Editor's note: GVSU communications specialist Brian J. Bowe is visiting Kingston University in England on an annual staff exchange program. The following is the first in a series of dispatches he is sending back and was written for the KU magazine Bridge.
David Fyfe, director of Kingston University's visiting American student program, says the enlightenment that visiting students find when they come here is mainly an 'education of the mind' that comes from confronting cultural differences.
'What they get as soon as they get here are these differences, and I'm happy if they go back appreciating differences,' Fyfe said. 'It's not better or worse, it's different. And that's what they've got to get used to and appreciate.'
That notion applies to staff members on exchange programs as well as students. For the past couple of weeks, the KU Press Office has been my home as part of an annual staff exchange with Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and it's been the experience of a lifetime.
There are superficial differences: driving on the left, beans for breakfast, much better beer but no basketball on television. On a professional level, our nations' educational systems are quite dissimilar in the structure of programs, the way students are recruited, the way the schools are funded and the political realities.
But as different as our systems are, the job of telling the stories of our institutions is similar. There are the same challenges ¿ frustrating internal politics, fickle press attention, not enough hours in the day.
The most important similarity, though, is the kick that comes from finding a good story and helping find an audience for it. That's what makes this gig so satisfying.
On a personal level, I've learned to love snooker and accept baked beans for breakfast. It's too early to say how this trip will prove transformative for me on a professional level. But the experience of Richard Jelier points to one possibility.
Jelier is a Grand Valley professor who is at Kingston on sabbatical. He was chosen for the annual exchange in 1998 and has returned several times since. He has developed a close working relationship with Peter Garside from the KU geography department, with whom he taught a class here this semester.
'It was the staff exchange which really gave me my initial contacts at Kingston, and I've made some good friendships and close associations that I've maintained these last four years,' Jelier said. 'You make those kinds of connections and they grow and they blossom.'
Hopefully, that will be the case for me. I would jump at the chance to be as gracious a host as the people here at Kingston have been to me. Yes, it's a little harder to find a good pint of bitter in the U.S., but there's basketball on TV.