Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bollywood and international experiences

As in the US, Metropolia had a staff and faculty gathering in downtown Helsinki on Friday night. The theme was Bollywood… Yes, about one-third of the folks were in full dress, about one-third had some form of Indian garb – scarf, etc, and one third were given a “bindi”- a beauty spot on their forehead. As I saw the decorations, the excellent buffet of Finnish and Indian food, and then the Bollywood dance celebration, I marveled at the differences. They asked if US universities did the same…and I had to admit that we never had a “party” like this with the whole university. So, we discussed our department or college gatherings to celebrate the end of the year and the season of holidays. Although there were many in my group of faculty who didn’t come, it was obvious that folks here were carefree and lighthearted last night. Two of the faculty had rented costumes and looked like Aladdin and the Sheik… with makeup and full head to toe costumes. It was amazing. I also considered how these folks were able (yes about 300 or more) had found Indian dress or a facsimile.
Yes, Finland is not only part of the broader world, but its people have had experiences of travel, study leaves, and research projects in India, Africa, and Asia. I suspect that my colleagues, as worldly as they may be, have not had these same opportunities. Many of the Finnish faculty travels have been funded through the government to provide social and educational supports in other parts of the world, as well as support for international travel. From my vantage spot, the US talks about internationalization…but doesn’t step forward to provide the financial and physical structural supports. I fear we are losing our worldview—because of our isolation to the rest of the world. We don’t speak multiple languages, we don’t craft our work in relation to other countries and systems … we appear to dabble, rather than commit and act. We have much to learn from the Finnish perspective.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today is just another day in Finland. I discovered it was Thanksgiving in Raleigh as I chatted with my B & B hotel breakfast colleagues about the weather…and discovered that today Raleigh is under a dense fog severe weather alert.
My life here is continuing to be a fascinating venture. I have found that Metropolia College, my project site, has an “adult education” effort focused upon select programs targeted to adults who are working and who wish to return and receive a credential or additional training. However, this focus is a unique one for the institution. If individuals desire to be in an undergraduate academic program that has an adult education commitment, they come four nights a week (yes, from 5-8pm taking courses) and complete their two year course of study in about 1 ½ years. Not all programs offer this option. At the master’s level, individuals come one week a month (yes, during the day) and complete their studies in approximately 1 year. Both of these options are paid by the government, so the program and courses are free to the students. At this time, there is not a significant press for adult career changers. Part of the stability is the economy and part of it is the culture. They have mandated retirement (which varies depending upon the year of your birth – due to policy changes. So, you may be required to retire at 54 up to 63 years of age…and you are called a “pensioner”.) I hear little of industrial layoffs, they face limited migration, and, I suspect, it is a hearty culture that doesn’t easily attract outsiders (to learn Finnish and live in a climate of colder weather and limited sunshine in the winter).
Tonight I will experience the Finnish Symphony in Finlandia Hall… It should be a special treat

