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A peripatetic saunter along a transnational education highway..


For those of us involved in transnational education partnerships, it appears that many came into it quite by accident. Whether it was because we volunteered, or just looked up at an inopportune moment and caught the eye of the Dean who believed this was acquiescence, some will no doubt reflect 'if only I wasn't in that day...'


I sometimes wonder how my academic career might have evolved if I hadn't been in that day. But I was, and before I knew it, amidst some great excitement, it has to be said, I was preparing for my first trip to India to represent my university employer.


I think it was around September time 2004. Travel to a major Indian city to visit our partner school there and help prepare a group of inbound students to Edinburgh was the brief; yup, that was it. Deliver a transition programme to help these students settle into uni life in Scotland. Hmmm… how hard can that be, I thought?


You never forget your first time arriving in India when alighting the aircraft and noticing that smell of sulphur in the air. The length of the passport control queues, the madness of the airport baggage areas and then the bewilderment at the mass of shouting taxi drivers, chauffeurs and agents holding name cards aloft and waving frantically to get your attention just in case you may be Miss Waterfords from Apple recently arrived from LA. I loved it; still do I guess.


Accommodation was interesting; I stayed at the hotel attached to the hotel school which whilst basic was fun as students would knock at the door every 20-30 minutes to enquire if I needed any more biscuits, bananas, apples, tea, coffee, ironing. The list was endless until I found the Do not Disturb sign.


The first day in school was a great learning gig. I had gone armed with a timetable starting at 0900 prompt, I thought. This however was delayed as it was school fresher week and on the first day all new students are provided with a theme for fancy dress and incumbent upon all staff and continuing students to welcome them in. So I joined everyone on the balcony and was a tad unsure at first what all the hilarity was about. The freshers had started to come in, in couples and most appeared to have rubbed some talc into their hair and were dressed as 'old' people, hunched over, walking slowly, some had walking sticks. One of my new teaching colleagues tried several times to explain what was so funny. Turns out the freshers had been given one 'simple' instruction. "The theme is the 60's, come in fancy dress". It took me quite some time to recover my composure.


Eventually about three hours later than planned, I managed to get started on my carefully planned transition programme. I'd love to be able to recount that it was a major success but sadly just about everything I had planned either didn't work or didn't work the way I thought it would. Some of this was due to internet connections or my assumptions were woefully out of line with what academic resources were available. Almost two decades later I still advise colleagues to travel, if possible, to new partners because you never know what exactly you'll find until you're there in-country with colleagues and trying to 'do stuff' yourself.


To be honest, this trip helped to focus my future work with international students. I returned to Scotland a humbled man. I also returned several kilos lighter due to my new 'Delhi-belly' diet plan which I requested of absolutely nobody. So what did I learn? That principally, colleagues who are working in many parts of the world who do not have the same access to facilities we enjoy in some larger modern universities, do incredible work. They prepare students via locally accredited vocational courses that lead the student towards higher education opportunities around the world. They do this on many occasions in challenging uncomfortable environments, teaching in multiple languages and giving amazing learning experiences to their young charges.


I look back now on dozens of visits to India over the years since that first trip. I feel very fortunate to have the experiences that I enjoyed across the subcontinent and can still see the faces of hundreds of parents I spoke with and promised them I'd look after their children if they sent them to Edinburgh. I see the faces of students and colleagues from countless schools delivering international degree programmes in-country and wonder at the power of education and the opportunities that it provides to all of us fortunate enough to receive it. I still dream of a world where everyone has access to a great education experience wherever they live and not be disadvantaged due to where they were born.


I hope to use this wee light-hearted blog to not only reflect upon what I learned over the years but also to help others not make the mistakes I made. Sometimes they happen in spite of your best efforts though!


Thanks for reading. I don't know about you but I'm glad I went in that day...


Bernie



Feel free to reach out and contact me if you want an informal chat anytime about how to get started in transnational partnerships. Always happy to share what I know and always keen to learn more.

0044+(0)7918184572



Whenever possible take your students out to the nearest park and teach them rugby.

(Kolkatta, circa 2004/5 with the legend Jock Anderson and young legends who are now no doubt doing amazing things around India and the world.




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