Ecuadorian Adventure

I didn’t know what to expect prior to landing in Quito. I had no idea what visiting this country would be like beyond the view of mountains and volcanoes along with the smells and tastes of fresh fruit and Latin flavors that I read about after doing some #Googles. If it wasn’t for the itinerary, you could just about say I was going into this blind. I am, however, well aware of what compelled me to participate in this study in the first place.

My Ecuador Trip is a program that was designed by my faculty advisor when he was completing his graduate studies. It is an educational and cultural tour of Quito, Ecuador and surrounding cities that came to be after noticing not many people traveled to the country from the United States, and that there was really not a lot of information in higher education research or educational research overall pertaining to Ecuador. What made this study abroad program different from the Germany study abroad program (and arguably many of the study abroad programs across the nation) was my faculty advisor actually being from the country and growing up there until moving to the United States to attend college. This dynamic provided a more unique and truly authentic experience into understanding and learning about Ecuadorian culture from the locations of accommodations to the food that we were able to try to the political history of the country.

After adjusting to the continuously changing sea level depending on where we traveled (I’m from Michigan, we are pretty flat), it was easy to take in the beauty and richness of this country. You could see the care and concern shown for others in the community and the also the priority placed on the family’s overall well-being. It is not uncommon to see young children work to earn money for the family. Further, there is deeply rooted appreciation for the land that people occupy that sustains them in so many ways.

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Just like any other country in the world, Ecuador is not free of issues that impact higher education and in larger scale society as a whole. Corruption in the government, lack of access to certain careers, K-12 schools, and institutions of higher learning due to anti-black racism, the determination of the value of an education, higher education being a public or private good, serving the needs of the community – all of these things exist here as well. Further, similar to Germany where higher education is free of all tuition and fees for students, Ecuadorian higher education became completely free of all tuition for students under the 2008 constitution. Prior to this, there were no tuition costs to students but they were responsible for the covering any associated fees with completing their studies – which could vary depending on course of study. A major critique that I have of this now that I have seen it done in two different places surrounds who actually benefits from this resource. It can easily be seen that those who benefit the most from free higher education are those who could easily afford to pay for it anyway. It is difficult to find a student from a low-income family benefitting from this as there are factors (i.e. recruitment, family name, political affiliation, donations, access, additional expenses, to name a few) that continue to keep higher learning out of reach for some and not for others. When thinking about this in US context, students pay (A LOT!) to go to college and it still mostly benefits the rich even though everyone is required to pay whether you can afford it or not. It’s evident that neither systems work and we have to be innovative in not only our thinking but also our development of higher education options to students.

Many of the cultural visits provided additional context around the way society has shaped and how they view higher education. It is seen as a benefit for some but for many the trade off does not seem to be worth it if more time can be dedicated to earning money for the family. Time spent attending college is time taken away from a families overall income, and this applies as soon as a student is old enough to not be required to attend school. There have been efforts to expand higher education offerings, especially in the area of science, technology, engineering, and math. This area has slowly seen increases in enrollment, however, further development is needed along with leadership, staff, finances, and addressing access to all expressing interest no matter circumstances.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this trip. Not only because of the beautiful places I got to see, the food I was able to try, or because of the photos I was able to take. I enjoyed this trip because I was challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally from start to finish. I was forced to think about things in new ways being in a country that is still developing. It made me think about how we critique just about everything at first glance without having all of the information. I climbed, hiked, rode horses, and walked for long periods of time up and down hills to experience what it’s like to live in Quito on an average day. Lastly, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that colorism and anti-black racism shows up in communities around the globe. The more I am lucky enough to travel, the more one thing remains crystal clear and consistent – people know ‘black’ and they know that black is wrong. It’s also critical to note that anti-blackness doesn’t always show up in blatant ways. Sometimes it shows up masked as gratitude, appreciation, or even extra attention to details in the ways that people interact with you. Unfortunately, this was part of my experience in Ecuador as well, but is not something I am unfamiliar with. Anti-black racism persists in many of the spaces I enter in the US. So, couple this experience with being in a unfamiliar space and there is an extra added element of fear, rage, and frustration because you don’t know what your reaction could cost you. You also are unfamiliar with the ways that those around you think about and unpack racism…if they even notice.

