Week 2

This week’s images:

IMG_3094

IMG_3102Just your average sidewalk on campus here. The campus sits on the side of what amounts to a mountain (more of a large foothill by US standards though).

 

 

IMG_3101

Soccer practice on the field, which is in the middle of campus. And, yes, they do call it soccer here. I made the mistake of assuming they called it football like in the UK and was promptly corrected: “Only the snobbish Brits call it football.” (Greeks here are not at all happy about Brexit by the way).

 

 

So I have now been through two full weeks of classes and one major historical event.

The DEREE Classroom.  The classroom experience here is actually not all that different from Northwest.  Students show up late, do not read the syllabus, have their cell phones out, etc.  However, they do appear for the most part to be more engaged.  I have a class of 19 in Western Civ I this semester. And of those 19, I would say a good half actively ask questions and provide responses. Granted, this could be an anomaly here and could simply be the particular group of students that I have.

The students here do not typically use laptops to take notes so I have been told. I asked some colleagues because none of my students do, which surprised me.  It raises an interesting question for me about Northwest since we provide laptops. What if the reason that NWMSU students take notes on the laptops is because they are provided in the first place?  Would we still see as many students taking notes electronically, if we did not provide laptops?  While at NW, I did not typically see that many students using a non-university issued computer, but that may be because I tend to stay in the Valk bubble.  It’s just a question and by no means a condemnation of the policy because, for me, the benefits of students having a laptop outside the classroom far exceeds any criticisms or I may have about the policy or about in-class electronic note-taking.

I’ve had enough conversations with various faculty here to know that they are experiencing some of the same challenges that we in the states do. One in particular struck me: faculty have to pay for their own printing costs. Yes, you read that right. Faculty here have to put out their own $$ to print/copy their exams, handouts, etc. Boy, was that an eye-opener. I will concede that the class sizes here are nowhere near as large as some of ours can get. I think the largest is 60, but I will have to double check on that.  Here, faculty are required to consider an eBook before a print text and if they reject the eBook, they have to have solid pedagogical grounds (which from what I gather is a great deal of work to show).  All faculty here are also required to serve on their version of Faculty Senate–all faculty not just elected representatives from departments.  So, my dear colleagues experiencing massive budgetary constraints at Northwest, be grateful.

I will be experiencing my first full faculty meeting this week, which I am not required to attend. My colleague here, Liz, says it will simply be the faculty nodding and smiling at the administration and then complaining (I had to clean up her language here) on the way back to their various offices. But, in an effort to experience everything possible here, I am going.

Food For Thought.  DEREE, the school I’m at here in Athens, has an interesting scheduling system that generates quite a bit of student and faculty engagement. They have what is known as Activity Hour which is actually 2 hours every day, from 1:30-3:30 where no classes or office hours are scheduled.  Instead, the university uses the time for interesting lectures (kind of like our Distinguished Lecture Series) as well as departmental meetings and faculty development. In fact, I am going to a lecture on diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in the classroom next week.  There is another speaker, the Greek ambassador to Israel, coming soon to talk about the state of politics in the Middle East. From what I can tell, there are on average, about 10-20 special events like this a week and they are highly attended.  I went to one on Bronze Age Hellenic pottery this week that easily had about 50-60 people there–both students and faculty and even a few community members.

I’m interested in what my colleagues, administrators, and students think of this. So if you have a though, shoot me an email or post a comment.  Something like this at NW would not necessarily need to be two hours or even every day as it is here, but it is thought-provoking since every fall we parcel out time solely for University Seminar. Thus, we already have a mechanism that has blocked off time.

