GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘global’

A Little Less Conversation

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/07 at 09:23

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
 – Herbie Hancock

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.
 – Lao Tzu

As Elvis Presley once said, “I don’t know anything about music, and in my line of work, I don’t have to.” For one of the programs offered at the University, I am in the process of hiring instructors to teach academic content courses to students from China, who will have arrived in the US for the first time just days before they will join their courses.  One of the courses is called Music of the USA, a music history course.

As part of my interview questions, I ask the prospective instructors about their preparedness to teach a class of only Chinese students, newly arrived in the US. Each of them cites their experience of having a few Chinese students in each class, or a mix of students from various countries in their classes.  One of them taught music lessons in Korea for a few weeks.  Another music instructor that I interviewed today asked me how much these students know about the history of American music.  Frankly, I had no idea. 

The last time I mentioned Elvis Presley to a very Westernized student from China, he had no clue who I was talking about.  I was shocked.   I had thought that it was impossible for anyone to not know Elvis.  However, when he mentioned a famous Chinese pop star, I also was uninformed, and he was equally stunned.   It was an eye opening experience in some ways.  Although I have worked with international students for over a decade, I always have something to learn.  I vowed that day to learn more about Chinese pop music.

I always hear about how the world is getting smaller.  I am happy to see that it is still big enough to introduce people to great new music.  I envy the music instructors that I am hiring for my program.  They will have the pleasure of introducing American music to our students, and through the music, talk about American history and culture.  I am certain that this will be a very rich experience for these students.  I hope that I can observe the class on the day that they discuss Elvis Presley.

Meg Palladino

Three Months Later – Talk of Non-Profit Status, an Advisory Board, and a Summer Leadership Camp

In Conversations on 2010/04/30 at 09:00

MARY:  Wow, I can’t believe it’s been three months! I feel like so much has happened with the University of Venus. When we started this adventure, I knew that we wanted to get our voices out there and that we wanted to be heard – to find a way to break through the very senior (60+), very male, and very white higher education leadership world we operated within.

MEG:  And we also wanted to engage a global voice in our conversations about higher education.  I think we have made a good start.  What next?

MARY:  Good question. We didn’t really know what UVenus was going to look like, how it was going to be received, or who was going to “like” it.

MEG:  One thing that I learned in writing my blog posts is that I wasn’t really sure what story I was going to tell until the post was written.  I think starting University of Venus has been the same way, evolving into what it is.  We didn’t know what to expect.

MARY:  Now, our talk is along the lines of “So now what?” – Great, we have the blog, the writers, the readers, a mission – is this it? Is there more? How do we move to the “change higher education” part? The “empower the next generation of leaders” part? Yesterday, we started talking non-profit status and kind of what does that look like?

MEG: We are women of ACTION.  We want to take the next step and move forward with our blog adventure.

MARY: What should we do? Some thoughts – conference, summer leadership program for women 25-45, and a summer leadership camp for high school girls. We could focus on globalization, technology, activism, networking, empowerment, and collaboration.

MEG:  Our next phase is emerging as becoming more professional, more organized, and offering more to our readers and writers.

MARY: I agree. In talking strategy and next steps, we talked about reaching out to some senior women and men who could act as a sort of Advisory Board – helping us to take our vision to the next level.

MEG:  And we talked about reaching out to some younger women to help us raise our game in the world of social media.  I am very excited about these next steps.

MARY:  There is also the book project – getting our proposal to publishers. The focus on changing higher education through the empowerment of the next generation of global leaders in education.

MEG:  There are so many ways to go, and we want to try them all!

MARY:  Thanks for joining with us on this continued adventure and thanks for your feedback. We will be back on Monday with some minor operational tweaks and more BIG IDEAS!

Singing in the Rain: An Academic and Musical Meeting of the Minds

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2010/04/20 at 09:00

“One day I read a book and my whole life has changed” is the first sentence of Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s novel: The New Life.* I read that book when I was in college in my early 20s. I never thought at the time that I would set up a similar sentence in the next decade of my life:

I attended a conference and my whole life has changed.

I like attending academic conferences because that is where I update myself with the latest areas of research, where I force myself to finish papers sitting in some corner of my mind, where I meet new and interesting people, and where I get my next ideas of research. It is through a meeting of the minds that my brain is activated and performs best.

