Feeling lonely abroad?

Here is my baby doing a great job making friends in Malaysia!

A close friend of mine has just started a 2-year master’s degree in China.  When she arrived a month ago she did not know anyone.  But she was committed to talking to each person she met and accepting all the invitations for she received for social events.  I am so impressed with her bravery and focus on meeting people, not just viewing places.  In honour of her – I am re-posting my CBIE blog from http://istudentcanada.ca/four-strategies-making-real-friends-abroad/

Studying abroad has the potential to start friendships that will last a lifetime.  Too often, however, students who do a semester or year overseas are criticized for only spending time with those who are like them, those who speak the same language or are from the same country.  In many ways this is understandable.  Every day is a steep learning curve as you try to keep up with your program (possibly in another language), navigate a new city and survive on new foods.  These areas of learning need to be prioritized and it can be easy to only work on these, assuming that relationships will just happen naturally.  But relationships take the same sort of intentional effort as learning a new transit system and the results are much more rewarding.   Here a few easy strategies to assist you with making friends while studying abroad:

  1. Sip your tea slowly.  Find out where authentic relational moments occur and join in.   If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea or Eat, Pray, Love, you know what this means.  Doing it, however, may take you out of your comfort zone.  The first step is to look around you and ask “where are people getting to know each other?”  It might be a tea shop near campus in Asia or playing chess after the sunsets in Africa.
  2. Become a creature of habit.  Once you’ve identified where people seem to be connecting – join in, and join in often.  While you might be interested in sampling the espresso at every cafe in town, real relationships take time to develop and meaningful connections are made when you show up day after day, get to know the staff and become local.
  3. Think people, not places.  It is normal to want to travel every weekend and make the most of your close proximity to new cities and tourist sites, but challenge yourself to spend two weekends every month accepting (or giving) invitations to events in your city. Postpone the trip to Monaco if it means attending your host brother’s birthday party.
  4. Adventure two by two. Though it is important to avoid having only Canadian friends, there is no reason for you to make this quest for authentic relationship entirely by yourself.  Look out for another study abroader who also wants to genuinely tap into the culture.  Make a plan together to change the way you do your time abroad and foster friendships that will last a

International degrees transform students into leaders

International programs are fundamentally altering the landscape for Malaysia’s business students

After my extensive interviews with Malaysian students who attend UK or OZ branch-campuses, it was very evident that these students have experienced a radical transformation.  Every student I spoke with expressed how different university was from high school – specifically the emphasis on groupwork and communication skills.  The exam-based, memorization-style learning of their high schools was completely uprooted in their first year of university.  However, final year students reflecting back, had a thousand positive anecdotes to share about how they had learned to deal with conflict, manage people and were more articulate as a result of their degree.  Read more about these findings in my recent University World News blog http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140527161909570

Obama In KL

Malaysia Students

Malaysia’s diverse students at international program

It is fitting that US President Obama’s critique of Malaysia’s racial and religious discrimination took place on Sunday at a university. The Universiti of Malaya, which hosted the President at a townhall meeting for students from the Youth South Asian Leaders’ Initative, offers few spaces for non-Muslim students and is a clear example of the nation’s unequal policies. Yet Malaysia will need more than Obama’s inspiring words to reshape a higher education system in which students’ enrollment is determined by their ethnicity.

Malaysia has an official policy of multiculturalism, established at its founding in 1957 and granting citizenship to the ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indians groups alike.  But pro-Muslim, Malay leaders have held power for several years limiting the position of non-Muslim citizens.  The result of these polices for Malaysia’s higher education is a system that is starkly divided along ethnic lines.  At the same time, Malaysia is increasing as a destination country for international students and foreign programs.

The system is complex and diverse.  At the publically-funded universities such as the Universiti Malaya, quotas limit how many non-Malay, non-Muslims are enrolled.   Though these policies are designed to provide access to low-income Malays, in reality they alienate the country’s Chinese and Indian minorities.  In the 1980’s the growing Chinese middle class responded by establishing their own successful, private universities.  Institutions like the Universiti Malaya are directly linked to Chinese cultural and lobby groups.  Others like HELP University have entered into franchise or twinning agreements with overseas universities to offer an extensive range of degrees.