Major Historical Event.  I do not plan to get too partisan on here as it really is not the place.  But in this one instance, it is relevant to my experience abroad.  I attended the Women’s March on Washington-Athens last Saturday as so many did around the world. There were not as many people there as other places but there were about a thousand, I would guess, of all ages, gender identities, ethnicities, etc..  There were the usual speeches and some glorious signs, the subjects of which ranged from general human rights to women’s rights to immigration rights (a big deal in Greece right now since they are absorbing a good many Syrian refugees). There was a point when I realized that the march was perhaps not appropriately named; though, I do realize the origins of the whole thing stemmed from the women’s movement. (I would post pictures but my camera on my phone went wacky, so my apologies.) The march, for me, was not about the current US President at all. Instead, for me, it was about camaraderie and hope. The men and the women in attendance told stories of oppression which elicited sadness, despair. These were particularly heartbreaking because of the current economic struggles here. I would tell you a few but I don’t think I could get through it emotionally to type it right now as it is still a bit raw, but maybe when I get back home I can share.  There were also those that reminded us that the fact that so many showed up–in Athens and around the globe–meant that we were not alone in that oppression.  There was a particular moment that stuck with me and it was a moment in silence with only the sounds of traffic passing by.  At sunset-already glorious with the Parthenon lit up in the distance–everyone raised their cellphones (and for some their cigarette lighters) skyward, each individual cellphone light merging with the ones around it creating a glow. It was symbolic. It was beautiful. It was light victorious over darkness.  It was hope.

 

America v. Finland: A Princess Complex?!

I had taken a month long break from the Lovely University of Lapin AMK. During that time, it wasn’t truly a vacation; it was spent navigating the Spanish bureaucracy to obtain a visa (“Fun” times, Believe me). While returning back to Tornio, Finland (literally on the train back), my housing emails had still not been responded to, thus, I was homeless.

Frantically, I’m trying to get in contact with the program intern or the program director. They must be able to do something, right? They would be the person willing and able to change something or help, right? Wrong, the response I received wasn’t my expectation at all.

In a nutshell, I was told that it was the weekend, I should have contacted them earlier, and that they were busy. Of course, this starts full panic mode. Of course, I try to reach out to the director, which I was told she was busy and she shared the previous thought as well. The suggestion: stay with someone else for the night, and go to housing on Monday. It was Saturday. After 26 hours of travel, running on 4 hours of sleep, and a protein bar, I was not a happy camper AT ALL.

I received a message the next morning as I was holed up in a classmate’s kitchen, that the housekeeper would give me a key later on in the evening. I could’ve wept. Three others were in the same situation as myself, and we all were going to be on the floor of a mutual acquaintances one-bed room.

On Monday, class resumed in the summer school. I was still peeved that such a thing occurred. It was then the Director of the program addressed the situation by stating that “some” (meaning me) of us have a “princess complex.” It meant that we expect people to do things for us as we command. The Director stated that in Finland, weekends are sacred and work life is separate from weekend life. We shouldn’t expect additional assistance, outside of emergencies, during these times.

Shocked, and admittedly pretty irritated with that statement, I came to a realization. In the US, we don’t compartmentalize our responsibilities. We maybe on vacation, or out of town, but we are prepared to answer work calls whenever to create 24-hour service. Even if it is not our job, we expect to have service or assistance from someone, somewhere at all times. Specifically, in academic services, professors answer emails on weekends, residence halls have RA’s or hall directors for aid, and so on. In Finland, when things close, they CLOSE.  It doesn’t help that the emergency contact in the building doesn’t speak English.

A situation that I believed was an emergency was seen as merely a temporary inconvenience that I could figure out. The ideals of customer service are definitely different. In the US, we are much more demanding because, culturally, we believe that we should get what we paid for and then added services to keep us coming back. Customer Satisfaction is important in a competitive market, so it is valued heavily.

Customer Satisfaction is still greatly valued in Finland. However, it is customer service as defined by the rules. You will receive a quality product with great service, but when the time comes to close, or the task is outside of the usual means of operation, you will receive a simple “no, it cannot be done.” Of course, it depends on who and what company.

I was pretty disappointed with this as an international student who felt stranded in an unfamiliar land and not receiving the help I expected from the host school I was attending. However, it is a lesson learned. When you travel, you must change your expectations to fit the local culture.

Oh… You mean I have to go to class?

Classes have started here, which is an interesting change. At first, it seemed as though this was just the vacation of a lifetime, but sitting in the classroom reminded me of why I came here in the first place. The classes I’m taking are Adaptation and Historical Fiction, Modernist Literature, and Writing and Publishing. If you’re a nerd like me, this sounds very, very exciting.