The conference that changed me and my life was the International Peace Research Association Conference in Leuven, Belgium in 2008. I had randomly found the conference call for papers on the internet and had sent two proposals both of which were accepted. One of my papers was to be presented at the Security and Disarmament Commission and the other at the Art and Peace Commission.

It was very bold of me to send a proposal to the Art and Peace Commission. Well, I love the arts and I consider myself a talented person in some fields of the arts but I’ve never had a formal education on the arts and coming from a realist IR background, I had studied war more than I studied peace.

I remember the first panel I attended. Having attended panels on security issues at many other conferences before, this time I had decided to follow the panels at the Arts and Peace Commission as well as those of the Security and Disarmament Commission. I had always liked interdisciplinary approaches and I wanted to diversify and maximize my learning from the conference.

The speakers of this panel had written chapters in an edited book on music and conflict transformation.** I was mesmerized by the ideas I heard. I must admit, I envied those scholars so much. I had been studying security issues such as threat perceptions and military interventions at the time and these are not often the most fun topics. I envied the creativity, the perspective and the team spirit. I left the session thinking “Why can’t we do such fun things in IR where I come from?” Luckily, I became friends with some members of the group, hoping to get contaminated by the academic spirit there.

There must have been a genie that goes around the academic conferences and takes people’s wishes. I remember making the wish although I did not see the genie. Yet my wish was granted. (Thank you, Genie!)

Eight months later, I became a member of the group. I was asked to join to an e-mail discussion group on the power of Music for Conflict Transformation (Music4CT). This e-mail discussion group proved to be one of the most intellectually nurturing online experiences I’ve ever had.  Over the summer 2009 I proposed a chapter for a possible second book on Music and Peace. Last February I was in Tunisia, making my first academic paper presentation at the conference Music for a Universal Consciousness of Solidarity*** and now this week I am about to submit the article for a peer-reviewed journal. I am going back to IPRA’s next conference in Sydney, Australia**** this July and I will present a paper (possibly two) there on Music and Peace as well.

The group on Music4CT became a part of my daily life as we communicate often, not just professionally but also as friends. It has become one of the two areas of priority research for me. It has also bolstered my idealist side. The group now has a website***** and as members we have started to benefit from all uses of technology and online social networking to stay connected. We are scattered around the world, yet we are close enough to work together. Just like the women at the University of Venus.

Years ago I had written a song named “Meeting of the Minds”, describing the kind of human connections I wanted to have in my life: Finally I feel like I found it and this time I feel like I am not just under the rain with no umbrella but that I am singing in the rain with company: both academically and musically!


*Pamuk, Orhan. (2009). Yeni Hayat. İletişim Yayınları. Istanbul (first edition: 1994) available in English (1998). The New Life. Vintage Books USA

**Urbain, Olivier.(ed.). 2008. Music and Conflict Transformation: Harmonies and Dissonances in Geopolitics, I. B. Tauris, London in association with the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research

*** The Conference was jointly organized by the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research of Japan and the Ben Ali Center for the Dialogue of Civilizations and Religions of Tunisia.



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Balancing your Peas and Q’s

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/02/12 at 09:00

A few years ago, I attended a university-sponsored Thanksgiving dinner for international students to help them learn about American culture and the holiday.  There were over 300 students and several administrators.  I sat at a round table with seven students from China.  It was a buffet.  The students returned to the table with a plate (or two) overloaded with food.  They mixed their turkey and their pumpkin pie.  They all included a piece of each of the five different kinds of cakes on their plates. They stabbed their rolls with forks and ate them like cotton candy, nibbling small bites off of the speared rolls.  As they ate their peas carefully balanced on their knives, they patiently waited for me to lead the conversation.  It was surreal; it was delightful.  I wanted to learn more about China.

Happily, last spring I was given the opportunity to visit China on business with a group of my co-workers, four Americans and one woman from China.  We visited several Universities in Beijing, Shanghai and Soochow, and met with administrators, professors, students and agents.

A wonderful thing I discovered is that China is a great food culture.  Everywhere we went, we were offered at a minimum, green tea.  Most often, we were served feasts.   We ate in several restaurants, both upscale and casual.  We had one meal in a University cafeteria that was prepared by culinary students of the University.  The main difference between Chinese and American style dining is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares.  We tried chicken feet with hot mustard, spicy tofu and corn juice. I ate more bok choy than I ever thought possible.  The best thing we tried was a caramelized pumpkin dish that you dip in cold water before eating, to harden the sugar around the pumpkin.  We had fruit for dessert.  When we visited the Great Wall, there was a kiosk where we could buy bananas.  Most surprisingly, however, was that during our whole time in China, we were offered no rice.

