When It Don’t Come Easy

Tuesday May 26, 2015

I spoke about “going places and doing things” in one of my previous posts. It’s good to get out and about, in the world, your community, or your neighborhood. One thing that inevitably happens when you travel abroad – is that you hit a bit of a wall at some point in your trip. The tenor of this post may sound more subdued, but learning is learning, even when its hard.

As I drove in to work this morning with Jerome, I felt more foreign than I have since arriving. The traffic patterns, the people and faces, the bikes, the lack of the kind of coffee I want when I want it…even nature betrayed me. The trees and grasses looked different, and unfamiliar to me. I was taxed trying to follow what Dutch words I could on the radio, and I wanted to be back with familiar people, sights, and sounds. This is the cost of traveling, particularly abroad. I imagine that our students feel like this after they have started college. The language is different, the people, the expectations, the rules. And despite their preparation via orientation, websites, and talking to folks – they still feel like strangers. I also prepared for my trip here. For over a year! Even still, I find myself well into my trip – feeling lost and alone. What gets me through it is the love, counsel and support of others, connecting with my routines, being resilient and knowing that it will pass. I wonder how I can apply this same process of coping to our new students. Those first three – six weeks is so critical to student success for the entire semester. We need to empathize more with what our students are experiencing – put ourselves in their shoes to discover new insights into their lives. And we need to ask them – then ask them again – then ask them again, until we get better at helping our students feel that the college environment is familiar to them. Success can then flow from familiarity and belonging.

That passed for me, and I found my joy again at work (that didn’t take long did it). Arriving at the Sports College in Amersfoort I was able to meet with the students in Jerome’s mentor group. Each teacher here has a group of students with whom they mentor throughout the year. These teachers meet with their students as a group and 1-1 once a week. Talk about student support! I met with two of the students afterwards and heard from them about why they were there, what they hoped to do in life, how much they felt supported (or not) by the college, and just generally about their lives and journey to Sports College. I was going to talk more about the stories they shared, but decided not to, for their privacy. Let’s just say this group of students (in this cohort/class/etc.) are really going through some things outside of school. Again, without going into detail, this is some heavy stuff that would tax the most capable and well-adjusted person. But many of these students are not capable and not well-adjusted. Of course they will be, that’s why they are in school, but the journey is a long one. Jerome and I agreed that here and in the U.S., the “stuff” that is going on in our students’ lives have everything to do with how successful they are or are not in school. I believe some in my circle at Oakton think that being a student is the end all be all of our student’s purpose – yes they are students, but it is not all they are. I also think we forget just how important  those things are that happen outside of classes. I am not talking about co-curricular and extra-curricular activities – I’m talking about life. To complicate this fact, is that within a community college space (and in the ROC here), and increasingly in four-year spaces, students have a very utilitarian view of higher education. They are going to school to learn something, that they can then apply in very visible and rewarding ways afterwards. Do we engage students understanding this reality? Are we fighting to make them want to value education for education’s sake as in days of old, or at our elite universities? I know what we say, but do our policies reflect that? Do the courses students take and the teaching in the classroom reflect that? Do we have this conversation with our students on a regular basis? These are the questions I want to press upon my colleagues. There are no right answers, just different ones. And these questions deserve our attention on both a personal and institutional level.

While there are many students struggling, there are many students thriving. I had the opportunity to sit in on an English class (where they are learning to speak English that is), and students were giving presentations that day. They were of course nervous with a native speaker in the room, but they were fantastic. I had a chance to learn about their work experiences in their internships, while also providing feedback about their presentations and English. It was good to be in the classroom again in that way – and to interact with the students in that way. Later I traveled to the Tech and Bouw & Interieur (Building and Interior) Colleges.

IMG_5981
Colleagues from the U.S.
IMG_5989
Built by students

IMG_5982 IMG_5986 IMG_5987

Here they do a number of things, electrical, plumbing, concrete, woodworking, automotive, flooring, upholstery; basically anything in and out of buildings. Once again, I saw students on state of the art equipment doing real work, learning their craft. It is fascinating to watch this system of vocational education at work – and these students are quite young. They enter their ROC experience at 16/17, when many of our students are finishing high school still. It’s too early – as I expressed in an earlier post – but we don’t get it right either in the U.S. And many of these students seem so focused and mature for their ages. None more than those I met at the Horeca & Travel College (Hospitality and Travel).