Monday, November 23, 2009

Helsinki - November 22

Helsinki and Metropolia College of Applied Science
Helsinki is an amazing, compact city. I start tomorrow with a meeting of the key faculty leaders in the area of Health and Social Services at Metropolia College of Applied Sciences. The college was created by the merging of two institutions in 2008 and is now the largest technology college - or what I would call polytechnic college - in Finland, with a specific focus on serving international student clientele as well as the greatest Helsinki metropolitan area. I will be working with the group in Health on a project called, collaborative intensity, a partnership with the Helsinki hospitals and Metropolia through funding from the European Union. They are creating a partnership in both the instruction and action research across these two arenas.
This weekend I have a number of special experiences as a explore Helsinki. During Saturday, I joined the massess and saw a major exhibit of Picasso from the key museum in Paris with Picasso's collective works. Although I have seen various pictures by Picasso over the year... this was by far the most impressive exhibit, with the best representation of all of his works = from the earliest to a few months before his death. Further, it included his patins, his drawings, his sculpture (yes he was a great sculpture) and mix media too. There were also photos and a variety of drawing. I again was in awe of his amazing creativity, and discovered his close relationship with Braque. Secondly, I did shopping for food --- at a major grocery store - Kompaii-- in the basement of the bus terminal and major shopping area. It was an amazing experience seeing the packing, pricing, and of course -- the names in Finnish of many products. I was not clear about buying chicken, but last night I did discover that I can guessed correctly. I also went to the Rock chuch on Sunday and experiences an English worship service filled with individuals from throughout the world. I discovered that there was a committed group to Bible translation through a presentation from someone in Togo and also a brief discussion of a mission representative from Singapore. So, even Finland - which is someone homogenous in culture - has an active outreach to other lands. The church itself was amagin --built within a rocky mount-- in a rounded auditorium structure. It was most impressive on the inside - given that you felt literally you were walking into a rock. Yes, Helsinki is filled with huge rock structures throughout the city.
I will share more later...with the weather and the college. These three weeks shoudl be an amazing difference from my experiences in Korea and Malaysia. Now to resolve technology difficulties - as well as experience my first Helsinki bus ride back to my private hotel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I am back in Raleigh with the rains of Hurricane Ida. And the next few days I am getting caught up with life survival activities...and preparing for Finland next week.
As I pause to think about these past three weeks... I recall a discussion with an fellow traveler in the "holding lounge" in Taipei on our way from Kuala Lumpur to LAX. He believed all college students should spend a summer, a semester, a year, in a developing country doing service work. He believed that Americans (he was Scottish, Malaysian, and Australian ) were very naive and ethnocentric. So, he challenges all of us to move beyond our comfort zones - and learn and be in the world of diversity beyond our white faces, our cultural understandings, and our achievement focus. In particular, he and I spoke of the many international students in the US...who gain so much beyond the classroom, while few US students have the same type of opportunities.
Another key reflection from my chats with my Malaysia counterparts - they view traditional extension outreach by the university to no longer to knowledge exchange. Rather, it has become entrepreneurial, focused on benefit exchange between private industries and the university, and with traditional training activities become cost centers. Yes, even in Malaysia, they have seen significant changes in the roles of universities providing lifelong learning supports.
I will share more when I start my next segment - my Fulbright experience in Finland around November 19th-20th. So, thanks for checking this blog out! And I have learned many painful lessons about connections between my laptop and hotel internet access. You don't want to learn about the many crazy moments... just say, even in the best of hotels and universities - technology does have its own glitches.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saying good-bye to Malaysia

It is my last night here… having experienced another day of sightseeing KL (Kuala Lumpur). Friday afternoon was amazing - with a university announcement presentation - The event started with all members of the audience singing the national anthem and the university song. I was amazed that for a Friday afternoon, there was a good representation of faculty and staff (not like my experiences in the US). The presentation went well – with few questions and much head nodding. They are very concerned about being judged to be one of the major international universities.
So, I say good bye to this lovely country and people. I have invitation to return and to invite other faculty to also come and share their expertise. I hope that I can provide opportunities for others to learn of this amazing and diverse culture.
What is evident… is that they want to be the best and see themselves working very hard to be valued and recognized at the international level. They value expertise from many places and value friendships with that expertise. It is truly amazing and humbling.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

World-Class University

November 6
Today is my last official day at Putra Malaysia University meeting with administration, faculty and staff. I will be providing a speech on their concerns for becoming a world-class university. This request has been a surprise to me, because I know that this concern is one that all higher education institutions and particularly university administration and faculty discuss. As I develop this presentation, I found my own mixed beliefs part of this discourse. For me, higher education should be about lifelong learning - a commitment to support learning across the lifespan. However, the rankings and ratings for national and international reputation are becoming more based upon scientific discoveries and high volume citations- more often based in the sciences. Providing access to adults, providing professional continuing education, and providing life-wide lifelong learning are not part of this discourse and agenda. Traditional liberal education efforts are now marginalized, many professional schools – such as education and business – are becoming marginalized, and even undergraduate education is being considered a suspect in holding back world-class rankings. It is a curious and strange time for universities across the world. Where are the voices of alternative understandings? Clearly this university and NC State do care about being a quality institution. Where are the alternative valued perspectives?

Putra Malaysia University

Putra Malaysia University is a fascinating institution – noted as the world leader in tropical agriculture, but also keenly aware of its role for developing both the country and also their own standing. The faculty here are focused upon three major areas - adult extension education , youth development, and human resource development – defined as leadership, conflict resolution, and career development. I have arrived as they work through their final examinations (yes three weeks of exams) and then they have a vacation with a start to the new year on December 27th. As an Islam dominant country – the notion of Christmas break is obviously not of the culture and the official religion is Muslim (although there are other religions represented and seen throughout the country. The department has a dominant interest in qualitative research inquiry interest and hopes to be the leading academic institution in the country in this area. The faculty are actively engaged with students, classes, and concerns for the country. I have been amazed that many of them have American doctorates - North Carolina State University, University of Georgia, University of Maryland (with their graduate students discussing also Cornell, Texas A & M, and the British University Brunei (I believe that is the spelling). Today, I had a luncheon meeting with the faculty and had the opportunity to experience a new fruit called Duran- a spiked outside cover, with a distinctive smell and a unique taste. On last observation….Because Malaysia moved their federal government headquarters and all ministries to this area, Putrajaya, it appears that this program has access to key policy makers and political leaders. And they are engaged in research, funded through their university to help with the major national efforts, with examples in “youth development”, and in “gender equity in leadership.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