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Students pictured in black face for the elementary school’s cultural appreciation week according to the school principal. 

You can find many of the photos from this trip on the Instagram page. Also, the complete itinerary for this trip has been uploaded to the website if you are interested in searching (and hopefully checking out at some point) any of the academic, cultural, and touristic visits. I have linked the website for the study tour above and encourage you to look into attending if you are able.

It was an incredible experience and I’m glad I was about to participate.

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N.M.A.A.H.C.

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Two weeks ago, I visited Washington D.C. to tour the National Museum of African American History & Culture. By His grace, argan oil, and with a lil’ salt and pepper seasoned to taste, I managed to secure not 1, not 2…but 6 timed passes on their website a few months ago to attend in February. It was not a game, y’all. I put a reminder on my work calendar and my phone. I also wrote a reminder on a sticky note and posted it on the door in my place so I did not forgot to get these tickets promptly. They have been going extremely fast since the museum announced that they were available, and after visiting I totally see why.

It was amazing, shocking, breathtaking, astonishing, remarkable, phenomenal, frustrating, jaw-dropping, incredible…there aren’t enough words to capture how I feel about this place, so as a nod to the kids (not KeKe Palmer’s either), it was EVERYTHING.

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The timed passes were for 3pm, BUT after a super tasty brunch, my homie for life and I trekked on over around 2pm and we were able to get in sooner. Y’all, a few hours is not enough time to take in this place. You will really need to go a few times and honestly purchase several items from the gift shop to fully understand the magnitude of this sanctuary. Yes, I’m calling it a sanctuary…more on that in just a moment.

I don’t want to give away any specific details about the museum because I really think everyone should make every effort to get there and see for themselves. I do, however, want to describe the feelings/reactions that I had as I toured. Starting with the layout of the place, I automatically felt the ‘weight’ of it. I think this information is pretty public so I will talk candidly here. When you arrive, you take the elevator down 3 floors to the concourses and you sort of walk your way up through the years. As the elevator was going down, I immediately felt that this would be an emotional experience for me. I knew it would be heavy, but sometimes you just don’t know until you arrive. Further, this elevator was probably the largest one that I’ve ever been on and there was a group of elderly Black women (which let’s pause here for a moment because Black women are the Queens AND Kings of the universe forever and always…and you can fight me on that…I just had to say that as a reminder to those that seem to occasionally forget…moving on) who had obviously traveled some distance to see this place. I couldn’t help but think that they will see themselves in some of the exhibits as they were alive when so much of this occurred. I almost wanted to hug them and even sit and talk with them about their experiences and perspectives on this display of our history, but I also wanted to respect the fact that…they didn’t come here to talk to me at all (LOL!). Some of them probably felt that they would never even see something like this happen. So, all this to say that I had nothing but respect in that moment.

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I shared that you go down and sort of naturally walk your way back up to the lobby area after taking the elevator down three floors. Keep in mind, you can still see the lobby if you look up. It was an interesting contrast because the way the light sort of shined down into the basement, coupled with walking your way back up immediately made me think of “the light at the end of the tunnel.” I’m venturing to assume that this was exactly what the designers of the museum wanted you to feel and experience. So, to that I say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. I felt it.

When I made it back to the lobby, I had to pause and reflect on all the things I had just read and process the images that I had viewed. I think I said to my friend “wow” a smooth 400 times because I really had no words. Also, keep in mind none of this has been taught in schools. It’s not displayed in larger United States culture via statues or other memorials. It’s just not there. Anything that I have ever learned about our history, I have had to seek out myself. So, to see it displayed in this chronological order put so much into perspective for me and has compelled me to dive even deeper into my research and learning. Lastly, above the lobby area are an additional three floors that dive into African American culture. I literally spent my time on each of those floors stanning something serious for the greats, the legends, and the GOATs.