IMG_5990 IMG_5991 IMG_5992 IMG_5994 IMG_5997

Much like our culinary schools, these are the cooks, facilities managers, and hospitality experts. We were greeted by a level 4 student, who served a the facility manager for his lower level peers. He was 19. After touring the grounds and meeting with the ROC Academy (which is their faculty professional development center or teaching and learning center in four-year spaces), we had a world-class dinner in the restaurant. The food was prepared by students, served by students, and the manager was a student. He was 17 – and he was good. Each student has this potential when coached, trained, and trusted. I love to see it in action – much like I love to see our students taking on leadership roles and student work experiences at our campus.

Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager
Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager

I’ll end this post with some fun shots from my holiday on Monday March 25 – which was also Memorial Day in the U.S. I visited Den Haag (The Hague), which is the political seat of power for the Netherlands. I went with Sandra (my host), and her brother-in-law who works for the government and is very knowledgeable about the city Though Amsterdam is the capital, Den Haag is where the parliament, prime minister, ministries and justices do their work.

IMG_5779
Ministry of Education
IMG_5811
Parliament Building
IMG_5813
U.S. Embassy (not so hot huh lol)
IMG_5818
Me and Sandra (she’s so photogenic!)
IMG_5831
Embassy of Pakistan (now that’s an embassy lol)
IMG_5842
Peace Palace

IMG_5772 IMG_5775 IMG_5778 IMG_5781 IMG_5783 IMG_5784 IMG_5786 IMG_5789 IMG_5796 IMG_5798 IMG_5802 IMG_5803 IMG_5804 IMG_5808 IMG_5814 IMG_5817 IMG_5820 IMG_5826 IMG_5828 IMG_5841 IMG_5847 IMG_5848 IMG_5849 IMG_5850 IMG_5854 IMG_5855 IMG_5856 IMG_5860

There is also a great little attraction known as Madurodam, which is basically a model village of all the major attractions across the country! It is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Such amazing detail and attention to the many wonders of this place. Enjoy!

IMG_5864  IMG_5865 IMG_5866 IMG_5867 IMG_5871 IMG_5874 IMG_5875 IMG_5880 IMG_5882 IMG_5896 IMG_5899 IMG_5900 IMG_5901 IMG_5908 IMG_5910 IMG_5912 IMG_5918 IMG_5923 IMG_5926 IMG_5928

IMG_5935

Ritual, Innovation, and Change

Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23

Blogging at the end of the night is impossible when my nights end late, which they did on both Friday and Saturday. Friday ended with these now regular chat with Sandra and Jerome over some wine and light snacks. I’m in love with the rituals this family keeps, and am taking notes as I think about how to be a better host. Rituals, like traditions, create a sense of belonging and purpose. A lesson for all of us is the power in daily routines to help us center ourselves, reflect, and prepare for the next day. With a child of my own I’ve learned to appreciate the power of routines. It is vital for her health and well-being. Of course once we get older we seem to drop our routines, and because we are so “busy” we accept the chaos that comes with everyday. I am going to think about my routines more at home and work – which ones are healthy and which ones should I ditch. Oh, and I saw a hedgehog! A real life, in the “flesh” hedgehog. I told my hosts that I’ve never seen one outside of a zoo – and never thought about why. But as it was crawling around their back porch I looked them up on the internet and found out they are not indigenous to the U.S. So there you have it – a hedgehog.

IMG_5635
A hedgehog – on the back porch!

I did have an opportunity to sit with two more staff members at the ROC Sports College in Amersfoort. One of those men was Bas (Sebastian), who was the Director of the college. He is equivalent to a Dean in the U.S., and he is responsible for reporting to the Chairman of the ROC and managing the affairs of the college. He actually started the Sports College almost 10 years ago, along with others I’ve met, including Jerome, of whom Bas speaks very highly. I learned more about the higher education system, and with each meeting I learn something new, gain clarity, and lose some as well! Understanding all of this takes time, and will take more time even after this exchange to get my head around. Bas and others started the college, so I began to think about how at Oakton we have some who have started the college 46 years ago still exerting influence in the college. There are others who have been there a really long time. I think how hard it is to change something that you’ve been so immersed in since the beginning. Part of my interest in doing this exchange is to examine how higher ed is administered, how the organizations are structured, who leaders are and how they lead, and how change is managed. When asked about how change is perceived and managed here, Bas commented that they were excited about change. At least within the Sports College change is welcome as a new opportunity from what I can tell, and because of the involvement of the teachers and others in the execution of change, there seems to be buy-in early in the process.

