Our last official meeting took place at the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Centre Point location in London. We had an opportunity to converse with Clair Murphy and Vicky Waite, both Senior Higher Education Policy Advisors working in widening participation. We were further introduced to the English education system—a system undergoing crucial changes and entering into a pivotal stage in its history. The educational climate is morphing into a market; student fees are increasing from 3,000 pounds to 9,000. HEFCE’s funding is being cut by 60 percent. The obstacles facing the English education system also allude to the difficulties that non-traditional students will face in the coming years. The meeting was thought-provoking, I’m curious to see how this situation will play itself out in the coming years.
During our meeting today we heard from an eclectic group of undergraduate students. UEL’s Director of Employability, Femi Bola, presented success stories of non-traditional students. The testimonials were useful in that we got a glimpse of the perseverance of the UEL students and its employment initiatives.
In my perspective, the highlight of the meeting today was a talk by Dr. Gavin Brown, Lecturer at the University of Leicester. Dr. Brown, a geographer, discussed the importance of spatial planes. We discussed, or rather learned, about the benefits of taking individuals away from their comfort zones and introducing them to new environments. The beneficial qualities of such would, or could, make students susceptible to aspire more. His talk was on “The Place of Aspiration,” an interesting title because, if taken literally as I suppose it was intended, it brings up the question of which physical place is best for aspiration—something along those lines.
Today we had a chance to hear from Professor John Storan about widening participation. In fact, the theme of the day was WP. The issue keeps coming up; widening participation may be suffering from the recent release of the white paper. It seems that this paper entails the policies that will dictate the future of UK higher education institutions. We will be speaking with the group that funds HE later this week. These are all issues we will discuss.
After some preparation we were ready to fly to Glasgow, Scotland. We had to leave whilst looking our Sunday best. In Glasgow we again caught a cab and drove towards the campus residence. We put our luggage (which basically consisted of a backpack) in our rooms and walked towards the Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) conference. Like before, we took the long way to get there. The lunch consisted of sandwiches—the next two days would see the same (there was a very tasty one made up of mayo and corn). As newcomers we had to attend a greeting from the executive chair of FACE, Professor John Storan! After listening to some interesting sessions on civic involvement, or community development, we attended a civic reception and buffet dinner at the Glasgow City Chamber. The building was beautiful and the dinner was savory.
The day before the FACE Conference we received a chat on English Secondary Education, an array of speakers like Kathy Wright, Director of Secondary Initial Teacher, and John Clarke, Senior lecturer in Secondary Education, provided a different outlook of social mobility and education—one being from a seemingly good background and the other from a more difficult upbringing. Although both became successful, it was interesting to see how each took a different path.
In the morning we walked into the Knowledge docks and embarked upon the UEL summer institute. We met Professor John Storan, director of Continuum and co-director of the International Summer Institute. The day was an invitation into the campus, an orientation, and a chance to become active members of the UEL library system. There was also an interesting presentation on the English education system. Following our stay at the 20th annual EAN (European Access Network) conference, I felt that an introduction to the English Higher Education (HE) complemented my previous experience perfectly.
Following our stay in France we had to fly into England, like our trip to France, I slept the entire way. We were greeted by a cabby and were taken to the University of East London, past the Royal Docks. Mr. Tony Hudson welcomed all of us and walked us to a yellow apartment building, adequately named Redbridge House. We had coffee and chocolate biscuits waiting for us. After being situated we had a chance to meet the McNair scholars from Kansas University. Subsequently, we were introduced to Mr. Hudson’s research intern, Josephine Calabrese, and the administrator of the international summer institute, Nicola. After the introductions we visited the supermarket. We had enough time to settle down and be ready for the institute to start the following day.
After our visit to The Louvre and Notre Dame, I was not expecting anything to surprise me. I was wrong. The day began with a late breakfast, to put it into perspective: breakfast at the hotel ends at 10, I was eating at 9.50am. Fortunately, I had enough time to stuff my face with bread and cereal. When we met in the lobby, Michael informed us that his left-ankle (or was it right?) was unsuited for walking. Therefore, Lucie, Alma, and I ventured into the city together. I don’t remember if we had discussed who would lead but it seemed apropos that Alma, being the only one in our trio to have visited Paris before, would lead us to the Arc de Triomphe. After a terribly fulfilling long walk, we arrived at the arc. Pictures were taken and we had a good time watching street performers. I also had a chance to enjoy being amongst hundreds of tourists—I almost miss working at theme parks and interacting with visitors from other countries. Our last activity in Paris and, sincerely, the most remarkable (maybe second most remarkable if we recall the Mona Lisa) was a trolley up the Eiffel tower. From there, we took many pictures, videos, watched the city, and just enjoyed ourselves. It was surreal; I never expected to be there. I never expected to have these beautiful memories of Paris, just as I never expected to have seen Amsterdam. I have pictures to prove I was there and each picture is a story. I can’t wait to get back to Florida and share it with everyone.