November 4th
Wednesday was a day of sightseeing – visiting south to Malucca (or Meleka- as spelled here). This site is a fascinating historic place – with a rich history in the 14th to 16th centuries – based in the significant trading across Asia. It was fascinating to see Portuguese, Arab, Thai, Indonesian, - as well as British and French involvements. I discovered that beyond the traditional government structures, there is a King and Queen valued and presented in a number of billboards. As we drove, I was particularly taken by the number of marketing signs for varied universities - clearly focused upon technology and medical areas. I was also impressed with the tropical, vibrant foliage - palms, banana trees, bougainvillea, calla lilies, birds of paradise, ginger lilies…and much, much more. In the late afternoon, we came back to UPM and transferred to a university jeep and visited the capital, Kuala Lumpur – or KL. It is a huge city, highly modern, significant traffic jams, and the second highest buildings in the world – Petronas Towers (two towers of beautiful sculpted metal – gleaming in the sun. As part of the visit – we visited the key shopping area of the towers – a place for the affluent – with Louis Vuitton, Coach, Burberry, etc. as well as for the day – to – day shoppers – with an interesting visit to the food court – represent food from all sectors of Asian society – and a little representation of “western food”. With surprise – Kenny Rogers chicken is a major quick food restaurant here – along with the other western regulars. As we finished up the day, we visited the major aquarium- Oceania – one of the best aquariums I have ever seen – including my visit to Sydney, California, and Florida. Although they didn’t have whales, dolphins and the “outdoor” water show, their displays were outstanding. With a city in lights and leaving in a traffic jam- we made it back to the hotel in the three downpour of rain for the day. Yes, this is a tropical and fascinating place.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Malaysia – land of English roads and electrical voltage

November 1st - I have landed in Malaysia in 85 degree weather, roads set up in the English style – driving on the left, and a different electrical voltage system. It was amazing to spend 6 hours traveling from Seoul to Kula Lumpur, to enter a major airport again, and continue to learn of this vast Asia polygot of peoples and cultures. Today I will be meeting with the Division of Lifelong learning faculty and staff to acquaint me with Putra Malaysia University. Curiously, many of my national colleagues, Sharan Merriam, Rosemary Caffarella, Gary Confessore, and Karen Watkins have all been here and enjoyed their hospitality. This experience will be an interesting journey into their world – which is focused on extension education, community education, and workplace learning.

The Learning Race -International Conference and The Cold War - North Korea

October 30 & 31st
Who is doing better in the learning race? This is the second day of the International Conference on Education. It has been fascinating to hear varied research presentations, perspectives, and critiques of the state of “schooling” and of the broader landscape of lifelong learning. One of the key dilemmas for some of the speakers is the focus on capitalism as a driver for the “knowledge economy.” Many of the speakers questioned the utility of this framework of Marx and Marcuse for the future of life-balanced learning (or of living complete lives – including work, learning, and learning). Some individuals examined the issue of the broad international landscape based in K-12 assessments of PISA and OECD figures – showing varied levels of performance of nations on international standards. The underlying belief that, our national is doing well or that it needs to do better. A few focused upon practice, evidence based efforts – predominantly with teacher education, and higher education class structured research. Lastly, there were a few who were futurists focused upon developing future global leaders, of the future of a lifelong learning economy, and of the nature of academic competence and its applications to varied contexts and peoples. In Korea, it is clear that there is a focused achievement orientation—of being the best academically and also in the world marketplace. Thus, there research both philosophical and empirical was concerned for being the best. Interesting cultural contrast from two years ago - when the strong topic was Confucianism and its importance for engaging in lifelong learning. Yes, there are cultural clashes here also.
Saturday, I did my own learning project and visited the DMZ and Panmunjeon – the site of continuing military and political focus for North and South Korea. As is always the case, I gained a new emotional and historically appreciation of the conflict between these two groups – and of the major issues that continue with North Korea desires to take over South Korea for its own territory. No other place in the world has this continued tension and war atmosphere. Seeing the barbed wire, the secret tunnels, the stories of killings both by military and by spies, of ongoing attached on their premier again reviews my understanding that peace in the world is yet far away from us.