Letter from Going Global 2014

This year’s education summit organized by the British Council convened in Miami earlier this week. Miami is as affordable and as international as a conference planner might find these days, and one that allowed the Council to reach out to colleagues and partners in the Americas. It is a city where dreamers have full access to all the region’s higher education resources, and it is where I grew up.

The visit enabled me to see my old high school and find taxicabs that are more rickety than the barely operational fleet that prowls downtown Washington. It was my luck, though, to take a particular one to the convention center. You could smell the exhaust fumes only when the driver stopped, and that wasn’t often, and during the ride inhale the air conditioning that seemed to be scented with sun tan oil. It brought back memories in a Proustian way.

We were given directions to the wrong entrance, of course, and were told there was no conference taking place. My driver said we would take a tour to find out for sure. As we turned a corner, there was my high school. Unlike with most memories, the school was bigger than I recalled. A lot bigger.

My driver pointed it out and said that it was rebuilt just a few years ago. “My two boys went there and it was terrible. Only just now getting better.”

Yikes. I told him that I had actually managed to graduate from there a long time ago. He said it was even worse that long ago, “but if you worked hard, you could go places.” I asked where his boys went, since half of my graduating class did not go on to college.

“UM” was the reply. University of Miami. I said they were lucky to have picked a rich father. And he laughed. “They worked hard and got good grades. Miami has many schools, and they offer a place to anyone that does that.”

That was very good news indeed, and one of the main themes of the conference. How do we assure access? How do we assure that what students gain is linked to improving their chances of getting a job? I was struck at how many panels inevitably turned to these topics regardless of the panel themes.

“Where are you from?” I asked, as we pulled up to the right entrance. I was not prepared for the answer: “Cairo.” I told him that his boys definitely picked the right father. And the dad said in reply, “I was lucky to pick the right country.” Given what he said about my alma mater, we are both lucky.