Though Malaysia’s public universities have restricted access for all citizens, the government has intentionally developed policies to encourage cross-border education by promoting branch-campuses and twinning programs.  Institutions like Nottingham University have established full campuses in Malaysia, drawing students from the all ethnic backgrounds.   Many of country’s best students – barred from the federal universities – and skeptical of the local start-ups – head to international programs run by UK and Australian schools.

For the past two decades, this unique mix of private, local and international programs has filled the gap created by the governments’ ethnic quotas.  Indeed the private system is so established, that the public universities have become marginalized and are less prestigious for students to attend.   Malaysia’s public universities would benefit from Obama’s advice.  In their case, changing the admissions policies is less about educating marginalized individuals and more about the quality of the institutions.  By excluding top students, the federal universities have decreased their reputation.  Rather they may wish to enroll students based on merit to reposition themselves as prestigious universities, while supplementing the at-risk populations with scholarships and accessible tuition.


University of Nottingham`s beautiful Malaysia Campus

I have been quite amazed at the differences between the institutions that are self-identifying as “branch-campuses.”  Some are just a few classrooms rented in an office building while others have beautiful white-washed buildings with landscaping, ponds and student-life space.   Certainly, there has been a lot of talk about how sustainable branch-campuses are and  how soon they will all shut down.  But as heavy investments are matched with an increase in student enrollment, it seems that many are here to stay.

You can read some of my views on branch-campuses at University World News

Branch-campus students thrive on high-stakes competition: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140309155504422

Protege to peer: Measuring maturity at branch campuses: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140408150224295

Here is my beautiful daughter – helping me pack for our fieldwork adventure.  This fall was monumental.  With a lot of childcare support from my mom and wonderful neighbour Olga I defended my thesis proposal on October 30th.  My dear supervisor Ruth Hayhoe was very diligent in editing my ethics forms and (in what can only be described as a miracle) it only took 3 weeks to receive approval from the University of Toronto.  This evening we leave for Dubai, UAE to research the student experience at British branch-campuses.  Childen’s Ministry Coordinator – FINAL – March 3 2015Baby Packing

Worldviews 2013 Conference – Toronto

Tonight is the opening keynote for the Worldviews 2013 conference.  Adrian Monck (World Economic Forum) is speaking on public trust in the media and how this affects higher education.  The conference investigates the relationship between higher education and the media – issues of MOOCs, knowledge mobilization, internationalization and more… Thursday and Friday’s sessions look great – I will personally be attending talks on journalism and education hubs.  Full agenda here

Ontario Research Policy Symposium – May 16, 2013

This Thursday, I am helping Glen Jones and the higher education program at University of Toronto host a research symposium on key policy issues facing Ontario’s post-secondary system.  This event is being co-organized by Lucia Padure (MTCU) and Richard Wiggers (HEQCO).  I am looking forward to the first presentation Life After High School – presenting the findings of a recent research study into students’ first year at PSE.  There will also be info on college-uni transfer, institutional diversity/differentiation, and student choice.  One of the goals of the day is to spark a network of stakeholders interested in Ontario’s PSE research.  If you’re interested in watching the event online – join us at 9:30 Thursday morning.

Regime change in Venezuela means uncertain future for higher ed

Picture of Venezuela University ProtestThanks to my colleague Elliot Storm at the University of Toronto, I have been learning a lot about the state-university relationship in Venezuela.  The two have been at odds in the past decade and with the death of Hugo Chavez, the future is uncertain.  Will the government continue to implement university change in a forceful way or work together with the institutions to develop sustainable higher ed?   Read our article in University World News here.

The Values-void in Branch Campuses

It is always discouraging to start a research project only to find that the phenomenon you want to study just doesn’t exist.  That was the case when I set out to categorize and evaluate the mission and vision statements of Western branch campuses in education hubs.  Turns out the majority of branch-campuses out there don’t have any reference to a mission or vision statement.  Quite the blow to my neatly organized project.

My first reaction was to expound weakly that the accepted absence of something that is pretty standard in a parallel education context is worth studying.  But when I actually looked at the sample websites of the branch campuses there enough simlarity to suggest that official mission/vision statements were missing but unofficially the majority of branch campuses are marketing themselves to the same tune.  They say the same things, offer the same programs and are trying to capture the same students.  I definitely found enough to research and would like to encourage cross-border educators to be more explicit about why the do what they do.

The study has just been released in the following article:

Grace Karram.  (2012) “A futile search for values and pedagogy? A discursive analysis of the   marketing messages of branch-campuses in higher education hubs.” Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, (Online First)