Friday, April 25, 2014

Dispatches from Gouda

I cannot believe that it is over already. It is Saturday and I am on my way back to Grand Rapids, Michigan after a week (or so) of travel in the Netherlands. I have truly enjoyed Dutch hospitality, met great people and learned a lot about Christian higher education in this secular nation. I have visited Christian university of applied sciences in Ede (CHE), Driestar Educatief in Gouda,VIAA (formerly Reformed University) in Zwolle, and Protestant Theological University in Groningen with a presence also in Amsterdam. Two things stood out for me from these visits: first, the unique role played by the state whereby every institution is fully supported by the government in terms of finances. This means that the Christian university gets 100% funding from the government in the same way a public university does. And yet these Christian universities are able to hire only Christian teachers and staff. They are, however open to students from all faith backgrounds. Second, is the new practice of applied research in these Christian universities where there are paid research positions (lectorates) charged with conducting research that is directly tied to the teaching and curriculum of the institution. The research results are then brought back into the classroom, office and curriculum of the institution in order to improve their offerings. Unlike research in research universities, these institutions carry out research that is directly tied to what and how they teach so that it can improve their work. Of course research universities do some of this research but there is also research to enhance one's standing among peers or research to advance certain theories. The kind of research I have found at the Christian universities is applied. Indeed, it is expected that the research carried out is applied back to the work of the teachers, students, and administrators at the institution. I find this very useful for advancing the work that IAPCHE institutions are involved in. Coffee seems to be like the air we breath--it is the one constant in all offices and homes (along with tea) so I am guessing I might want to see how coffee and tea growers from Kenya contribute to this national addiction­čśâ. That is a project for another time. 
Oh and I must say I enjoyed the food as well especially this brown piece here
called Kroket which I know is not very good for my health but tastes great. 
And of course some asparagus (white), vegetables, potatoes, and meat as seen here:
But above all is the cheese. I think I might become a little picky about my cheese when I next visit our local grocery store. And I guess I will not mind bread with butter and a slice of cheese on top for breakfast. I love learning from other cultures and grateful for these opportunities. It's time for breakfast. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dispatches from the Netherlands

April 21 2014

I arrived here at 11:25AM local time from Detroit for a week’s visit of our IAPCHE member institutions. I have always travelled through Amsterdam but never quite visited the Netherlands so this is a good trip for me. My colleagues in the Netherlands have put together a good plan for my visit. After clearing with immigration I went downstairs in the Schiphol Airport baggage claim area to pick up my suitcase and then went through the green line for nothing to declare customs check. I walked into the hall way where I saw a few people with names of passengers they were waiting for but not the kind of numbers one would see in, say, an East African airport. I had been given good instructions on how to navigate my way around so I went to look for a train ticket to Utrecht where I am spending my first night. I found a train ticket machine and followed the steps but it turned out my transaction did not go through.
I reverted to the more trusted method, a real person behind a counter. That too did not work as the teller told me she could only take cash or use a bankcard with a chip. I did not have cash or a card with a chip. I asked her where I could find an ATM and she directed me. I withdrew some cash and went back to her since she had already printed my train ticket to Utrecht. I paid for it and went to the train platform to wait for my train. Boarded train along with other people many of who had landed at Schiphol as well. I found a seat and made myself comfortable.
I even realized I had access to Internet on the train so I read some email messages since I had half an hour of travel time from Schiphol to Utrecht. 20 minutes into the ride the train conductor walks in and checks all passenger tickets. He gets to me and checks my ticket then pauses a little and says to me, “you are seating in first class and you have a second class ticket.” Ooops! I told him I did not know which was which since I have never rode a train in the Netherlands before. He waves me to stay after asking if I am going to Utrecht. As you can see on the right I have been traveling a little while but cannot complain having my first class experience. Next time I have to find out what train car I belong to before boarding because I don’t think I can get that lucky again. Alighted at Utrecht Centraal station and followed the instructions given to me to get to the NH Hotel in Utrecht. I already like the hotel (see my room on the right) and will enjoy my time here for the day. Tomorrow I head out to Ede, the following day to Zwolle, then Groningen, and end up in Gouda. I guess that is a good sense of parts of the Netherlands. First thing I did when I got into my room was to get set up to use the Free Wi-FI on the hotel which is quite good. It seems like this connectivity is the most important way of life for those of us with the abilities to travel and have access to computer, smart phones, and tablets that can use the Internet. It is quite interesting how these places all seem to be so much the same despite being so far apart. I do not speak Dutch but I seem to get around pretty well in English, including asking for directions from a person working at a food kiosk in the train station. English has truly become the international lingua franca. I remember being able to navigate my short visit to Hungary in English as well. And then the rooms all seem to use plastic entry keys. Is this what globalization looks like? Let's wait and see what the other days bring.