I mentioned in a previous post about the involvement and care of the teachers. After speaking with the Director, it seems that the teachers’ involvement is encouraged and insisted upon from the highest level of the organization. The teachers and other staff are the decision makers. Yes, the Director gives the larger goal to achieve, but all the details of how that will happen flows up from the rank and file. In fact, the Director said “my dilemma in leadership is to not interfere with how the team achieves its goals.” There is an inherent and well-earned trust among this team, one that lacks in some of the spaces where I work. I believe I can do better to develop trust in those around me, and also trust the people around me more. This trust-building process takes time. Time that we often sacrifice in the name of efficiency and “getting things done,” while in fact our ability to get things done is compromised by our lack of relationship building. I tell my students this all the time – but alas, I don’t always practice it.

There is an “Invocation and Education” team that I have to find a way to model at Oakton. It is something I have thought about a lot in terms of how we institutionalize creative problem solving using the talent within our division. This team is designed to do that for the Sports College. New ideas and ways to approach problems are discussed in this group, and the ideas can be generated from his group as well. At the end of the day you have well vetted ideas and solutions that can be attempted. I need to learn more about this team as I think how to apply the concept back home. I hope to see more people take ownership in the affairs of the College at all levels. I think that is missing – it’s my role as an institutional leader to create space for that culture to emerge.

Saturday was my triumphant return to Amsterdam! Very good day. Lots of walking and lots of sight-seeing (unstructured),

IMG_5670 IMG_5673 IMG_5655IMG_5713 IMG_5715 IMG_5716 IMG_5719 IMG_5721 IMG_5730 IMG_5731 IMG_5733 IMG_5734

the Amsterdam Dungeon,

IMG_566611009343_10102839945119240_7815485386352709469_n11329865_10102839945084310_5282223871617415509_nIMG_5669 IMG_5668 IMG_5667

a canal tour,

IMG_5675 IMG_5678 IMG_5680 IMG_5688 IMG_5679 IMG_5694 IMG_5699 IMG_5698

and some good drinks at Irish pubs and a steakhouse. The pictures say more than I can say – but it was a great day. Today is my day off – I won’t blog tomorrow about today as I’m mostly going to be at the house until dinner tonight with the family.

Beauty and Creativity

Well it happened. I missed a day blogging. But I didn’t miss a day reflecting! I still did lots of that, and just literally ran out of time yesterday before I could post anything. So I’ll be combining my thoughts on Wednesday May 20 and Thursday May 21 in this post.

These last two days have been really hands on in exploring the vocational education system. Wednesday started with a sit down with the compliance and quality control folks for the ROC. In the U.S. these would be our accreditation folks, as well as those regulatory people on our campuses keep us honest with our learning outcomes and objectives. The meeting demonstrated the similarities between our systems of higher ed administration – where the government (who provides funding) wants to know that education is being administered to a certain standard (quality). There are teams of people hired to coordinate this centrally, with people within each of the colleges serving as liaisons back to the central office. What is really interesting, and something that supports student success in my opinion, is how deep the compliance area goes into the classroom. When a student’s attendance is too low, the compliance area knows about it – and wants answers. Funding is given to each student by the government, sometimes a significant amount. It is expected that students will take that funding to be students, full time, 40 hours a week, and not work other full time jobs. That money doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of students however, but there are government loans available at rock bottom interest rates (.012%). Funding is also given to the college’s based on enrollment – which creates a problematic incentive to keep students enrolled, whether it is in their best interest or not. This is why the compliance office has changed their funding model so that this dynamic doesn’t exist.

Everyone I have spoken to seemed to recognize a shift in public and government sentiment related to funding higher education. They have a long way to go before “education is a private good” mentality sets in, but I see Holland on their way there. A law was just passed that limited funding for students who want to continue their education from lower level high school through university. As I mentioned before, in Holland the line between high school and university is not always a straight one – and it can take some time to navigate the layers of the system. That time costs money – and the government is not as willing to fund it anymore. I met with the equivalent of a grants coordinator for the ROC – but I’m not sure I have much to say about that.

I have to use this post to make some observances about faculty (teacher) behavior in the U.S. vs. Holland. Caveat: my observations are limited to my experience – here and in the U.S., so this is in no way scientific. But my blog, my words haha. While there are similarities, I think there exists an ethos of care and responsibility for student success that doesn’t exist in the U.S. I think faculty in the U.S. are very particular about non-inteference of administration in the classroom. Faculty have dominion over the classroom, and I think they should. But that has to mean more than just teaching content. Where Holland gets it right (at least at the ROC colleges I’ve experienced), and where the student care comes in, is in the web of support built around students by the teachers. Teachers not only teach, they are mentors of at least 5-6 students each. I will meet with students during a mentor session next week and get their thoughts, but the literature is consistently clear that faculty involvement is the #1 factor in determining student persistence and success in college. As someone who manages student conduct, of course I have been exploring that work here. What I discovered is that all student conduct matters, from fights, to academic dishonesty, is handled first with the teachers, mentors, and a “care coordinator” (also a teacher) before it ever gets to the “student affairs” area. That’s a beautiful thing. Teachers here know students personally, and use that personal knowledge to support them in and out of the classroom. They serve as a coach, counselor, and mentor to students. It’s expected of them.