I felt unprepared in other ways for eating in China.  Although chopsticks weren’t a problem, I had no clue about Chinese table etiquette.   At each meal, we sat at round tables with a lazy Susan in the middle.  All of the dishes were served communally.  The lazy Susan spun left and right, and as it went by, you had to use your chopsticks to snatch a small amount of food  from whatever dish you wanted, put it on your small plate.  Then you use your chopsticks to eat the food.  The chopsticks should never touch your mouth.  You never seem to fill up the small plate.  When you are finished with what you put there, you go back to the lazy Susan for a few more bites.  After the first meal, I asked one of our Chinese colleagues for a quick etiquette lesson, but she just replied, “It’s ok, there are no rules.”  Somehow, I doubted her.

There were clearly strict rules about where to sit, and who could sit next to whom, and in what order we were expected to speak.  Our Chinese hosts always seemed to understand the order, and arranged us as they deemed appropriate.

After my experience in China, I can imagine that Chinese students coming to the US must find our culture chaotic and our food equally surprising.  Although our attitudes about rank and order are more ambiguous than those I observed in China, there are still unspoken rules.

It is very difficult to understand subtle cultural differences. Studying abroad can be very daunting and subtle cultural differences can be tricky to handle.  International students learn about the US through American movies and TV shows, but this information is incomplete and often erroneous.   Business travelers often receive cultural training before they travel overseas, but this type of training is not often provided for international students.  So often, I see international students struggle with making American friends; they make friends with other international students.   Students need support in understanding the differences in order to cope with culture shock and to ensure academic success.  Whether the experience abroad involves countries with obvious cultural differences or subtle ones, the differences themselves can create big problems if they are not identified and ways to cope with differences provided.

As the Native Americans welcomed the pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving, American institutions and students should find ways to meet international students half way in their cultural transitions.  At the top of the Great Wall of China, in addition to bananas, I could also buy a diet Coke or a Che Guevara T-shirt.  I felt right at home.

As Confucius says, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

Traveling between the Global and the Local

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/02/09 at 09:00

I just returned from India. It was my fourth trip there in a year, and only a week long. Somehow traveling like this has become the norm in my life and my career, and I’m not sure how it happened, other than I have a very thick passport, a university with a “global mission” and no children.  In the past five years, I have spent a considerable amount of time alone and with students in a variety of countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, India, the Dominican Republic, and before that, in Moldova, Estonia and other places….I’m clearly not an area specialist, so I suppose one could call me a “global specialist.” My own research focuses on local and global activism, and my teaching mission is to teach students the practice of activism, so I feel incredibly lucky for these opportunities to do what I love.

Recently, my vice-provost asked me how I felt about starting programs in Haiti or Indonesia (or both!) and of course, I found myself agreeing to it all. And then he reminded me that I should probably get a second book out within the next year or so before I go up for tenure.

And here lies the problem: this schizophrenia of being globally oriented while also striving to meet the more parochial, local  demands of “academia.”

Most universities and even many colleges in the US seem to have caught the fever for “global” initiatives.  They look to expand their boundaries outwards, to embrace whatever benefits globalization might have created (and certainly we’re in a new world where globalization will have to mean something different), but the centrifugal force of the old system remains. No matter how many international programs are created, no matter how many global connections are forged, the expectations of faculty meetings, curriculum committees, articles published, classes taught, robes worn–all remain. Despite the new-found global missions, those expectations will be the guiding principles for tenure approval, so we “GenXers”, who are more comfortable with this global vagabond life, will have to carry the double burden of global and local until the sea change occurs.

My junior colleagues and I seem to be facing even greater challenges than we were prepared to handle (I don’t ever remember a grad school professor advising us how to juggle teaching a class in India while also teaching one in the States, in the same semester), but there is the exhilarating sense of being a part of the vanguard. As Meg wrote in an earlier post, adjectives like “international,” “global,” and “world” don’t really capture the sense of what many of us are doing now, and there are few signposts to guide us. I suppose we’ll travel ’til we get there.