February 27, 2017

Leiden study abroad student compares the international campus to the Webster Groves campus

When I joined Webster Leiden, I registered as an international in a tiny, traditional, two-story red brick building with rising arched windows of the campus, hugging the banks of De Rijn.

It has an international student body and teaching staff and the education experience is multifaceted. Everyone is throwing in their experiences and expertise. An image of Webster as an ecosystem of interlocking campuses and interspersed nationalities is vouched for by its study abroad program.

This tiny campus seems to be more outward looking in its approach, looking at what was happening around the world. Being at the Leiden campus, one gets a feeling of being connected to the rest of the world.

At the home campus in St. Louis, Missouri, the learning experience tended to be more U.S.-based, more or less limited to what was happening in the U.S, not so much from the rest of the world. I was in Uncle Sam’s shoes and for four months I tried to size my feet in them, little feet in undefined shoes. 

Most classes were one-dimensional. Even some classes that should have had more ingredients of foreign condiments seemed to be bland or too salty, lacking sugar to cancel it.

A feeling of being walled in and landlocked in the groves of Webster seemed too real at times. It was this immobility that left an impression of being cut off from the rest of the world, of being somewhere and nowhere.

In Leiden, I am a rat digging multiple trenches, a global rat.  While at the home campus, I was a rat digging one trench, the U.S. trench, a one-dimensional U.S. rat.

What the Leiden campus has managed to do best is its “so how does this concept apply to your country?” or its “how does your culture/experience shape this narrative?” This, however, is not presented in the clichéd condescending way that culture is mostly brought out at the Webster Groves campus.

At the home campus, one could register a sense of scaredness to ask for other’s opinions, lest you might provoke negative stereotypes or come off condescending, a “don’t ask don’t tell” type of feeling.

I saw the mentality of being too sorry when a professor might decide to continuously apologize for the U.S. not knowing much about the rest of the world, without taking the steps to correct the problem.

In one of my classes, I presented on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the professor was too scared to pronounce her name incorrectly. She would say “your writer,” while referring to Adichie.

I was also surprised by the fuzziness among some professors who have been teaching for more than seven years at Webster concerning the location of some prominent foreign campuses. When an employee doesn’t know the products of the company, then there is a problem.

Walking around the campus, I got an impression of sheltered-ness.  Everyone in their little groups and cliques, sometimes divided by race. Like boats on water passing each other centimeters away without colliding, like a rainbow, each color separated sharply at the borders.

Part of the problem seemed to be a mismatch between its vision and its reality, a “U.S.-based international university setting a distinct standard for global education.” What constitutes “global?” Is it just the campuses and the study abroad programs?

It seems Webster suffers from a possible  identity mismatch between what it seeks to be from a corporate point of view. To complicate matters, numerous challenges like student demographic and ever-changing education landscape have almost created a state of paralysis.

Is Webster a liberal arts university, a business school or an international study abroad/site transfer university? Perhaps it is this identity crisis that has shaped its homely narrative.

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