In the states I believe our teachers care a great deal about students (some more than others), but something is blocking the level of involvement in students’ lives that I witnessed here. It could be a) lack of confidence or competence in supporting students, b) lack of time – with large course loads with hundreds of students, this type of involvement is admittedly tough, or perhaps c) lack of commitment to students, or understanding of how important their role is as faculty. Whatever the reason, I wonder how we (as employees of our colleges) can encourage and expect more faculty involvement in the lives of our students. I cannot overstate the importance and impact of truly engaged faculty. We have many examples at Oakton, and we need to use data and relationships to understand what the best of our teachers are doing to keep students coming back and succeeding. Then we need to insist that others do it. If faculty want to have dominion over the classroom, then they need to own that in every way possible. That means not sending every “troubled student” to someone else to “fix them,” or it means managing your class more directly, not filing conduct complaints for “disruptive behavior” for minor infractions or disruptions.

My most productive meeting came with a colleague who is more closely aligned with student support services as I know it. The Studie & Loopbaancentrum (SLC). This loosely translates to Study and Career Center. If the first line of teachers and mentors fails to adequately help a student, or if other needs arise, they can be referred to the SLC. I noticed quickly they do a lot of what student affairs does in the U.S.: the center helps support student social and emotional problems (counseling center), studying habits (learning/academic support center), wanting to transfer (advising), disabilities (disability services), discipline (conduct), and career counseling. There is also a social worker that works with students who need additional support from community agencies/resources. You may be wondering about tutoring or remedial services, as I sure did. That again falls back on the individual colleges and…(you guessed it) teachers, to come up with solutions and additional support for the students. The decentralized nature of the discipline system, and the colleges each handling their own “stuff” does create challenges with administering services equitably and/or consistently. However, that is sometimes managed by regular meetings of the management of the different areas within the colleges. This provides some degree of consistency and coordination.

On Wednesday I experienced another first! I drove in Holland. All by myself. My host’s idea. Crazy right? I dropped Jerome off, with his trusting spirit haha, so he could manage a softball clinic near his house, and then I took off by myself with the help of “Tom Tom” (the GPS device) and made my way to Utrecht. Driving was interesting, but familiar. I am a good driver (I think, mom fix your face), and I drive stick well – so I did ok. Once I got going I did well – and it was nice to “learn” the city differently as I was paying more attention to signs and intersections and people. In addition to meeting with the folks from compliance and grants, I got to check out another college; this time the Beauty College. When we first arrived to Holland the Director of International Programs said that “you would know” when you were in a particular college; the smells, the sights, the students, would give it away. He wasn’t lying.

IMG_5526 IMG_5525

The Beauty College had a personality all it’s own. It was heavily female dominated, though in the hair styling program there are a few men. A faculty member greeted us, a man of Indian descent it seemed, who had amazing hair. He then introduced us to our own personal beauticians…we were about to get facials and a manicure or massage. Can you say #readdddyyyyyyyy! It was my first facial and their first time working on a man. I felt honored to be a  part of these students education. As is the ROC way, these were students who need to practice, and who better than us!? It’s not too different from beauty schools and barber colleges in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Amber for being kind, connecting personally with me, and for being consummate professionals (at only 19 and 17 respectively.) And thanks for the DJ recommendation!

IMG_5528
My beauticians, Laura and Amber

 

On Thursday I got to interact a bit more with students at the Utrecht Sports College location, and got to see them play volleyball as part of a rotation of activities. The facility (as have been many others) was state of the art. The skill at playing however was not! It was entertaining nonetheless.

IMG_5547 IMG_5544I also got to step into an entirely different world, the Creative College. Here students work on media, art and design, and graphic design as well. There is a cohort model used in this college, where students (all of whom are Level 4 and level 4 only for four years) come in and take courses together based on their year. Even without that structure, each of the colleges group people based on their professional interests/paths, and therefore the people in the colleges tend to have similar attitudes and even mannerisms.

You begin to be able to tell who is in what college by what they wear, who they associate with, or what they look like. On the one hand it creates some powerful connections between the students, on the other I worry about what is loss in the intersectional and interdisciplinary experiences that could be if everyone studied together. Jerome and I talked about that and he told me there were exploring options for students to take electives in other colleges, to expose them to other interests and skills. I’d like to see more structure and cohorts at my college, though it is challenging with such a large population of part-time students who go at different paces. But perhaps there is a solution somewhere for that. The students in the creative college seemed more tech savvy, bookish, and “artsy,” and I enjoyed seeing their work. Very talented.