I have to say, even though I have been through the routine of starting a new semester eight times now (Oh that makes me feel old), I was pretty nervous for the first day of classes here. I had no idea what to expect.

Part of me thought when I came to class, the rest of my Irish classmates would think it was super interesting that I was American. I thought they would be thrilled by my accent, and ask me lots of questions about the grand ole U.S. of A. And then, I would politely turn the attention back to the teacher. This was not the case. In fact, no one even mentioned my American-ness, if they noticed at all. My first foray as a lone international student in a sea of native Irish was actually extremely normal; to the point where it verged on… boring. It was just a normal syllabus week.

The major difference that I can see is the work expected outside of class. My classes meet once a week, and the rest of the week, the students are expected to read, write, and explore their subjects on their own time. This self-direction is nice in a lot of ways, but also potentially makes it easier to not keep up with my studies.

This was also the first time I have only taken 3 classes in a semester, which gives me a lot of downtime, and lots of time to focus on being a student, without a job or any extracurricular activities. Beyond, you know, exploring Ireland.

50 shades of green

Even the sidewalks are green

Campus 3

Northwest has stiff competition for ‘Prettiest Campus’.

The Home Stretch

As of this writing right now, I can say that I am 18 days our from leaving Europe and heading back home to Kansas City, Missouri. For me, this is the home stretch, with only a couple weeks left and only two class days to attend.

finish line

An accurate representation of me at the moment. (Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

Currently, I have finished my second week of Semantic Web. My early review of it is to say that it was not what I was expecting from the start. My initial interpretation of the course was that Semantic Web would be concerned with responsive web design, which is to say designing a website that is both flexible and usable to the end-user across multiple devices – think tablets, smartphones, and desktop machines. But after my first day of class, I learned that Semantic Web is really more about taking raw data and formulating a workable method of presenting that data that is both usable and readable. Essentially, it’s all about making sense of data.

semantic web

Surprisingly, Googling “not understanding” brought up this image. (Image from informationaccess.files.wordpress.com)

Aside from attending two more days of class, a possible day-trip to Brussels, Belgium is in the works. It’s unfortunate to say that I have done next to no traveling while living in Europe, but I honestly feel no regrets in saying that. But with that, a do wish to visit Brussels, primarily to say that I have been to Belgium and to see it’s largest city. I have next to no clue what I would like to do while in Brussels, but I will do the most that I can in a day! And a return to Aachen, Germany may also be in the books, if only because it’s dirt cheap to go back (and they have Christmas decorations galore up and ready for the season, according to word-of-mouth).

With my time running down, these blog posts will, too, be coming to an end. I’m not quite sure how I will wrap things up at the conclusion of my study abroad, though I am sure I want to, at the least, include a post entirely devoted to pictures. Granted, I do have a limit on the megabytes of data I can upload here to WordPress, so I will be ensuring that I choose only the best that gives a good breadth of view to what it was like living in Maastricht.

For now, that is all I have to report for the day. More to come later!

Star Wars rock band

So I leave you with this crazy awesome image of familiar faces rocking out. (Image from cdn.ebaumsworld.com)

Fearless

Today, I walked up from Avant Garde to Hogeschool Zuyd, which, if you’ve read before in these posts, is no small feat. The walk takes nearly an hour by foot, which comes out to be a few miles/several kilometers, which typically leaves my feet sore for about an hour (thankfully I recover quickly). Yes, I will eventually get a bike, but that hasn’t been in my cards lately. So far, going by way of foot is serving me just fine.

On the academic side of things, I am fully registered for my classes at Zuyd and begin said classes on the 17th September! Next week I should be seeing the arrival of my full class schedule, so patience is my new game to play.

With that errand accomplished, I decided that I would zig-zag my way through Maastricht back to Avant Garde, by taking streets that I have yet laid my eyes upon. You know, prior to coming out to the Netherlands, situations such as this (mindlessly wondering the streets) were not something that I would be akin to doing. Even the thought of doing a semester of study abroad never fully crossed my mind; it’s much too scary to be living in an environment that I am not familiar with. Granted, that’s an element of human nature that’s in us all – everyone feels that sense of unease when we feel displaced from the habitat that we have longed call “home.” What it takes to see the fuller picture of the world, and that of humanity, is learning to fight fear by becoming fearless and taking the plunge.

