This year, I could take part in the Global Perspectives Programme (sorry for the British spelling) — GPP2013 –, a joint program by the University of Basel and Virginia Tech. In Basel, we were 8 participants (mostly PhD students) from Chemistry, Law, Sports Medicine, and Computational Linguistics (that’s me). We met in March for a kick-off and started our social-media journey: setting up blogs, joining Facebook and LinkedIn groups, creating a Twitter account, becoming familiar with document sharing applications (Adam, a Moodle clone in Basel, and Scholar, a Sakai clone at Virginia Tech).
We subscribed to three groups working on aspects of this years topic “University and Society — Meeting expectations?” Those groups were formed by participants from Basel and Virginia Tech. However, we didn’t invest much in this groupwork before meeting in person when the Virginia Tech participants visited Switzerland in early June. They were based in Riva San Vitale (TI) and visited several universities in Switzerland, France (Strasbourg), and Italy (Milano). We could join them for two days in Riva San Vitale, got to know each other, and started exploring the topic. Similar to us, the US participants came from different scientific fields and were at different stages in their academic career — there was no postdoc, though.
In the middle of June, we flew to Boston to start our visit of US institutions of Higher Education. An two days in Boston, we visited Northeastern University, Boston College, swissnex (where we met James Hanson from Harvard), and the MIT. On the evening of the second day, we were supposed to travel to Blacksburg. However, due to bad weather conditions, our flight was delayed and we spent a few hours at a bar at the Boston airport before taking the last flight to Charlotte. We slept a few hours in a motel and then took the first flight to Roanoke Regional Airport — of course we couldn’t access our luggage, so we had to come up with innovative solutions for cleaning contact lenses and brushing teeth.
Our colleagues from VT picked us up at the airport and gave us a ride to Blacksburg. I guess nobody slept in the vans, we chatted a few hours and arrived at the campus quite exhausted and looking for a shower. However, we started exploring the campus immediately, looking at student housing, meeting with faculty, and trying to make a good impression. In the afternoon we visited the New River Community College and then we headed back to the VT campus to finally get a shower and dress up for the formal reception.
We started the next day with a working breakfast, discussing how to present group work outcomes at the Swiss embassy in Washington, D.C. at the end of the day. Then we took the vans again to go to Washington, D.C, and to visit two other universities on the way: George Mason University and Virginia University. More and more, the journey turned into an academic bootcamp: We had less and less time to meet with faculty at each station — and thus needed to shorten our introductions and ask short and precise questions — and finally we dressed for the formal reception at the Air and Space Smithsonian (we could take part in welcoming the crew of the Solar Impuse who had almost finished their journey across America a few days before) within 15 minutes on the George Mason parking lot. And I think we all looked great and behaved well!
The next morning, our colleagues from VT drove us to the Swiss embassy in Washington, D.C., where we presented the outcomes of our group work and posed some answers and even more questions to the audience. We had a lively discussion during this official session and then we had lunch at the embassy. It was very nice to continue discussions we had to cut short during our trip — people from George Mason University and from Virginia Tech attended the meeting.
After coffee, it was over. We had to find our way back to the hotel on our own — of course nobody was prepared which subway to take or even knew in what part of the city the embassy was located. Later we met for a final dinner and a short debriefing and then we started our trips home (some of us with a stop over in New York, some stayed a bit longer in Washington, D.C.).
A few weeks ago, we had the final closure of GPP2013 at the Institute for European Global Studies in Basel. We had met before during summer for attending doctoral defenses or birthday parties. We have become friends, and this is probably due to those bonding experiences during the GPP bootcamp. I really enjoyed this experience! And yes, I would do it again.