London was ours for the taking! Lucie and I decided to go exploring and made quite a full day of it. We visited the Tower of London, quite a few churches and cathedrals and tour a guided tour of haunted London. It was surely a memorable experience and I do not think that I shall look at this ancient city in quite the same way again. . .
London Eye. What a wait! The line was a serpentine monster that seemed to stretch for centuries! But in all it was a memorable experience and it led us to explore some of central London that we had not yet seen. The gardens we passed were magnificent and I could understand why the lush grounds were covered with patterned blankets and baskets of food as people settled down to enjoy a picnic. Maybe we will get the chance to do the same at some point.
Let’s talk money. Today provided a glimpse into the inner workings of the much talked about HEFCE (higher education funding council for England). We met with Clair Murphy and Vicky Waite who held the titles of Senior Higher education policy advisors for widening participation in the organization. It was amazing to see how much work they put into widening participation and the creativity they had to employ in order to make the new policies from the white paper work in their favor. They encouraged us to ask questions and answered with a frankness that made them seem that much more human instead of the imposing figures their titles implied. It was a wonderful experience and I can only thank them for their time and their sincerity.
Femi Bola is quite an animated figure. She is so very vibrant and passionate about her role in the UEL community as the Director of Employability. It was apparent to everyone in attendance that she took her job seriously and cared a great deal about each and every one of her students. “Our graduates are gorgeous! You should really have one!”, she proclaimed. And in reality it was quite true, her students seemed focused and confident, ready to make their own contribution to the community that they felt they were a part of. The interns were amicable and just as pleased to hear about our research as they were to share something about theirs. It was a memorable experience and I am grateful to have been given the chance to meet them.
The Olympics are happening in London next year if by some chance you had not heard. That was the main focus of today’s presentation, given by Dr. Iain Macrury. It was interesting to see how it was that the Olympics left its mark on its host city, the history of the Games, and the aftermath. It spoke volumes about the principle motivation behind the Olympics; the youth and education. It was a uniting force rather than one of pure competition, a way for those countries who might not be on friendly terms with another to come together and to lay those differences aside. The benefits to having the Olympics include renewed infrastructure and a sense of patriotism and pride. We also learned that the American team would be housed at UEL, imagine that.
Professor John Storan did the unthinkable today; he let us into his past. Before commencing with his presentation, he made it quite clear that it went against all that is British and holy to talk to others about one’s personal life. I suppose that is what made it so special. He talked of his childhood and experiences and how it was that they influenced his educational career. By him speaking to us about what widening participation really meant to him, it made all of the abstract, the policy, and whatnot, more concrete; it made it much more natural to relate to the information he was providing. I just want to say thank you to him for letting us know that side of him.
Research was the topic for today. We discussed how our own research projects were progressing and how they could be facilitated so that we could all work more efficiently. The group also discussed the value of the FACE conference and what we all learned from that particular experience. We were given a form to evaluate the program thus far. I appreciated how much effort the faculty and staff members put into making this program a reality. Being able to take a part in this opportunity will be wide and far reaching, I am sure.
Today was a girls’ day out. Lucie and I braved the labyrinthine maze of the tube to get to the other markets we did not make it to yesterday. We encountered a small delay when we found that the train we had to take was not in service but we made it work regardless. In a way walking through Petticoat lane market made me extremely homesick for the colorful markets in Moro Leon back in Mexico, but at the same time, everything was completely different; the people, the food, the music. A different mirror held up to a memory. We found beautiful examples of artistry and innovation. It definitely influenced my sense of style. Back to work tomorrow!
Back in London and a day to explore. The streets of London are replete with hidden alcoves filled with treasure!! Mostly that translates to rows and rows heaped upon streets after seemingly endless street brimming with cameos, maxis, and produce. We all went to the Portobello market today and had to exercise an enormous amount of self-control not to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Although…tomorrow is another day….
