From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ponder College (2)—Study Abroad

Click here for the "Ponder College Resource Center"—(all posts available)
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Ponder College"
This is an "long post" (大)—click here for an explanation of Round and Square post lengths.
 ***  ***
One year ago on Round and Square (16 March 2013)—China's Lunar Calendar 2013 03-016
Two years ago on Round and Square (16 March 2012)—Structures: Interstate Highways
Three years ago on Round and Square (16 March 2011)—Beginnings: Mrs. Bridge
[a] Studying broadly RF
It has been a studious week at Ponder College, my alma mater, out there in an oasis of green on the Texas tumbleweed prairie.

It always is.

That's how we roll here.

Well, students are working on midterm projects and studying for midterm exams, but there was time for the International Education Center to organize a panel discussion of juniors and seniors who had recently returned from a semester (or two) abroad. IEC director Jean François Garnet sought a mix of student experiences in the panel—students who spent a year abroad, others who spent a semester, and those who traveled to Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He knows that "coverage" is not the point (any more than it is in his own academic discipline of history), but he would like to balance J-Pop and Genji with at least a dose of Hardy and Austen...not to mention Austin

That will really Ryle them up.

The students were told to prepare three minute (maximum) opening comments, and to prepare for what we academics like to call a "round table" discussion. For the first hour (these things are serious here at Ponder College, and the usual discussion or lecture lasts for over two hours), the six students would talk amongst themselves—but with an eye (and ear) cocked toward the audience. The second hour would bring in the audience itself, which—even fifteen minutes prior to the 7:00 p.m. start time—was surprisingly robust for the sixth week of the semester. 

But that's our Ponder. 
[c] Storied RF

The audience was balanced between first-year, third-year, and fourth-year students, but matching those three classes were a herd of sophomores. They were there, presumably, to get a sense about what to expect when they, too, travel next year.

Director Garnet began the proceedings by thanking the audience, the discussants, and the assorted faculty and staff members who had come to the shining new Malinowski Auditorium in the Marcel Mauss Institute for Advanced Ethnographic Study. 

So far, so predictable. Then Garnet threw everyone a curveball (a term he did not know before moving to Ponder College and becoming a Texas Rangers fan), and said "One of our topics tonight will be whether one, two, or no semesters abroad is best for international study.

The room grew silent. 

Panelists looked at one another.

The audience fidgeted.

What a blow was there struck.

Two? That is "out there," in some ways, but what is the director of international education at one of the world's most "international" colleges doing talking about not studying abroad?

What could that mean?

Director Garnet went on to say that this would be just one topic among several, but he had set a tone that would dominate the evening.
[d] International RF

And that was his was his plan...
 ***  ***
Jaylene Ross '15 began with an overview of her time in Britain, studying English literature. "A semester is just right," she said. "Less, and I would not be able to see the source of the British literary tradition that has inspired me. Just being there, seeing the land, and soaking it all in was worth a semester, even though it bothered me to have to leave the classes and writing demands we have here at Ponder—these have made me a much better student, and, frankly, the work I was asked to do there does not come close. Still, I needed to see the countryside and the city"

Wayne Ostenson '14, who studied in Japan last year, and is a Japanese Language and Literature major, agreed, but added that—when intensive study of a non-native language is part of the experience—two semesters is almost always necessary. He bitterly regrets being too careful and spending only a semester in Kyoto. "Just in the weeks before I left—even while I was packing—things started to "click," and I knew that I was just short of making the language and cultural experiences really stay with me. Now I can't wait to go back—to get it right."
[e] Glimpse RF

Mona Talin '15, an anthropology major with a concentration in Spanish, told the audience that was exactly why she wanted to go to Ecuador for only one semester. "Wayne and Jaylene are both right, actually. We need the academic time here at Ponder. Nothing will ever substitute for it. A semester away might be good for our "life experiences," but you can never get back the time in class that you will never have again. I chose to do just one semester, because I know that I can go back right away after I graduate. That is when you get the most out of the experience, anyway. It's impossible in college...but after graduation—two years. That's my plan."

Melik Ozalan '14, an Inner Asian and Altaic Studies major from Turkey stated that one year was only barely enough. He continued "That's why I went to north and central Asia for my entire junior year. Even that wasn't close to enough. Ponder is great, and the academic work is beyond anything I could ever get at the college level. Yet I am really itching for something more. I have had a more thorough 'high school' education than most Americans, and I need to learn all of these languages if I am going to get my doctorate in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies. I would have done two years if I could have."
[f] It can wait RF

Finally, Harrell Morgen '15, an anthropology and history double major with a concentration in East Asian languages, finished the opening remarks with a stunner. 

He was a "plant" that Director Garnet—who values focused academic work even during time abroad—had cultivated over the years. 

Morgen began by speaking of his desire for an international career that would allow him to teach and research and work both at home—if he is lucky, he says, he might get a job at a place such as Ponder College—and abroad. His true desire is to balance time abroad and time "at home" 1/3—2/3 (and nearing half-and-half over the course of a career, including sabbaticals and research leaves). 

He deeply values "study abroad" he said.

And yet...and yet...Morgen has chosen not to go abroad during his time at Ponder College.

Here is his reasoning. "You have to understand that I have been very lucky. My mother is a professor at Mayville State University in Mayville, North Dakota, and I have grown up listening to her advising stories. Mom always stresses that nothing—absolutely nothing—can ever match the experience we will get in class from the best professors in the world. Here at Ponder College, we have all of the best of them, and they push us mercilessly. For example, I could go abroad, learn a few things (that I could also learn later), and then try to study, say, Western Philosophy by going to Barnes & Noble."
[g] And yet...RF

He continued, "Maybe I would buy Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Now let's get serious. How does that compare to fifty hours with Professor Phyllis Shielz, slowly articulating key points in reading, analysis, and interpretation? And that does not even begin to account for the god-awful papers she makes us write."

"I want that—I want the misery that only a truly gifted professor can create. I learned that from my Mayville."

He paused, and then continued, "You can't get that anywhere but at the best colleges in the world...oh, and I mean colleges. Don't even try to tell me that you can do this on your own...or by going to an MA program at a large university. What we have here is an eight-semester, life-changing opportunity. I am not going to waste even one of them."

He concluded with "I'll go abroad when I graduate and stay for two, three, or four years. Then I'll get my Ph.D. (or D.Phil). I plan to teach about China and live abroad; I don't need college study abroad for that. I need internatonal life for that, and it's coming as soon as I graduate...but not before. Without the learning, the experience doesn't matter."

Well, the north Texas tumbleweed hit the fan there. 

Director Garnet (who had studied in Beijing right through the Tiananmen crisis, hardly noticing it—for better or worse), smiled...but not too obviously.

You can imagine the discussion that followed. 

We'll have more of that as we proceed (week by week) in our reporting on life from Ponder College.

Sunday, 23 March 2014
Ponder College (3)—Midterm Exams
Why bother?...say many students (and not a few professors)...
[h] Quandry RF

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