Zurich->Basel->Strasbourg->Basel->Riva S. Vitale->Milan->Belenzona->Lugano->Riva S. Vitale
My arrival in Zurich on the morning of May 26th marked the official beginning of the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) and my exploration of European systems of higher education. My bike, kit, and sleeping bag were stowed safely in the basement of hotel St. Joseph. My bags were repacked to expose the khakis, collared shirts, and dress shoes I would be needing for the next week and a half. And after a hot shower, good deal of scrubbing, and a quick nap it became hard to tell that I had just spent a week traveling by bike through the rain in Bayern.
The program consisted of 13 participants, Justin Shanks (logistical guru), and Dean Karen DePauw (Mastermind of the program). I was the second youngest of the team at 24 years old and one of the two master’s students represented in the group. The majority of the team was comprised of Doctoral candidates and Post-Docs from a wide range of departments at Virginia Tech and none of us except perhaps Justin and Dean DePauw knew in full the amazing journey we were about to embark upon. Sunday was devoted to sharing our goals, transitioning, and preparing for the pace of the program.
Over the next 11 days we traveled Switzerland, France, and Italy by train, bus, and foot in search of a more global perspective on higher education. We learned that an international perspective is a limited viewpoint. What we were looking for was something bigger, something more holistic, something more relevant in today’s interconnected society. Being in such communicative proximity with all our neighbors now more than ever makes having a global perspective important as we try to make sense of the impacts our decisions will ultimately make on those around us.
Our meetings with students, staff, and Rectors from more than eight universities and intense interactions with the students from the University of Basel helped to shape these new perspectives. The informal interactions that arose during meals, down time, and personal excursions added to the depth and power of the program as each of the participants were allowed to explore their own passions.
What I learned more than anything is that each system is unique, they each have their own focus, strengths, and weaknesses. None of these characteristics make any one system particularly better or worse than another. They just make them different. They simply challenge you to examine them, without comparing, from a vantage point that is different from any you have previously stood upon. These explorations let us—the participants of the program—return to our own system with a new set of experiences and a more holistic understanding of the global system we are all a part of. We can then examine our own system through a newly crafted lens. One that might allow us to more effectively adapt our own systems to the quickly changing and continuously evolving world we live in.
The expeditionary part of the program came to an end before you realized what happened and each participant trickled away from the Villa in in their own ways. It had been a place and a space with a feeling of home. I left with a sense of awe at what we had seen and experienced, a sense of gratitude towards those who accompanied me on that journey, and a sense of respect for each participant’s ability to teach, share, and live as a tight knit community for the time we were together. I learned a great deal, met some amazing people, and could not have imagined a better way to spend the beginning of the summer of 2013. Thank you.