Last day in Glasgow. It was a sad moment to say goodbye to all of the people we had met, including the student helpers like Margaret from Kenya. Everyone was absolutely delightful and made us feel included in all of the sessions and discussions even though I was slow on the uptake at some points. I heard a particularly moving lecture involving service work in different regions in Africa teaching small villages to become more independent and to use their own resources to sustain themselves. I did not fully realize how diverse Africa’s topography actually was. I feel as if each moment spent with someone from a different culture, serves as an assimilation in to my collective learning: their experiences then become mine, and through such, my view point acquires that much more depth to it.
Today was our day! All of those we had met the day before on our numerous (and much needed) Tea breaks came by to learn more about us during our roundtable titles “Listening to Learners: McNair Scholars’ experience of US outreach and student support programmes”. It was fascinating to see how those involved in the discussion thought to implement such a program into their own curriculums. Also tonight we attended the Ceilidh and learned Scottish dances! I had not laughed so much in a while. It was an unforgettable experience.
Today we had an early start to head over to the picturesque Glasgow Scotland were everyone is incredibly friendly. We had a moment’s time to change and head over to the University to attend the first day of the F.A.C.E conference. Naturally we got lost, but the scenery was absolutely lovely so it was worth it. Making our way back we attended several sessions about lifelong learning primarily. Each speaker added their piece of the solution to the puzzle. I am excited, yet nervous to present tomorrow.
Alright, Day 2. Today was a focus on the English education system, and in my case, trying to find parallels within the American education system which was not as simple as I had originally surmised. Each of the presenters had something new to bring, and to help us construct in our minds how it is the English educational system works. Our first speakers, Professors Kathy Wright and John Clark, covered secondary education and it was a phenomenal presentation! The visual aids helped put the information in a new perspective. We also went through a brief run-through of our presentation for Glasgow. Scotland, can’t wait!
Today was the first day of our summer international institute and it was a veritable flood of information doused in hot tea along with some incredible cookies. We learned more about the University of East London, and how it is an extension of the surrounding community, which is something I respect since they truly made a connection with the people they served and were highly invested in having a student population which represented the population of said community.
The faculty which is working with us, encouraged us to ask whatever it was that came to mind, which I appreciated. The lectures were just as phenomenal and took their time to engage us in their presentations. I must emphasize how much of a help the training session with the librarians proved to be. It certainly gave me a solid foundation from which to start and helped me develop a more refined research question in the process.
As soon as the training session was over I headed back to the library and started searching databases in a frenzy, collecting about 20 articles to review before settling back to find that it is dinner time. More to come tomorrow!
It was wonderful to wake up to a bright and sunny day! Ready to tackle the day we set out to catch the tube (All of these ways to refer to a subway are starting to get to me). We seemed to have brought Florida weather along with us. It was HOT today, and I most certainly over layered. We deciphered the tube map and went off in search of Amber. It proved to be quite a ride away, approximately 45 minutes, during which at one point we thought we were on the wrong train. I learned that the tube is around or over 100 years old…! Or maybe I’m just remembering incorrectly ….
In any case, we found her waiting for us at the train station and made it back to her campus at Brunel. It was quite an extensive campus and it didn’t quite hit me till today that buildings in the UK….don’t really have air-conditioning; which makes sense since the days aren’t as hot as it was today. Amber took us to have lunch at a place called Nando’s it was simply delicious! They put some kind of peppery substance on the fries that blew my mind!
We abled along the streets reminiscing about past McNair Scholar antics and learning about something called “Paleo” which from what I could glean I took to mean a regression to a more naturalistic way of living. Barefeet, simpler food, no dairy (?!) all kinds of foreign concepts that sounded…healthy and therefore against all I hold near and dear….just kidding! Kind of…
After all of our talking and after a glance at our watches, we bid Amber a tearful goodbye and wished her a safe trip to France for her conference. We made it to Primark 30 minutes before it closed. It was heaven …and hell at the same time. I could hear my wallet sobbing in my purse as my heart sang. There were people everywhere! And clothes and shoes, glorious shoes spilling forth onto every surface imaginable. I fought to restrain myself and only just succeeded while I mentally unpacked my suitcase back at the residence hall and repacked it with all of the wonders that lay before me.
