Co-authored by Daniel Obst, Deputy Vice President, International Partnerships in Higher Education.
When we first traveled to Myanmar two years ago, there was little to no Wi-Fi, few mobile phones (SIM cards could only be obtained by lottery and cost around $1,500 each, making it unaffordable for most), no ATM machines or credit card usage, and frequent electricity outages. Fast forward just two years: consistent access to Wi-Fi, excellent 3G, and little need to bring stacks of cash anymore (credit cards are now accepted at most hotels). The arrival of telecom providers TeleNor and Oredoo has reduced the price of SIM cards to $1.50 resulting in a reported 30%+ market penetration of cell phones. Electricity outages are still common, and traffic in Yangon is worse than ever, but major change is palpable everywhere, and ATMs and 3G are just the more visible manifestations of this extraordinary transition.
Htoo Htoo Wah is the head of the English Department at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, a leading Christian higher education institution in Myanmar. After spending four intense weeks as a visiting scholar at Northern Arizona University, he had a moment to reflect on his experience of U.S. higher education.
A bright pink Chevy the size of a whale, duos singing classic Buena Vista Social Club songs, Che t-shirts, and Fidel photos—all common associations that many of us in the U.S. have when we think of Cuba. Indeed, my colleague Daniel Obst and I witnessed them all in one form or another. It’s true there are old cars, and, yes, music is a huge part of the culture; but the beautiful reconstructed plazas, pervasive tranquility throughout the city, and friendly people were just a few of the wonderful surprises that greeted us last week when we had the unique opportunity to experience Cuba for the first time.
Greg Galford, an Associate Professor of Interior Architecture from Chatham University, had never really thought about Indonesia two years ago, but was set to travel there in April 2011 as more or less a tag-along faculty member. IIE had selected Chatham to join a cohort of six U.S. and six Indonesian colleges and universities that would dedicate two years to developing institutional partnerships and increasing U.S. study abroad to Indonesia. When at the last minute the senior administrator leading the effort was unable to travel with Greg, he found himself solely responsible for representing the university, anxious about what would be expected of him in Indonesia, and hyper concerned about making the short layover from Seoul to Bandung.
In her recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Karin Fischer makes a number of important points about the often-difficult reality of developing academic partnerships with Indian institutions. Anyone having attempted to foster these relationships will no doubt be able to relate to the bureaucratic hurdles, credit transfer issues, differing pedagogy, and incompatible research interests that inevitably arise.
A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a classroom at MIT surrounded by about thirty Indonesians. My mind was wandering since everyone was speaking in rapid Bahasa Indonesia and, sadly, my Indonesian language skills are limited to “hello” and “thank you.” On the upside, I noticed the half-erased math equations on the chalkboard—something about “r” and squares and Greek letters—realizing that Bahasa might not be the most confusing language in the room.
Recently, I accompanied 32 U.S. college and university representatives on a whirlwind study tour to Brazil. Covering five cities in six days, this remarkable group of faculty, staff, and administrators bonded over bus rides, pão de queijo, and the wealth of opportunities presented by the Brazilian higher education system.