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Last and certainty least…

I want to comment on #wypipo (wypipo = our friendly neighborhood caucasians) for a moment. There were several moments where my friend thought he was going to have to grab and keep me from going all the way Flint in this beautiful establishment. (Yes, I’m a Flintstone.) The amount of space that was taken up in this place was infuriating! For me, it was not even about presence, it was about genuine interests. I couldn’t help but wonder, “are you really here to learn about African American history AND culture? Or are you here because you’re in D.C. for the time being and needed something to do for the afternoon?” For most, I believe it was the latter. It’s like you’re casually enjoying this while the rest of us are livid, sad, and hurt from staring at the chains that were put on our people, babies included, as they were taken and enslaved. (Whew, help me. I’m mad again.)

Recall the group of elderly Black women that I mentioned earlier? Well, a member from that group was trying to view an exhibit but couldn’t because several of them refused to move! I felt like they were disrespecting my grandmother or great auntie and I was furious. One of them, in that calm but stern “you got me f*cked up” voice, asked if they could move and THEY DID. I was watching the whole time in case it went left because they were not about to try it on that day, but my pseudo granny wasn’t having it anyway. So.

 Also, I was taking a photo of another exhibit and lil’ Hillary Duff walks right in front of me and just STOPS. STOPS, y’all. I say, “excuse me, but I was taking a photo.” She sort of half rolled her eyes and walked off. I was like IF YOU WANNA DO IT WE CAN DO IT. I literally have all my people with me right now. You just let me know if today is the day.

Y’all just need to do better because what will happen next is someone with far less patience than I will just snatch you up before you can adjust your behavior. By then, it will be too late. Taking it all the way back with this one, but please “check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Anyway, please go to the museum. Go. Just, go. You will not regret it! Luckily, I have a break this summer from classes and I’ve already planned a reading list which includes a lot of the things I bookmarked from the museum. I’m super excited to learn more and honestly I’ll probably be back before 2017 comes to a close.

Do yourself a favor!

Journal Entry #6

One of the final meetings of this trip was with the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The group sat down with Dr. Hannemor Keidel from the TUM School of Governance (which was recently inaugurated). There was also a representative from the International Office to speak more about the global programs and perspectives at the university. TUM has about 40,000 students and is second in Germany for international students. Unfortunately, TUM being an institution focused on STEM fields, has challenges with recruiting and graduating female students (only 34% of students on campus are female). The university is switching over to offering more graduate programs in english (they currently have 40 programs), but they still encourage, and in some cases require, students to learn German.

TUM boasts its graduates creating over 800 start up companies since 1990. They are also very heavy in fundraising ($260 million), and were named a university of excellence in 2006 which is something all of the universities in Germany aim for. In context of American student affairs, you can find similarities in their offerings at the student services center which includes counseling, support services, and special summer/winter programs. TUM also has liaison officers at Carnegie Mellon, CalTech, and Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.

The connection between social sciences and technology has become a major focus for TUM considering the impact technology has on society. Students are able to combine traditional content with technology modules. They recently began offering a master of science program in politics and technology. This has lead to the creation of the Munich Center of Technology in Society which is an integrative research center that focuses on socio-technical challenges and viewing the technical environment as opportunity. The center currently has 6 professors, 2 research group leaders, 70 scientific staff in total, and they offer 2 masters and 1 doctoral program.

The meeting ending with discussions around student services, accommodations and even how universities are involved in sexual assault cases on campus (they are not, it is considered a legal issue to be handled by law enforcement). I thoroughly enjoyed this meeting and definitely will be following as they continue to develop new and innovative content for students to experience. 