Never did I once feel fear when I departed Kansas City, nor did I feel fear when I was far from home in London; on the long train ride to Maastricht, fear never raised its head, nor was it ever there through my first night woes ‘homeless’ in Maastricht. Like a skydiver about to make their first dive, I quelled that fear, banished it, and now it’s no more. I honestly can feel that I can walk to Germany, fly to Scotland, or take a train into France and not once feel uneasy at all.

And besides, fear of exploring could have kept me from getting this amazing photo of Maastricht:

Maastricht

When you explore, beautiful things happen. This was one for me.

The Common Room

Most of my social interactions, and therefore most of my understanding of European cultures, has come from one room in Avant Garde called ‘The Commons Room.’ This room caters perfectly for socialization, with plenty of couches of various styles, enough chairs for all, and even a pseudo-bar area, though no alcohol will be found behind this counter. I’ve already spent a majority of my time down is the room, hanging out with some of the coolest people I’ve ever come to have known.

The best moments I’ve had within the Commons Room were those where many of the exchange students, as well as I, would begin sharing the distinctions about each of our cultures. Sometimes it were views on sports, other times it was films. Politics definitely came into view many times over, as well as our thoughts on the concept of justice (more on that and others in an upcoming post…).

I think what really struck me most has been how alike many of us are, despite the various different backgrounds we all come from. Sure enough, our accents are as unique as our own and our beliefs are how we shape them, but it turns out that we are all inquisitive students wanting to engage with new cultures to better shape our own selves. We all have this thing in ‘common’ within the room. (And apparently everyone loves to sing and dance to famous songs such as “We Are Young” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Never would have thought Lynyrd Skynyrd would be so popular abroad!)

To Study Abroad…

I'm here!

Maastricht, all the way at the bottom of the Netherlands

Studying abroad was not something that I had intended to do during my college career at Northwest Missouri State University. I had chewed over the thought of possibly going somewhere, at some time, but those thoughts never amounted to much. “I’ll travel someday,” I told myself.

Things began changing, however, in early 2012 when a chance moment of correcting German pronunciation with a professor led me on the path that I am currently on. “No, it’s not ‘Kreeks-bergs, it’s pronounced ‘Crikes-bergs,’ with a long ‘eye’ sound,” I was telling to Jacquie Lamer during the annual Off-Broadway Tour into Kansas City on Groundhog Day 2012. I was assigned to lead a group of my fellow peers through a couple of the agencies in the downtown KC area, one of which included Meers, where my group would be meeting with an (awesome) gentleman by the name of John Kreicsbergs. Upon learning of the dude’s last name, I immediately recognized it as Germanic in pronunciation, thanks to two years of learning German back in the far-off age called “high school.” Similar to my own last name of ‘Meier,’ when there is an ‘ei’ in the middle of a word, the ‘I’ sound is pronounced. The reversal happens with ‘ie,’ wherein the ‘e’ is then pronounced.

“Why haven’t you studied abroad?” Jacquie asked me directly after I gave a lesson concerning German pronunciation. I sat there for a moment, wondering what I should say. “Because I would get homesick really bad,” I believe that was my (lame) response. She nagged at me a little bit more as we continued to journey into Kansas City, though I shrugged off the suggestions for the duration of the day. But therein a seed had been planted.

As the day progressed during the Off-Broadway Tour, I continued to ponder the thought of possibly studying abroad. “Where would I go? How hard would it be? Would there be hamburgers there?” Those were but a few of the thoughts that were swirling through my mind during the tour. A few days passed before I finally found the initiative to find out more concerning studying abroad. A quick email questionnaire to the study abroad office at Northwest brought back answers that I sought, most importantly where I should go. Part of the questionnaire included asking what countries I was interested in, which I believe I gave the United Kingdom and Germany as my choices (Europe has been on my bucket list of places to visit). Of the few choices given, one school did strike my chord: Zuyd Hogeschool.