Early morning, our departure from Amsterdam bestowed us with an array of lethargy and absentmindedness. I can only imagine that to outsiders we appeared as the most melancholic bunch—fortunately those who were unfortunate enough to be catching an early train look the same. After hauling our suitcases onto the train departing for Paris, we were all too eager to pass through Belgium. I was personally excited to take mental snapshots of the countryside. Alas, we successfully fell asleep on the most deceiving seats. At first, these were comfortable and offered an interesting head rest designed to catch heads as they shuffled from left to right and so on. Nevertheless, after the honeymoon period, these seats became awkward and left me with awful neck pain—at least I got some sleep.
As in Amsterdam, we had various plans for The City of Love. Upon touching down on Gare du Nord, it was suggested that it would be best if we stored our cumbersome luggage in lockers. Unbeknownst to us, our decision to lock away our suitcases would afford us with fewer obstacles while trying to find our hotel. When we arrived in Amsterdam we had maps and directions to our location, yet we lacked a sense of direction and adequate course plotting. In Paris, we faced a similar challenge. Up to now, the trip has adopted a theme of taking the long route; nevertheless, we have successfully arrived at every location and the hotel Ibis in Paris wasn’t an exception. Beyond stone streets, crowded metros, numerous staircases, and industrial sectors, we found the Ibis—who knows; perhaps they predicted a green initiative and therefore chose to name their hotel after a bird. In the hotel we waited for a nice young-lady who seemingly changed from English to Spanish and then French, to check us in. Although I was tempted to ask if she spoke Dutch, such a question would have been banal since I don’t speak Dutch. We received our room keys, internet passcodes, and breakfast passes for the following morning.
After an hour of settling, we decided to visit The Louvre. Although my camera’s battery was exhausted, I managed to take a plethora of beautiful pictures of our time in The Louvre. Subsequently, we walked towards Notre Dame Cathedral. We had dinner at a nearby café, watched street performers, and had a chance to venture inside the cathedral. To top off our day, we visited Sacré-Cœur Basilica, I immediately thought of Amelie. An important, if not the climax, part of the movie takes place at the same place where I was standing—I felt like a teenager touching Justin Timberlake’s faux-leather jacket back in NSYNC days. Overall, it was a jam-packed day rich in colors, culture, and glamour.
Our first day in Amsterdam was a cornucopia of adventures compressed into one very long and exciting day. The adventure began once we touched down on Amsterdam at Airport Schiphol. Although a (West) Germanic language, English could only help us a little in reading–forget about trying to translate what was being said through the airport intercom. Fortunately for us, people in the Netherlands are fluent in English. In fact, it seems that we give-off this we-do-not-speak-Dutch aura since people just assume we speak English; a valid assumption and one that they might just make in areas like Schiphol or Central Station. We passed through customs and proceeded to buy train tickets. We knew where we were going but buying the tickets and reading the Dutch maps proved to be a worthy adversary.
After some exploring we found our hotel and were allowed to check-in to our rooms early. A thought on early: Amsterdam at 7 a.m. in the Amstelsation area is a scene of the last man on Earth and/or every other apocalyptic film. All we saw were lonesome bikes parked next to one another–some just laying on the ground.
The first location we decided to visit was the Anne Frank house/museum. The house was, as Lucie would later describe, somber. It was a window into something that, in that location, has been suspended in time: the memory of Anne Frank, a girl who believed in the good of mankind despite the horrid actions of her fellow men. Being in that museum was a humbling experience for me. The courage of Anne Frank, the courage of her family, and the courage of Miep Gies help redefine/reshape my definition of braver. It was a wonderful experience because we could feel history around us.
The Second location was a pancake house–they had some interesting service. It was at this point that I began to feel tired (also the fact that I had not had any water for a long time, it’s hard to stay hydrated when water is not free). Subsequently we visited Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, but due to unforeseen circumstances and Dutch maps,we did not get to see too much of Rembrandt. Nevertheless, we did see lots of Vincent Van Gogh in the Van Gogh Museum! It was a four-story building dedicated to the development and talent of Van Gogh. Thanks to our I amsterdam cards we did not have to pay an arm and an ear to get in.
The latter part of our day included a boat tour around the entire city of Amsterdam. We were all very tired and at points heads dropped into short sleep spells. I do remember being amazed by the amount of water, canals, and bridges. The city is replete with water, it is aesthetically pleasing and also home to some. I would like to live in a boathouse in Amsterdam just to say that I do.
Meandering through the city is an experience all by itself, reality has not yet sunk in. Nonetheless, the fact is that I am over three-thousand miles away from home, in the Dutch speaking nation of the Netherlands.
Esteban was born in the coastal town of San Antonio, Chile. He is currently studying literature, with a minor in language arts education. Influenced by the synthesis of Hispanic and American cultures, Esteban’s research interest is in the analysis of literature by underrepresented groups; these groups include the writings of Latinos—specifically in the Southern Cone—and women. Through his research, Esteban hopes to reinforce the connection between himself and his Hispanic roots. He aspires to earn a Ph.D. in comparative literature and move on to become a professor.