Back Like I Never Left

Apologies for my brief sabbatical. Life has been happening and as a result, it’s been a few weeks since I last updated you all on the Germany excursion and the trip is long over now. It is what it is. Here is what the last portion of the trip entailed. The final leg took place in Munich. Following this post will be the 6th and final required journal that I stated I would post for you all as well.

January 19th, we visited Kiron Open Education. Kiron “uses an innovative combination of online and offline learning to provide accessible, sustainable, and cost-effective education.” They also work very closely with refugees and asylum seekers who are usually in the process of applying for German citizenship.

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Finally, Technical University of Munich (TUM) is where the trip wrapped on January 20th. TUM is a research university with multiple campuses and is one of Germany’s most notable institutes of technology.

The next day members of the tour group began departing. There was, however, a farewell dinner that evening where those remaining all had the opportunity to openly reflect on our experiences on the trip. Overall, I had a fantastic time and I definitely want to return. As we are all (I hope) aware, Germany (just like the United States and many other places) has a very troubled past. Visiting places where those stories originated was a bit gloomy venturing occasionally over to depressing…BUT…I appreciate how open the culture is about recognizing and educating their citizens and others about the events that have taken place. The monuments, architecture, people, streets, skyline, walls (literally), and food all tell a story which is quite inviting for those wanting to “be apart of the landscape,” or immerse themselves fully in the culture and environment.

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I also want to share in this post that I’ve created the Black Boy Travel Instagram account! The link can be found in the top right corner of the website. I post photos from all over my adventures in randomized order to keep things fresh. I hope you all enjoy!

 

Journal Entry #5

This entire experience was fantastic and one of the highlights was meeting with researchers at the International Center for Higher Education Research at the University of Kassel. We had the opportunity to meet with highly regarded Professor Ulrich Teichler who has been working in higher education for many years and researching in both Germany and the United States. The conversation immediately went to institutional research and how that is not really a thing in Germany like it is in the US. He contended that German institutions feel like, “no research is needed in higher education because they claim to already know what’s going on.” They are more focused on what happens afterwards and there is a dedicated person at every university that focuses on this. It is apart of someone’s job, but just not in the context that we would think in the United States. Also, when thinking about professor rankings, there is a notion that full professors teach the in the “important areas,” and associate professors are designated to the “not so important areas.” Further, there is only one full professor in higher education at Kassel. Dr. Teichler was very direct in pointing out the inequities and attitudes in higher education that seemed to be brushed over in other meetings at other institutions.

Dr. Teichler and many of the researchers unpacked some other characteristics of how higher education was formed which centered mainly around Humbolt’s teaching and foundations. They also stressed that a professor’s primary role is to be a researcher and teaching is just to share findings. I believe that this is true in some cases in the US, but there are definitely professors that teach in subjects outside of their research focus or interest. Currently, the focus has began to shift to a balanced approach to both teaching and research. I also want to note here that more than half of the doctoral students enrolled at the University of Kassel are university employees and there is no time to degree completion. The doctoral model is highly selective because of this model.

When thinking about internationalization, the best indicator for the university has been through tracking the number of students that have been abroad. Also, they have determined the best approach to internationalization to be through exchange programs (incoming and outgoing). Dr. Teichler stated, “a student that has spent at least a semesters abroad doesn’t trust anything a professor says anymore.”

The last and final most intriguing portion of this meeting centered around measuring success in higher education. Dr. Teichler stated that the “biggest problem we have in higher education is we don’t know what’s good.” He stated further that, “we trust in quality that we really don’t trust.” This resonated with me particularly because it made me think of a recent discussion in my higher education finance course last year. The comment from my professor was, “there’s really no way to measure whether or not higher education makes someone’s life better because not everyone in the United States has gone to college. The only way to measure this is for everyone to achieve a college degree.” This essentially means we are selling hope and dreams to people and it’s working even though we really have no way to prove it.