On a personal note, I’m still tired, but still thriving. Wednesday night was a chill night where I just rested upstairs while Jerome went to a training, and Sandra hosted one of her friends. It was important for me to take that break and do something “routine” to center myself. Thursday night, after work at both sites for the Sports College, we did dinner at home – another amazing meal. Following that Jerome took me to a colleagues house in Utrecht. I was invited to go to a live jazz concert at this new venue in downtown, and I was all over it. The lady who invited me works at the Sports College and was going to be singing. So I invited Marc (the colleague now friend) and he said yes! His place, which he just sold, was amazing. The views overlooking the city and the canals were out of a picture book.

IMG_5576 IMG_5575 IMG_5570 IMG_5571 IMG_5573 IMG_5574 IMG_5569 (1)We talked about real estate, and what’s next for him. He will be traveling to the U.S. in July – I think I have him on the hook to make Chicago his home for 3-4 weeks. I’d love to return his hospitality. We walked together through the city, past the train station, and through the really modern side of Utrecht.

IMG_5583 IMG_5582 IMG_5581We arrived at the Tivoli – Van Den Burg, which is a beautiful performing arts center that could put the Kentucky Center (in Louisville, KY) to shame.

IMG_5589 IMG_5590 IMG_5588We walked up more flights of stairs than I care to remember to the area where the performance would be. The large brass band was made up of university and conservatory students. Then there was  an acapella group who sounded like Take 6, though they were all white (Dutch) and a mix of men and women. They were incredible, and clearly well practiced with the band. To top it off there was a famous Dutch trumpet player who joined in and it was mesmerizing. After a few sets, complete with visuals on a big screen behind the band, Karen (the lady who invited me to the show) was STUNNING. Beautiful red dress, amazing stage presence, and a voice that could hang with any soul/jazz/pop singer out there.

IMG_5605 IMG_5596 IMG_5595After the concert and many beers, Marc and I walked back through Utrecht, to the train station, where I rode back to Amersfoort where Jerome picked me up and we went home. I’ve been a zombie today – so tomorrow, I’ll talk about today!