But when they say it is closing time, it is no joke. Lucie and I escaped before we were trampled by the mass exodus of crazed shoppers as they came spilling out of the edifice, making a solemn vow to return…someday…soon..
We gathered to have a scrumptious dinner of carefully ordered pizza, spoke about upcoming projects and assignments and then retreated into our separate dormitories to plan for the next day. My pad folio is sitting on my desk with my purse on top ready for the learning to begin!!
London, we have arrived. Today was a day to settle in and catch our breaths. We took a cab to the campus of the University of East London, and hauled our suitcases into the lift (I am starting to wonder if I really need all this stuff I brought…) and afterwards were introduced to two fellow scholars. Then we were informed that we were going to go grocery shopping. Grabbing our purses once more we hopped into the car. The super market was reminiscent of a super Wal-Mart back home. The deals were great! Buy one get one free, buy two get one free, just great; lots of bread and fresh olives. Ending our shopping expedition we came back to the residence hall on the UEL campus and settled in. I could only hold out for so long and eventually succumbed to the siren call of a nap. I woke up thoroughly confused three hours later and took a moment to reorient myself.
We had a lunch of chicken and more bread trying to figure out how it was that we were going to feed ourselves for the next three weeks. We spoke about our upcoming research and presentations for the FACE conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Much to cover and more to do, I bid you all goodnight, tomorrow we get to spend the day exploring with Amber Dukes.
Still in Paris, and it is as beautiful as it was yesterday. Today we ventured out by ourselves. Miraculously we accomplished much and managed not to get lost…much. We walked to the Opera house which was stunning with the golden statues acting as sentries on the top looking down into the crowd. We walked through the gardens and were denied ice cream by the irate people at the fair. We traversed the length of the Champs Elysees, which was much longer than it looked, might I add. We made it to l’Arc de Triomphe and were side tracked by street performers on our quest to find the nearest metro.
After, we made our way back to the Louvre to take more pictures and to find the vendors which lined the Seine. There were striking paintings that would have looked only too at home on the walls of my apartment. But alas, it was not meant to be. We stopped at a café on our way and I had the delight of having a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a flurry of chocolate powder dusting along the snowy peaks (I have not yet acquired the taste for coffee). We found a little Mexican restaurant, or rather it shouted at us from across the street, cheerfully daubed in red paint. Naturally we had to go in and feasted on burritos and guacamole.
I found the saucer peaches I had so craved from the moment I set eyes upon them in the first train station. It took about 10 little stalls to find them, but find them I did! That night we made our way toward the Eiffel Tower; dusk was setting in and the tower beckoned. With bated breath we made our way towards its massive base, passing couples and groups of people settling down with picnic baskets on the lawn leading up to it. The air was cool, the night clear carrying on icy breaths of wind the smell of crepes and coffee. We proceeded to take as many pictures as our cameras could handle and, somewhat sated, ran down the stairs. While waiting for a friend of mine, Eliza, a small man approached me with a detailed drawing asking if I wanted my portrait done. Seeing the price I murmured a no thank you, apparently he was not having that and lowered his price. Still it was simply too much for me so I again gave my apologies. “10 minutes 15 euro” he urged. Until finally I relented and sat to have him put on paper the person he saw in me.
After a couple of minutes a small group of people began to gather behind him, exclaiming in glee at the likeness of the image that was taking form. “Les yeux!” they gasped “les yeux”. “My eyes?” I wondered. Afterwards, I thanked him and nested my new portrait in my arms as we rushed to catch the last metro back to the hotel.
I can hardly believe that it has only been a week since I have been in Europe, and I have three more to go!
PARIS! Ever on the go with few times to rest, we found ourselves dragging our luggage through the train station staring bewildered at the signs which we hoped were leading us in the right direction. Gazing at the bulky inconvenience of our suitcases (broken handles, detached wheels, un-retractable handles…) Michael decided to rent out a locker space to leave them at the train station, only carrying an overnight bag. We would later decide that this was by far the best choice we could have made.