Zuyd Hogeschool, located in Maastricht, Netherlands, first popped up on my radar during the Fall 2011 semester at Northwest. An exchange student by the name of Tim, who hailed from Zuyd Hogeschool, was then studying at Northwest and shared Web Publishing with me. He gave a song and dance speech about his university and the city he came from, which I found to be quite interesting. During that time, I also learned that Jacquie, as well as my advisor Jody Strauch, had both done a short teaching gig at the school; these connections only furthered my interest in Zuyd Hogeschool.

And Zuyd’s offering of courses catered perfectly to my major, Interactive Digital Media: New Media. While here in Maastricht, I’ll be taking four fairly intensive courses, which should only help sharpen my skills and grow my knowledge.

As of this writing, there are still a couple of weeks to go before starting up classes. More to come regarding those matters!

Academics in Korea

 

Now I thought it was appropriate to dedicate a blog to the academics here in Korea because technically I came here to study business. Their system for registering and classroom style is very similar to what I am used to. However, the main problem is that the when you sign up for your classes everything is in Korean. Like I mentioned earlier, you are given a Korean buddy and they are supposed to help you with obstacles like this. The University said they will be working on offering an English website because they really encourage international students to attend their University. In addition, the UWINS (same thing as Ecompanion) is in Korean, so the assignments and power points that you need to obtain can be a difficult task. Although this is extremely inconvenient the professors here are more than willing to help the international students. My Management Information Systems professor sent me a pdf file of an English version of the UWINS website so that I could easily manage it.

Main Building of the University of Ulsan

Speaking of the professors here, they really enjoy having an international student in their classroom. They typically will call you out and ask for your opinion and how it relates to your country. I have noticed that when the professor asks a questions and he is expecting a response the Koreans are apprehensive to answer. Most times the international students will answer. I believe the reason for this is because Korean students are not used to an interactive classroom style. In high school, they rarely were required to do presentations or voice their opinion. They just simply listened to lectures and were extremely shy to even ask questions. I was told all of this from my LATU groups and it makes sense why they are so quiet in class. Another shocking thing I found out about Korean education system that was in high school they attended school from 7 am to 10 or 11 pm and on Saturdays attended private lessons from 9am to 6 pm. This truly was mind-blowing for me. My students were extremely envious of how American high schools are. One positive that comes out of their high school education system is that they are diligent students who have incredible study habits. Yet, they lack communication skills and ways to express themselves to authority. Now universities in Korea are assigning more presentations and encourage students to interact during class. Some students have adapted but the majority is still silent during class.

Furthermore, the classes are significantly easy for a native English speaker. Most of the classes at the University are taught in Korean so when Korean students sign up for an English course they want to improve their English. I have met students who are able to understand English but can barely make a conversation. The professor generally speaks slowly and explains every concept 2 or 3 times. Therefore, for me the class pace is particularly slow and can even become boring due to the repetitiveness. I was assigned to a group project where we would have to present it to the class and 3 of the students could not communicate in English with me. I am not entirely sure if they couldn’t talk with me or if they were just too afraid. They claimed that they were just in the class to try and improve their English. I communicated with one other student who spoke decent English and we practically did the whole presentation. This did not bother me because the assignment was easy and I was able to get through to the other students what we should do for the project. In a way, they automatically designate you as the leader of the group solely on the fact that I am a native English speaker. I noticed that they really hang on every word you say and it is uncommon for them to disagree with what I say. I think this again has to do with the way their education system is set up.

Although there have been many obstacles I had to overcome and adjust to a completely different culture I in no way discredit this University. They truly care about their students and hire knowledgeable professors. It has a beautiful campus that is near the city center. My classes are all in the same building and my dormitory is only a five minute walk from the business building. If one is coming to a University half way across the world you must expect challenges but if you are able to conquer them then you will feel more independent than ever.