Tiny Cups and Orange Lights

Tuesday May 19, 2015
Big shout out to a critical colleague of mine at Oakton @DrGracia. She encouraged me more than she knows via Twitter. It’s tough to write daily – but I’m going to go, go, go. Thanks GNA:)
Tuesday was a good day. A long day, but one with more firsts and a great deal of learning. When I used to teach a student leadership course at the University of Louisville, there was a particular lesson about sustaining relationships that I really enjoyed teaching. In that section we would talk about the importance of “going places and doing things.” If you want to make an impact, if you want to clarify your values, if you want to create and sustain new relationships, you must go places and do things. Sounds simple, right? Well it is. I am fortunate to be able to go places far away and do things that require resources, but it wasn’t always that way. So hopefully this post, and all my posts, will allow you to go places and do things vicariously through me, while you also do your own thing.
IMG_5356
The smallest and simplest things entertain and amaze me when traveling abroad. They help me put into perspective things I take for granted, and challenges me to think differently about what I do and don’t do, and why I do it. The ultimate hope is that I am a better person, educator, parent, and person because of all this perspective-taking. And then some things are just hilarious. Take for instance the size of the cups here in Holland. Mind you I am used to drinking 20 oz of coffee to start each day, and then I arrive here and see these baby cups that look like I should be using them with my daughter at a pretend tea party. Jerome always joked back in the states that our cups were huge, even the small ones. Well now I see why. Or take how I saw a traffic light that to me is yellow, so I commented “yellow light!” since I literally hadn’t seen one since I’ve been here – to which Jerome erupts in laughter and says in his Aruba/Dutch accent which is so endearing, “no man, that’s orange!” Of course we argue for 15 minutes about how the other is wrong, and the way the other does it in their country is crazy. This of course is all in jest, and we laugh at how some people are unable to overcome things even more banal than this in the real world. And so we laugh, and appreciate each other, and realize our differences are what make us the same in the end.
I continue to engage my Dutch colleagues in discussions about race, racism, and the challenges we face in the U.S. They are exposed to many of the same biased and incomplete media images that we are. I was happy when a colleague said to me “I didn’t even think about that, and I’m glad we talked” in reference to why “it” [race] still matters so much in the U.S. I was able to get reacquainted with the higher education system of Holland, which differs in many ways from the U.S. Most notable is how “layered” the system is, in that there are many choices after primary school that can lead students on many different paths towards post-secondary education. It also seems that the way the schools are funded, everyone has an equal chance at a number of tracks, and where they go largely depends on their own talent in school and/or their effort. It’s the closest thing to a meritocratic education system as it gets. Seems simple enough, but in fact I am confident there are problems and disparities that show up. In the U.S. the “meritocracy” doesn’t exist because students are not experiencing primary education the same way. There are vast disparities in resources and outcomes for lower-income people. That apparently is not the case in the Holland system because of the funding structure of the schools. Even so I learned where our system has values and faults, and so did Jerome. I am most affirmed in my belief that we (globally it seems) still rush our students to know what they want to do, well before they are able to understand who they want to be.That’s a dangerous practice.
I am coming to understand that what the Dutch call efficiency is not merely getting things done faster, but getting things done better. I don’t think the end goal is simply to move fast, I think its to move with purpose – and things that don’t seem purposeful distract from their goals; in this case teaching the students. It wasn’t very “efficient” for us to drive out to a gym (which had a bar by the way – yes can I have another) for Jerome to asses a students work in organizing a basketball tournament. But the experiential “learning in action, learning is doing” model at the Sports College, recognizes that its the best way to assess whether the students really get it. It was amazing to watch – not only that the student was demonstrating his skills and what he learned, but it also benefited the community members with which he worked.
IMG_5516
Student organized basketball tournament
IMG_5515
Student organized basketball tournament
It’s not necessarily efficient to have so many shared, flexible spaces. Yes it saves on space, but it robs people of the privacy that we in US spaces crave. We would argue that it causes distractions, and lessens our ability to “get work done.” But what I observed was a lot of work getting done – better work, collaborative work, open work, and social work. It’s the kind of work that keeps you coming back, and silently holds you accountable to both showing up, getting things done, and learning to respect and honor the work that others are doing. I am reminded of the Hive that my colleague GNA started at Oakton – and I think how that creates that space if only for a short time each week.
IMG_5521
Flexible/shared office space
IMG_5523
Seating area/lounge space within the office
I also couldn’t tell who the “boss” was around the building. Yes people dressed the same, but it was more than that. There was a collegiality that pervaded the space, and I want to study that more as I speak with the formal leaders of the organization.
At the end of the night, me, Jerome and his partner Sandra continued a conversation that Jerome and I started in the car. We were talking about the efficacy of the social sciences, and how its impossible to know things with a certainty – and how dangerous it is to judge based on what we think we know about people. This is particularly relevant in our work as we are helping students to think through their own success, next steps, strengths, and talents in a way that is grounded in theory, but imperfect in practice. You understand people’s pedagogy when you spend time talking to them. I wonder how I can do that more with my colleagues at Oakton – to truly understand where their talents are and their challenges are as we try to do best by our students. Speaking of students…I love students – no matter where I go. I got to see the students in action, being taught, doing energizers, using their technology to create videos and present them at the end of the day. The students at the sports college are kinesthetic learners by nature, so sitting still and being quiet was a challenge to say the least. The instructors handled it with such patience and love.
IMG_5496
  IMG_5497
I was particularly taken with a student leader who is a Level 3/4 student, who is also one of the country’s top athletes in his sport (Cycling) and who I mistook as a teacher. He was so mature, poised, and helpful. Jason if you are reading this, thank you for being you, and doing it really well.

IMG_5501
Jason van Haaften

Other students were also very good to get to know, the clowns (and liars – you know who you are Jop) and the more serious ones. Each had their own style, energy, and sense of purpose. One student wanted to do more and be more partly because his dad said he should. He was so sure about what he wanted to do, at least it seemed that way. Just like our students in the U.S., they are just trying to figure it all out.

Personally I am doing well. I had the chance to visit a Pancake House for some Dutch pancakes for dinner. These are more akin to crepes in my opinion. We agreed they were somewhere between French crepes and American pancakes. I wasn’t a fan, neither was Jerome, but the service was excellent and the scenery was perfect.
IMG_5512
Dutch pancake

IMG_5511 IMG_5507 IMG_5508  IMG_5510

When I prep myself for international travel I am reminded of the courses I taught and led to places in the Caribbean and Asia. I am reminded how powerful and effect the loss of routine can have on your mental and physical well-being. Not having your nightly cup of water; having to brush your teeth at odd times; nothing having your favorite food or access to your favorite music or “things.” Those things are what can set people off, much more than culture or country shock. I’m staying flexible in the face of my losses, and trying to stay present at all times. This is too important to let any loss overshadow the tremendous gains I’m experiencing.

