Friday, February 14, 2014

Edna Expat says that the international competition for crappy schools and students is pretty intense

The grass ain't greener over here, people.

Here at Across the Seas U we regularly play host to temporary faculty, often recipients of prestigious international fellowships, who come to us bright-eyed and ready for adventure. I always wonder what they expected when they applied to come here, but I am pretty sure they don't end up finding it.

My adopted country is just exotic enough to be enticing, and AtSU cannily markets itself as an oasis of Anglo-Canadamericanism amidst a local desert of institutional disorder. But what these scholars find on arrival cannot possibly live up to the hype. Computers that were high technology when I was an undergrad. Facilities that were built well within my under-four-decade lifetime, yet have already fallen into startling disrepair. Students who are at least as apathetic as the ones they left behind.

Some of these temporary colleagues manage to have a blast, mostly by spending their time as far from campus as possible. It's like junior year abroad, redux, with an actual salary to fund travel involving actual hotel rooms instead of backpacks and youth hostels. One colleague whose department is hosting a fellow this year marveled at how upbeat their guest has been, "but that's probably because she doesn't actually have to live here." True dat.
All I ask is that these international fellows stay long enough, or look hard enough, to notice that the grass over here has its own distinct patches of brown. Sometimes they are the same shape as those back home, but sometimes they take on forms so new or unusual that one might first think them green. Remember that your temporary annoyances are our more entrenched struggles. We welcome you among us, but you aren't quite one of us.

Edna Expat


  1. My university is very big on our students being globally aware/connected, and seems to be doing a lot of "partnering," with various institutions, organizations, businesses, etc. to pursue that goal. On the surface, I have no problem with it, though it does seem a bit disconnected from the reality that a significant proportion of our students already have close international connections in the form of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents, etc. Maybe it would be easier to facilitate the several-generations-U.S. students making friends with at least one or two more globally-connected ones, and working from there? I also have no real problem with the fact that we're working to recruit international students willing to pay full freight.

    Still,I wonder what would happen if we obeyed the old dictum to "follow the money," as it is channeled through not only overseas-student-recruitment and year-abroad programs, but also the programs you describe, Edna. Maybe I'm just a suspicious type, but I have the feeling that the contest to recruit an ever-diminishing pool of students able to pay full freight may well be not just national but international, and that, as with online programs, a lot of institutions may be throwing a lot of money at a relatively small pool of students with lots of choices (and thus lots of leverage as "consumers"). I also suspect that somebody, somewhere, is (legally) making money off faculty seeking adventure and/or respite. Everybody's trying to sell "the college experience" or "the professorial experience" to someone, to the point where the whole thing is beginning to seem a bit Disneyfied, if not downright Potemkin-ized.

    1. Cassandra, when you mentioned "trying to sell 'the college experience' or 'the professorial experience' " I must confess that I immediately free-associated to the 'girlfriend experience' one might find advertised in the back pages of alternative newspapers of urban centers with substantial young adult populations. (We have the Quakerberg Fortnighter and the Metromat; I read them for their coverage of local politics and music.)

      Mind you, I've never paid for a 'zzzzz experience', but the academician in me now wonders which of the three mentioned above involves the most self-deception during and/or self-loathing after.

    2. I think I should clarify. I was cynically reacting to the idea that someone would turn a profit while providing an ‘experience’ to a visiting faculty that was far less than genuine. I do not intend to compare the general concept of visiting faculty to the other business as if to denigrate it.

  2. As one of those temporary faculty, I do indeed notice the patches of brown, and I do take note that I am not living there. But on the other hand, it would be nice if my teaching and presence were treated with a nod. Temp faculty could contribute a lot, if given a chance. Starry eyed that I was, I thought I could contribute new ideas and insight but faced instead a system of education quite different. The best advice I got was that " your standards are not their standards, and just don't worry."

    But a teacher wants to reach and teach. Being largely ignored and struggling to figure out how things work was tough. Not knowing much of the local language was a big problem. No doubt this is what many an international student goes through at my home institution. Sure, I traveled a lot but to see this country and learn something of its history. Please don't tarnish all of us temporary visiting faculty on fellowships. Some of us are really doing this seriously, not as a way to travel!

    So, I would ask people to introduce your visiting faculty to people at the university and in the community, talk to them, give them tours. In short, make them feel like they belong, and you know, they might actually contribute in a positive way.

    1. Thank you, Trish, for your perspective and ideas about how we can interact both with and as visiting faculty. I think they go toward what having visiting faculty is trying to accomplish. I hope to take a sabbatical in a couple of years, and if/when I do, I’ll keep your suggestions in mind. (Nobody visits where I currently work.)

      It’s interesting how people don’t necessarily tour near where they live. (Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded… with tourists.) While visiting, I could perhap connect with some ‘native’ faculty, and they might enjoy using me as an excuse to tour where they haven’t been in a while. Hopefully it would expand to include stuff that non-locals would not have been aware of. We’d both win.