We hopped onto a metro (I’m starting to get used to hurtling at high velocities below ground) and then made our way into the fresh air to find…that we were lost, but hey that adds to the excitement! We traversed the streets of Paris, hiking up our backpacks and overnight bags. I was completely enthralled by the language, making a valiant effort to decipher the rapid-fire dialogue going on around me.
We walked….and walked…tripped a little…but kept walking…and finally made our way into the lobby of our hotel. *Insert sigh of relief* we took half an hour to drop our bags and change and then headed right back out once more. The sights oh the wondrous, opulent, towering sights! Breathtaking with the gold leaf covered does glinting in the rays of sunlight parting the clouds. The Louvre was spectacular, an abundance of art that captured and held my gaze, refusing to let me go. We spent two hours weaving through the crowd and trying to get a perfect shot of our favorites. Mine included the Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and the early American sculptures.
What took my breath away the first time and accomplished to do so once more was standing in front of Notre Dame. There is something so peaceful about the towering church despite the lavish exterior. It was quiet and cool inside, a sense of respite from the constant movement of the day soothed my frazzled nerves. It was beautiful, iridescent beams of light filtering through the gleaming stained glass windows coming to rest on empty pews awaiting those who came to kneel among them to talk to someone greater than themselves.
After Notre Dame we took off once more to Sacre Coeur, just managing to miss the last shuttle going up. SO we chose to brave the stairs… my legs ache just to think of it, but it was well worth the pain to emerge at the top and be graced with such a view.
It was most certainly a memorable day.
Today possessed a bittersweet day, being the last day in a city which has shown us much hospitality. Although I feel as if there is a part of Amsterdam that still remains hidden from me and I yearn to explore it, I cannot help but feel a sense of anticipation to set out for Paris. I would have never thought that I would be able to travel abroad twice in one year, once with my grandmother in September and now this whirlwind of a trip that has captured me and refused to let go.
In today’s sessions, we had a chance to hear Michael and Professor Violeta present on their experience with the Croatia-US exchange. Watching the videos of everyone I had the pleasure to meet brought a pang of nostalgia. I certainly do miss everyone that came out with us to the Kennedy Space center and through which I forged a friendship that spanned across seas and numerous countries. The benefits to having such an opportunity to travel abroad and to glean knowledge from different cultures and backgrounds are absolutely priceless. Every morning that I awake, fearing that it has been naught but a dream only to find that I am truly here is another moment I take to thank those who made it possible for all of their hard work.
Another of the presentations that we attended dealt with cross-cultural communication. This was an intriguing discussion since it explored the differences between reactions and expectations divergent cultures experience when they work together. Especially prominent was the variations between individualistic, such as the US and the UK, and collectivist cultures, which include the Middle East and South America. While individualistic cultures tend to value creativity and originality, those from collectivistic cultures focus more on unity and equality. After the presentations, we proceeded to lunch and bid sad adieus to old and new friends, promising to meet up again very soon.
With a cold kiss that morning, Amsterdam gave a sleepy farewell as we made our way onto the train en route to Paris.
There was a perfect quote which summed up the information I have thus learned perfectly. “Simply put, access without support is not opportunity”. For those who are non-traditional students, those who fall below the socioeconomic status quo, those who do not have parents who received higher levels of education themselves, or those who come from underrepresented groups, entering into higher education is often terrifying. There is a sense of being lost in a sea of people who seem so self-assured knowing exactly where they belong.
I have learned how minority students can be a financial asset to their countries of residence as well as a source of innovation for new technologies. According to one of the presentations, getting Latino students up to the level of white students would increase the US’s GDP by 2-4%, 1% being the equivalent of 165 million! But the actual process of doing so would require extensive work from the individuals involved to the structure of the educational system of the US.