Journal Entry #4

We had an opportunity to meet with the chancellor of the University of Applied Sciences-Berlin. First and foremost, it was interesting to hear how chancellor is used in Germany. A chancellor is a position that deals strictly with budget and finance – almost like a CFO. In the United States, a chancellor usually operates as a president of an institution that is usually apart of a university system. For example, the University of Michigan has three campuses but only one president. The two satellite campuses have chancellors that oversee and manage their respective institutions and liaise between the main campus and president. (Go Blue! NYU, who?…I kid, I kid.)

Diving backing into specifics about the UAS-Berlin, it is Berlin’s largest university of applied sciences. They have about 13,500 students, 70 programs, 300 professors, 30 full-time lecturers, 300 administrative, technology, and services staff. While student affairs functions are not really a thing in Germany, you can find some student affairs like services in this area. For example, there is a career services department that helps students to secure employment after graduation. The information obtained from this office is also used to help the institution secure funding based on consistent and positive graduation rates (about 2700 students graduate yearly – BA/MA combined). There is also a mentorship program with alumni and current students. Also, there are about 600 associate lecturers from business and industry. The mission of the institution is to be innovative and diverse. I would have liked to hear more about what this actually means because it is short and sweet and does not really define what innovation and diversity means to their work and goals on and for the campus.

Another challenge that UAS-Berlin faces deals specifically with its location. The chancellor described it not being in an “attractive part of town” because it is not in an urban environment. Further, it is in a poorer area and this is not attractive to students coming to study in Berlin. “Students are a bit surprised” when they arrive. This made me wonder about specific initiatives the university could be doing with the local community, but because higher education institutions are not viewed to be useful in this way it seems like engaging with the local community is not a high priority. Based on the current setup of higher education and this university specifically, I am unsure if it even should be. 

Journal Entry #3

I’m going back to back today! 🙂

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Humbodlt University not only because of its historic charm but also because of the opportunity to speak directly with current students at the institution. We started the day in a meeting with a staff member from the International Students Office and a history professor. The conversation centered mostly on the university’s history, with reiteration of German institutions striving for excellence in teaching and the maintaining of prestige. As stated before, Germany has universities and universities of applied sciences. Both the staff member and the professor stressed repeatedly how universities in particular all operate on the same playing field, offering similar programs of study at the bachelors, masters, and doctoral level and they all have the same backing from the state if compliance is maintained. Compliance is achieved through graduation rates and students securing full-time employment and minimally remaining in Germany for up to 6 years after graduation. Due to the importance of being on an equal playing field, there is no such thing as an ‘elite’ university because they (the universities) all consider themselves to be excellent. Further, competition does not seem to be apart of educational culture. Professors and students seem to be more concerned with completing a university education over where the education comes from and at what level. Education is truly a public good in Germany. It was also interesting to hear that PhDs in various fields appear to be evenly distributed.

When considering funding, the structure of most institutions includes a third coming from competitive grants and two thirds coming from federal funding. At Humbodlt specifically, the student population is out of proportion to its size. Meaning there are more students wanting to study than they can actually accommodate but they still welcome everyone that they deem qualified to attend. I assumed this created many inequities in university functioning and as I expected, this meant much more work for professor and created pay inequities. The gap in professor salaries at many universities and universities of applied sciences had to be closed according to a federal ruling. So now, professors are being compensated at a rate that is more fair for the amount of work they are actually doing. It’s also important to note, as it relates to grant funding for the institution, that some of these funds come from the federal ministry. When it comes to funding the 32,000 plus students at Humbodlt, this funding shows up various ways including merit based funding and political party funding. This does create some challenges for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds because elite or politically based funding goes to student who do not necessarily need it most as they come from wealthy backgrounds. The challenge that presents itself here is that with higher education being viewed as a public good, it should be free and it should benefit everyone even those that do not need it mostly.