a vast amount of effort into guiding entering students into the right program of study prior to enrollment.  Additionally, prior to enrollment the schools try to insure students know what it will mean to study at university.  I found this especially interesting because the model in America different.  Students are, for the most part, allowed to chart their own course when it comes to the programs they wish to pursue.  And we begin the process of making sure they know what they are getting into one week before classes begin.  This fact really struck me of all the things we learned on our trip.

Just when we thought out minds could not absorb any more information, their finance guy presented.  Mind blown!!!  Every aspect of funding is formulaic from the government down to hiring in the departments.  The system used for hiring is based on points with every department allocated a certain amount that the department can decide what to do with.  The method of calculating these points is incredibly complex including determining whether or not the candidate has children!  At first it seemed that those with children were paid more, but as I asked more questions and found it is more of a tax break.

Lastly, a very passionate presenter talked to us about access and the social responsibility of higher education.  He had a lot to say and his zeal for creating access for and identifying marginalized populations (not necessarily races) was obvious.

Just when we thought our time at UGhent was over, it was time to have dinner in the student dining hall.  The choices were plated on a table as you went in.  I chose the Salmon, which was really very good.  The strangest thing was the portion size.  At our dining hall they are really big on food waste and I have to ask for more than two chicken strips, and here there was enough for at least two people.  No worries though, we were soon to walk it off as we climbed the 532 steps to the historic and iconic book tower.  We were all confident at the outset, but half way up we were wondering what on Earth we were thinking!!!  At the end of the climb the view and the history of the top floor was well worth the climb.  The room was the Nazi headquarters during the occupation so they could have a the best view of their surroundings! 

We trammed back to the hotel and then the majority of us headed to St. Bazo's cathedral to see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb as featured in the movie Monuments Men.  It was exquistie and so was the cathedral.  We then met up for a canal tour.  The boat was much small than those in Amsterdam, but we squeezed in and enjoyed ourselves as we so often do! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Day Three: Utrecht

All aboard the bus to Utrecht.  We rolled out nice and early to visit our first campus.  This modern looking University was not really what I had expected.  First of all sheep grazing between two huge modern buildings was almost comical.  Secondly, the campus had the appearance of an industrial park rather than a school.  Upon entering the academic building, the industrial feeling increased exponentially.  All I could think was what a depressing, ugly building.  Later we were told the building was built as a temporary location, but that was twenty plus years ago.

In the class room we learned more about the institution and that there is no air conditioning.  Utrecht has every discipline except engineering, and is particularly proud of its Veterinary program, the only one in the Netherlands.  The tuition for all European Union schools is 2300 Euros a year and for non EU students it is 8,000 to 12,000.  Interestingly, prior to the Bologna agreement, no student left university without a Master's degree.  Even though students can now technically graduate with a Bachlor's degree they are not prepared to enter the job market.  Another interesting development is the shift from a national grant program to a student loan model.  These loans are currently most generous with no interest and repayment required only if you are earning minimum wage, and you have 35 years to pay them back.  Our speaker feels this will impact student behaviors, but with rates like that what might change?

The school is focusing on improving retention rates.  New students must earn 45 out of 60 credits and if they do not they must leave Utrecht and cannot return in the same program.  Student discipline is not handled by the institution, and when asked how issues are dealt with the simple answer was "call the police".  This led to the most interesting revelation of the entire visit.  Our speaker, Arjan VanVeilt admitted to a growing frustration with parents and increases in liability lawsuits.  He then stated he hopes they don't become like the U.S. 

At last we broke for lunch, which ironically enough was services by Sydexo.  The lunch was, what we would come to learn as the standard in this part of the world, soup and very bread heavy sandwiches.  Water, orange juice, and milk were our beverage choices though we were all dying for some caffeine!  Like any busy university dining hall, the space was bustling and noisy. This made it very hard to hear the student who sat at our table.

Ingeborg 2 walked us around campus and then the old city.  We did not have much time in the city of Utrecht, which was beautiful, and shortly after our tour began it started to rain.  When we met up at our rally point, Tony and Lori had found a Belgian fry shop which meant a detour for several of us.  The fries were well worth the trek and we enjoyed them on the long bus ride to Ghent.

Rounding the corner and seeing Ghent for the first time took my breath away.  The old city is stunning.  We were not terribly hungry but since it was our anniversary we made our way into town for a small bite to eat and a champagne toast.
 As we walked back to the room, we decided we could actually make room for this...

Speaking of rooms, our hotel is phenomenal.  I was more than excited to take a shower and relax in the spa quality robe.  Another early morning, so time for lights out!

Day Two-School's In

Oh yeah, we are here for class...Today was back to reality as we started the day with presentations about the countries and schools we were visiting.  True to form, Co-hort VIII started right in with questions and discussion.  Never mind the fact that the world-class city of Amsterdam was right outside our door!

 So one hour behind schedule, Chris and I headed to the Rijksmuseum to take in the Dutch masters.  Seeing works from Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Rembrandt all under one roof seemed like the most efficient way to experience the art of the Netherlands.  After that, we headed for a canal tour.  We bought some Gouda, sausages, Proseco for me, and a beer for Chris and felt most privileged as we cruised along.
 One of the most interesting things about the cruise was spotting a gentleman in a "Southern Proper" baseball cap.  "Southern Proper" is an apparel company founded by a Brenau alum and Board of Trustees member, Emy Howard.  I surreptitiously snapped a photo of the gentleman and cannot wait to show it to Emy.

After our canal tour, we walked and walked and walked some more.  We decided to turn in early for the 8:00am start on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day 1: Are we there yet???

  We traveled for days and days to arrive in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Well, that is a slight exaggeration, but by the time we sat down for this beer and some local cheese it felt like it.  We began out journey with a ten hour drive to Orlando, where we flew out of to facilitate childcare.  Bright and early the next morning we caught our flight for Amsterdam via New York and Dublin.  A train and tram ride later and we were finally at our hotel. What a joy to see the familiar faces of cohort VIII on the connecting flight and crossing the street in front of the hotel.
  My first impression of Amsterdam is, "Holy Bicycles", I nearly got run over several times before figuring out the sidewalk/bike lane set up.  After lots of walking around taking in the sights we found an Indonesian place for dinner.  Research told me Indonesian cuisine in the Netherlands was very popular dues to the Dutch colonization of that area.  We tried a rijsttafel, a uniquely dutch dish that allows you to sample many dishes at once.  The food quality was excellent , but Indonesian just wasn't our thing.
  Sunday morning we set out in search of a Mass.  Our search was unsuccessful, but we did end up touring the Oude Kirk, a stunning old church that now serves as a museum.  The church was once Roman Catholic and evidence of the destruction that occurred during the reformation was plain to see.  Not to mention we quickly discovered we were walking over tombs in the floor of the church.  Next we toured the Heineken factory, and many of the other wonderful sights of the city.  At last it was time to meet for dinner and get this educational journey started!