I attended another session in which some of the issues minorities faced in the US were addressed. These included school counselors and teachers acting as selective gatekeepers to the information about going to college that would prove beneficial to all students, the low expectation these teachers had of their minority students and thus making clear how little chance these students had at succeeding in a higher education environment, low access to resources such as financial aid and course selection.
Tips that were given for students to have a better chance at succeeding while in a university were, getting involved in various campus organizations (preferably in leadership postitions), staying focused on the reason why graduating is important, pursuing their passions instead of worrying about making money, studying abroad (preferably early around sophomore year), helping out at their high school community to serve as role models and mentors for future generations, and meeting often with advisor and professors to keep on track academically.
There is still much to learn and I simply cannot wait.
Can I just take a minute to remind myself that I woke up and have been walking around Amsterdam? …..ok thank you. This is an extraordinary city, one I can’t help but feel at home in. I am even getting used to the cold! I adore the architecture and could people watch for hours on end; everyone seems to move differently than back home, and I am mesmerized.
Today was quite an eye –opener. We began the first day of the conference, and it brought questions to mind from a new direction. During the general meeting in which the executive board of the European Access Network presented different aspects of the organization, a statement caught my attention: the claim that in widening access to education, one ran the risk of lowering the quality of the institution.
I could not help but wonder how someone could think so, which is why this conference has made strides in shedding light on such dark thoughts. The secretariat of the EAN, Mee Foong Lee, spoke about various projects the EAN was taking a part in, such as fostering trust and exchange between Europe and Africa, in which the main issues were access to higher education and mobility to the different locations. To address the issue of mobility, she suggest a system encompassing pan African universities, that way students or faculty that have traveled to Europe can then share knowledge they gained within their own countries instead of making multiple trips outside of them.
The executive board also informed us of the upcoming conferences which were being hosted by the EAN at different universities; in 2012 the 21st annual conference will be held in Zagreb Croatia, and the 22nd annual conference will be hosted in Paris.
After the announcements at the meetings there were short breaks dispersed to give us time to meet and stretch. Everyone was keen on talking to us about where we were from and what we were studying. It was great to meet people from such diverse backgrounds, Croatia, Liverpool, Dublin, etc. After we had all had our coffee and cake we broke into groups and we picked parallel discussions to attend; mine was based on the issues immigrants faced when attempting to attend institutions of higher learning. The speakers focused on the issues they were facing in Finland with the new influx of immigrants. In a preparatory course, only 2-3 students out of a sample of 14 succeeded in passing the entrance examinations. The main reason for the high failure rate seemed to be the difficulty with language proficiency and comprehension.
The issues they face in Finland reflect the other side of the issue we face in the US were immigration is rapidly growing and has been for a while. What interested me most of their approach to this low success rate was how individualized the program was. There was intensive course work, including studies of the Finnish language that a student had to complete in order to move forward.
In a flurry of presentations and slow questions with answers that brought about new discoveries, the day finally came to a close. We, by which I mean I, thought we were going out to explore the lovely city after a quick nap. Well…a quick nap turned into a knock out and we decided to stay in instead. I will not say that I am sorry for doing so, but I wonder what kind of day tomorrow will be.
Wow. It has been a day lived at full speed and low energy. I first believed that staying up to watch as many free movies as I could cram into the 6 hour flight was not only doable, but necessary! After all, I managed to grab a few hours’ worth of sleep on the way to Boston and surely that would be enough! After all, I was simply bursting with adrenaline making the concept of sleep seemed almost laughable.
Getting off of the flight was relatively simple as compared to past trips to other countries and then came the task of trying to navigate our way to our hotel at Casa 400. We then had to take the train to get to our hotel. As I looked at the ramp leading onto the platform my heart jumped and came to rest somewhere in the vicinity of my voice box; there was a smooth conveyor-belt looking contraption that led down onto the platform. I looked at my 50+ lbs. suitcase and soft bottomed shoes and gulped back a wave of apprehension. With quaking knees I maneuvered myself onto the ramp and proceeded to slide forward from the weight of my luggage. In my mind’s eye I could clearly see a scene straight out of a Looney Toons episode – myself acting as the bowling ball; hurtling toward everyone at the bottom of the ramp who strangely resembled the pins. Heart thumping the entire agonizing length of those 3 minutes, I held on for dear life! Yet almost as soon as I cleared the entrance onto the train station and my heart had stopped its mad flight, exhaustion crept in. How am I going to lug this monster into that tiny train?! It wasn’t pretty but we all made it onto the train, albeit huffing and panting.