Holland Day 3

Monday May 18, 2015

Today was my first day at work with Jerome. We went to the Sports College in Utrecht in the morning where I got to see the campus for the first time. My first impressions were great – very nice facility, kind people, well-maintained, clean, and the athletics fields are in exemplary shape (as they should be).

IMG_5421         IMG_5424

This is an “activity week” for students, meaning they have a choice of doing a number of things including skiing in Switzerland, snowboarding in France, or surfing in Spain. Others must stay here and do some structured activities at the school, which will start tomorrow. Jerome is concerned that those who have to stay will be less than motivated to actually engage fully in the days work. Despite having no students around it was still a full day. I started the day meeting the Director of International Programs here at the ROC. He led a meeting for me and other American visitors about the history, structure, and governance of the ROC (which loosely translates to Regional Education Center). These centers closely resemble our community college system in the U.S., but there are some significant differences which I won’t go into here. Needless to say, my colleagues from Illinois, California, and Tennessee very much enjoyed engaging our hosts about the work they do here.

My favorite part of the meeting was when the President/Chief Executive of ROC joined us. He was the quintessential administrator! He gave some of the big picture ideas about how he measures success, the challenges in the system, and the ways in which is and his leadership team work together. The highlight of that meeting came when he and another faculty member clearly disagreed about challenges facing the ROC and education in general. I enjoyed seeing them both respectfully disagree and challenge one another. It reminded me of some of the disagreements we have within and between faculty and administrators. It reminds me of how necessary that tension is to move our institutions forward. We talked a bit about the idea of shared governance, and how that looks (or doesn’t look here). I am challenged professionally to find a balance between getting input from constituencies, and moving things forward in a timely manner. Shared governance is not always the most efficient route, and sometimes it can stifle entrepreneurship (in some ways). Yet I believe in shared governance within higher education – it can be one of our greatest assets.

Following that meeting we jumped on a bus and headed into the city center. There we took a tour of Utrecht, fellowshipped with one another, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of this amazing city. Jerome picked me up from an old famous store in Utrecht and we headed home. That night Jerome made some amazing spaghetti, and we ate and recapped the day. It’s nice to share dinner with a family again – I don’t get to do that as much as I like in Chicago. We watched some TV, told stories by the fire pit, and then headed to sleep. I think my jet lag is finally passed, as I went to bed late last night and was really tired this morning.

IMG_5428 IMG_5442 IMG_5435 IMG_5474 IMG_5486 IMG_5455 IMG_5446 IMG_5432 IMG_5433

Planes, Bikes, and Water mobiles

Sunday May 17, 2015. Day 2 in Holland.

Yesterday was a day of firsts. My second day in Holland took us into the city of Utrecht, a beautiful city. Much of the architecture is similar to Amsterdam and other parts of Holland, but it is much more laid back and less touristy. I wanted to tour the canals, and so we did, quite literally. There are these electric boats right, that you can have remotely activated. They hold about 8 people, and you simply unplug it and go…so of course I drove because – why not.

Mind you I can’t swim, so there’s that. But let it be known that I really do like being on the water, just not in the water. It was amazing to go out with my host family and tour the canals. It was exciting, beautiful and again something out of a story book. We traveled through the canals, drank wine, ate cheese, crackers, and fruit, and even “parked” to get out and see some of the city. It was amazing. I had a taste of the Caribbean while looking around the city. Jerome and I had a Johnny Cake, which was….beyond words good. I also grabbed some souvenirs for some folks back at my college. We fed ducks, waived at passers-by, listened to Nickelodeon and Disney songs louder than we should have, and even fixed our boat when it got stuck…by a prison. I hope to visit that prison in a couple of days – we will see.

An even more magical time was getting back home last night and chatting over a light dinner and tea with Jerome and Sandra, both of whom work in higher education. I realized that there were more similarities in “diversity work” than I once thought. Which was encouraging. There is good work being done by people like Sandra and others to help people understand, value, and work with other cultures. The populations are different, but the challenges and work is very similar. We talked about the “oppressed” in Holland, and who were the disadvantaged in this country. We shared thoughts and ideas and knowledge about how higher education is funded in our countries, the philosophy of our systems, how they are lead, and what the challenges are. The hours rolled on by as we shared each other’s company, and learned from our collective experience. These convos present the best teaching and learning opportunities. Today was the first full “work day” but I will write a day after my experiences to give my thoughts time to marinate. John Maxwell said that “reflective thinking is like the crock pot of the mind. It encourages your thoughts to simmer until they’re done.” I’m going to let them simmer and write more tomorrow.