Campus during spring time

Let’s put the “study” in Study Abroad

Now I don’t want to bore anyone with the academic side of my experience, but I do find it incredibly interesting. There are many differences between college-life in Greece compared to back in the states. The college I am attending for the semester is called DEREE – The American College of Greece. This is the first year that Northwest has provided the Missouri-Greece program and, needless to say, I was a little nervous to be its guinea pig. Going by myself to study for a full semester without any prior knowledge of what the school or country is like was both nerve-raking and exhilarating…but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

To help you get a better idea of the academic atmosphere I’ll throw out some interesting facts about the American College of Greece. ACG is home to around 4,000 students from 55 countries. Surprisingly, the student body is about 90% Greek. This has had its benefits and complications. I love feeling fully immersed in the culture when I am on campus, which has allowed me to mamke many Greek friends. Even though the classes are taught in English, most of the students will speak Greek to each other in casual conversations and many times will speak it too me until they notice my blank expression. I have picked up on a few words and phrases and now know the basics of holding a conversation…but I find myself constantly wishing I were fluent in the language. It is easy to get by in Greece by only speaking English because most things are also written in English. Also, all Greek students are now required to know English before they can graduate high school, so communicating with them is pretty simple apart from the strong accent. There are however the traditional Greeks and certain areas that do not speak English very well. My advice is to just use as much Greek as you can (even if you feel silly), because they will appreciate the effort and it will make you look less like an “arrogant American”. My most commonly used expressions are: the formal form of “hello”, which is pronounced “ya sas”; “thank you” is “efharistó”; and of course the all too common “sorry” or “excuse me” is “sygnómi”.

Now back to the campus. DEREE is located on a breathtaking hillside at the edge of Athens. To the right is a picture of the view from the communications building. Definitely not something you will see in the flat lands of the Midwest! The campus is also gated at all times, so all students are required to show an I.D. in order to get in. The reason it’s gated is because when the Olympics were held in Athens, the American team used the DEREE campus as a training facility! Michael Phelps actually swam in the ACG pool and stayed in my apartment building in the room down the hall from me! After the Olympics were over they decided to just keep the gates around campus as an extra security measure.

The structure of the classes is another thing I have had to become accustomed to. I decided to only take  12 credits while I am here so I don’t feel overwhelmed and am left enough time to travel and get the full experience. During orientation at the beginning of the semester my small group of Greek students were shocked that I was taking that many classes. They were only taking 2 or 3 classes this semester! For Greeks, the American College of Greece is very different than what they are used to. This college is set up to be ran the same as an American university with attendance policies, course work, and a structured syllabus. Most secondary schools that are non-private institutions seem to view attendance as optional and as long as you show up for the tests you can pass the class. This is not the case at DEREE. Most of my classes are only graded on the midterm and final, with a few that actually have homework. They have a somewhat strict attendance policy that gives the professors the ability to fail you if you exceed the maximum amount of absences. This worries me a bit considering over half my class wasn’t in my International Business class the first day and only four people showed up for the formative exam last week. My teacher’s response to this was simply, “it’s probably because of the nice weather”.

I find there is much more discussion and argument in my classes. Students are comfortable with yelling out in disagreement with what the teacher is explaining, and in most cases the teacher will yell right back. I have sat through many lectures that have had a religious and philosophical background. I love it when my classes get side-tracked by the current Greek crisis (which happens often), and will spend the rest of the class period talking about why it happened and what they think their future will bring. At these times I am always the awkward American just sitting at my desk observing the conversation and taking it all in.

To give you a better picture of how a typical class may be run I’ll explain how yesterday’s class went. I walked the ten minutes to my only class on Mondays. After hanging out for 15 minutes and not seeing our professor I asked my classmate how long we are supposed to wait before we leave. He said it is typically 15 minutes for a professor, but if they are a doctor you are supposed to wait at least 20 minutes. In America we have the 15 minute rule and then I’m out! We all waited until 12:20 and then decided as a class to ditch. As we walked out of the building we happened to pass by our teacher. I figured our teacher would just cancel the last 20 minutes of class since we had already lost many of the students. Instead, he decided to have the rest of the class underneath the trees outside the church on campus (pictured to the left). We just discussed our different ideas for our project while half the class lit up a cigarette. Since the teacher was late, our class was prolonged an extra 15 minutes. Thank goodness I didn’t have anywhere to be! We definitely are on “Greek time”…even when it comes to classes.

Follow this link for more information on the study abroad program at DEREE! http://www.acg.edu/study-abroad