After we boarded the train and our laughing and chattering died away, the silence was palpable. We swallowed our smiles and concentrated on trying to understand the names of stops. Once we found the appropriate one, we piled out and looked around. It seemed as if all life on earth had ceased to exist. The silence was broken only by the whistling sigh of the wind as it wound its way along the empty streets. Apprehensively we kept focused on finding our bearings. After much walking around and consulting the maps posted around the train station (clearly shouting to all, WE ARE LOST AND FOREIGN!), we found our way to our destination. Now it seemed as if surely half the day had been whiled away, glancing at a clock I was shocked to find that it was only 9 in the morning!
After that it truly is all a blur punctuated by brief stints of consciousness. I love sleeping and by this time it was approaching about 24 hours without it and my body was wondering what the heck I was doing to myself?! And did I mention it was raining? Well yeah it was…did I mention it was 50 degrees outside? Also true, but even though I was cold, hungry, tired, and approaching severely jet lagged, I was still in awe about being cold, hungry, tired, and nearly severely jet lagged IN AMSTERDAM!
There are images of the house of Anne Frank, which left me feeling trapped and so terribly angry. Also there was the trip to Van Gogh’s museum, four floors of bright colors and peasants living their seemingly ordinary hum-drum lives, and potatoes…lots of potatoes… we were all dragging ourselves forward by the sheer power of will. Esteban was fading fast, nodding off while we waited for our omelets, and Lucie was in just as much trouble and used my arm as a pillow for her head. I, however, was going strong!! Until we got to the boat tour that is, which is upsetting since I was looking forward to that excursion. I would blink and minutes of my life would vanish…my head kept leaning to rest on the table in front of me…just for a minute, my mind urged, not for long. Michael was laughing at us the entire time. . .
By some miracle we all made it back to the hotel without falling asleep in some alley along the way. We grabbed some food at the metro station and hustled our way back to the hotel. Chewing as fast as I could manage we fell asleep around 9pm (3:00 pm US) and woke up groggy and confused 3 hours later to write this lovely blog and to get everything ready for tomorrow.
Things to remember for tomorrow:
• wear. Layers. A lot of them.
• Stay away from Burger King
• Find the butter for the bread! (the bread here is delicious)
• Change money (I can just make out the sound of my bank account wailing in my ear…)
8:16 pm US – 2:17 am Amsterdam
Watching the sun dip beneath the waves of a sea of clouds, I cannot help but feel a terrible excitement. Yet even as I am sitting here watching a movie of Johnny Depp drinking a cup of tea on a train to Venice, I am consumed by the sense of unreality. That this experience will allow me the opportunity to travel to places I previously only done so in my most wild of dreams. Based on this, I feel I can only give the best of myself on this trip and take every opportunity to absorb as much as I possibly can.
Who will I meet? What images will become seared into my mind to become sweet memories? Each shining moment is brimming with infinite possibilities and I am left to wonder what I have yet to learn and what other sunsets on distant horizons await me.
Alma is the oldest of four sisters. Although her family originated from Michoacan and Guererro, Mexico, Alma has always lived in Indiantown, Florida. She graduated with a bilingual International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma from South Fork High School. Currently, Alma is majoring in psychology with a minor in French. Her goal is to focus on clinical psychology in the areas concerning the prison system and the effects of rape on minority men’s sense of self. She is involved in the LEGACY Leadership & Mentoring Program, and Future Minority Leaders. Alma is passionate about learning new languages, literature, and the spoken word.