Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Where do we go from here?

As the 2018 session of the Global Perspectives Program comes to a close, I reflect on my experience. The basic feature of the universities which impressed me the most can be distilled into two basic ideas: respect and support. I intend no sharp dichotomy between these two ideas. This post will explore the ways in which European and especially Swiss Unis support and respect their students to a greater extent than American schools.

Respect and support is expressed through the university systems of Europe in myriad forms. Foremost, the financial burden of an advanced education pales in comparison to the US system. Standardized with the Bologna Process, a bachelor's degree takes 3 years. The most expensive "price-tag" of a degree of the schools we visited was for non-swiss students at USI. At most they pay €4000 per semester. The extreme upperend cost of a degree, then, is €24,000.  This rate is commensurate (but less than) a relatively cheap in-state cost at Radford University for one year. The mean,  median and mode cost per semester for attending the European schools we visited  a probably fall much closer to €500. American students scramble for part-time work and start adult life wracked with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, growing with compunding interest. The Swiss are not finanxially hamstrung to start their careers. These financial differences are sure to express themselves in terms of quality of life, relationship success, and even productivity. While most Americans take any job to pay the bills, Europeans become entrepreneurs and masters of their crafts without fear of economic-suicide. 

This financial difference also manifests as a difference in respect. For example, Milano Polytechnic heavily subsidies PhD students to study abroad. This is a proactive initiative. Students merely apply. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, demands dozens of forms to partially recoup the money we spend, in advance, to attend professional conferences. Personally, I am awaiting a partial refund for plane tickets I bought in October of 2017. This places a massive burden on student who do not have spare capital or familial support. The default treatment of students is one of distrust. The initial financial burden is placed on students and on to through the assiduous management of bureaucratic can students hoep to be reimbursed.

The most stunning manifestation of this respect and support was expressed at the Design School in Basel. Students are empowered to engaged in "hyperwerk" which can be constituted by any meaningful expression of personal labor. Students can make gardens, sculptures or movies, with almost total discretion. They are funded in these endeavors for a full year. Further, they are provided an array of open spaces and equipment to realize their artistic vision. So far as I know there is no near analog to hyperwerk in the US.

To draw normarive conclusions from an editorializing piece, it seems that the European "respect and support" model works. Students and Swiss society thrive, with unparalled research productivity levels and excellent overall quality of life. These metrics certainly surpass the United States.

The International Expedition: Reflections on Latin Culture

After settling in Zurich for a few days, we moved to Basel then Riva San Vitale. Moving from the predominantly german, french, then italian parts of Switzerland offered many insights. The most striking contrasts were found in Swiss-Italy.

The train trip through the Alps from Basel to Riva is a visual spectacle. Scenic mountains, nestled towns, and modern engineering converged providing majestic views. Upon moving into the Lugano valley the passenger density and speaking volume clearly increased. Two drunk men embarked with a dog. They were engaged in a heated argument and were playing music with a cell-phone. One stumbled and stepped on his dog, who schreeked in pain. My mind immediately turned to Latin America. Personal discipline comes secondary to animated exchange, and epicurean delights. The Latin cultural influences persisted upon arrival in Riva.

Contrary to the norm of pedestrian right-of-way found in Zurich, drivers rely on an interpersonal, laissez-faire system. Pedestrians presuppose right-of-way at their own peril. Yes everyone besides the new-comers at the Steger center seem content with this system. night life proved much more lively and less structure than Zurich too. While Zurich has world-class bars and restaurants, I only saw young people drinking in public. By contrast, people in Riva freely spill into public space as festivities continue past midnight. Similarly, I saw drinking in the afternoon on campus at SUPSI, and by Lake Lugano. The heavy drinkers intermingled with families. Naked children ran care-free. Mutual suspicion and fear evaporated in the warm valley air.