Community, Culture, and Conversations

I’m struggling to put into words all that I learned during my recent visit to Iceland, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy to learn about higher education. But I will try to highlight some of the lasting lessons that I took away.

I’m a pretty quiet person to begin with, and when I travel, I am even quieter. I try to blend in and not stand out in new places. I prefer to observe what is going on around me as I try to learn about the local community and the cultures and lifestyles of those around me. And on this particular trip, I had the opportunity to not just observe, but to hear the stories of those who lived in the places I was visiting and learning about.

As a group of 15 from Virginia Tech, we learned about universities, research, teaching, international programs, PhD programs, and social responsibility (among other things). But it was through conversations with the students who attended these universities and those who worked at the universities that I really got a feel for the university and the community.

I learned about work life balance at the University of Zurich. I learned that graduate students, post-docs, and faculty are interested in transferrable skills such as academic writing and self-management skills. At Uni Basel, I learned about the ways that the university welcomes new and prospective students. I learned about the transition from school to work and the challenges that students face in this transition at the Academy of Art and Design in Basel. At the University of Strasbourg, I learned about teaching as a graduate student, and the benefits and challenges that come with that. At Politecnico di Milano, I learned about research that took/will take students all over the world. And I learned a little bit about politics too. And in Lugano, I learned about seeing the world, following unexpected dreams, and cooking.

When traveling to a new country, I try to blend in and observe what is around me so that I am not drastically altering the way people act around me and act towards me. But that has to be balanced with a willingness to be open to new experiences and ideas. During my trip to Europe to learn about higher education in other contexts, I found that I learned the most about universities and life in general by asking a few questions and then just listening to people’s stories.

Thank you Michelle, Christine, Erich, Jonas, Josephine, Natasa, Alberto, Lucy and all those who shared a part of their story!