Holland

I’m going to write something everyday. I’m going to try hard to do this, so I can a) reflect on what I’m learning and feeling, b) remember it, c) share it. This will likely be the longest post.

It doesn’t take long when I travel to realize why I do it. The anxiety and stress of being away from home, the packing and preparation, the uncertainty. It all melts away when I board the plane. I boarded at around 6pm Friday night at Chicago O’Hare. The flight was uneventful, though I was reminded of one of my childhood dreams of being a pilot as I was able to listen in to the flight deck from my seat. A very cool feature offered by United. The food was ok, as was the wine!

I landed 7.5 hours later at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. I remembered suddenly how it was the first international location I’d ever visited (other than a Caribbean cruise when I was 14), and I was filled with gratitude. Partly because I arrived safely, and partly because I remember how blessed I am to even have the opportunity. I landed here 13 years ago for different reasons, but I was confident my trip would be just as special as my first time.

After waiting way too long for my luggage, I stepped out and connected with my exchange partner Jerome Wouters. It was like seeing an old family member. He was starring and smiling at a group of playing children, completely missing me come through – which is typical of him. He was waiting for like an hour anyway, so it was ok. Plus we picked right back up where we left off when I last saw him in the states in October 2014. It was nice to be back in Holland, this time as someone who would do more than visit – but really experience what it meant to live and work in there. I knew immediately my two weeks would be amazing.

Despite the rain and malaise of the weather, it was a great drive into Leusden-Zuid (South), which apparently is the “nice side” of Leusden as Jerome joked. His neighborhood and his home are idyllic. A dutch home in all its efficiency. It is three stories, my room is on the top floor. It overlooks the patio and garden area in the back, as well as a great view of more of his neighborhood. It is a scene from a picture book. I realize its normal here, and nothing special per se, but for me it is. It represents someone else’s life, which is different than my own, and is being shared with me. I also realize that there are places like this in the states, and in Rwanda, and in the Philippines, and in Brazil. Which reminds me of how much we share as humans – and how many humans don’t have this, in any form, because of the injustice of this world. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that later. Needless to say, the home and my room is perfect.

His wife Sandra, and their two children are just perfect. Sandra is highly educated, and clearly a loving mother and partner to Jerome. Immediately we click. We talked and joked over lunch, all of us that is, and did so again the next morning at breakfast. It’s nice to note the consistency of the meals – bread (brood), juice (sap), cheese, ham, salami, butter, some greenery, and this curry paste that is really good. Everything is fresh, and really good. Bread and cheese are a major staple, fortunately it is in Black southern US households too! Though admittedly not as healthy as this. Hearing the family talk in Dutch to each other reminds me of how privileged I am to speak English. To be understood is a powerful human need, and I have never traveled anywhere where people didn’t speak my language. I thought about my students at Oakton, some of whom don’t speak English as their first language, and their families who may not speak it at all. How can I make them feel understood? How can I support them better? I downloaded an app called Duolingo – which I learned about from their 10 year old daughter. It’s amazing – and I’m learning Dutch from it – like legit learning it – which I should have done a year ago when I knew I was coming!

Jerome is a big softball player here, and it’s a big deal here in Holland. He invited me to a game and BBQ, which I wasn’t about to pass up. I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did I get to see him in action, but I got to meet people – that’s my thing. I got to meet an airmen who came to Holland 30 years ago and stayed. He’s from Oregon. I met his teammates. And I met other fans who were hanging out. At the BBQ a younger guy, teenager, overheard me talking and asked where I was from. I told him Chicago, and he said his dad is from North Carolina. Ah, the way I lit up. I said, “me too!” And he went on to say you should meet my dad, he is from Lenoir, NC, which is very close to Charlotte. So I met his dad, and his mother. The farther I go from home, the closer I get. He invited me to his son’s American football game, which would have happened this morning. My jet lag forced me to sleep longer than I expected, so we committed to hanging out later this week, hopefully more than once. His son is quite the athlete apparently, and wants to go to school in the states. Another opportunity to empower a young person to create change in their world – and all from the Netherlands. Another highlight of going to the game – we rode bikes there. Me, on a bike, after some 15 years it feels like. But I didn’t miss a lick! It’s true – once you learn, you got it. It was exhilarating riding again – as crazy as it sounds. I look forward to getting back on bikes all this week and next, and then when I get back to Chicago. I had to come 4,000 miles away to remember how much I enjoyed it.

So last night at about 8pm local time I was wiped out. I went to bed, woke up and said a word of thanks to the Lord, and saw this beautiful view.

IMG_5340
My view outside my window in Leusden.

Now I’m excited for what today brings.