My three-week experience as a scholar with the Fulbright International Education Administrators Program was one of the most rewarding events of my career. It began with a one-week orientation in Berlin, followed by two weeks visiting universities in Germany meeting with faculty, administrators and students and learning about orientation and retention efforts for first-year students.
While there, I was able to gain knowledge from my 23-member cohort of U.S. student services administrators and faculty. Each of us had come to Germany with a heightened level of excitement that was mixed with worries about having a good grasp of the German language and how we would be perceived as Americans. We held high expectations for what we would learn as Fulbright scholars.
Via a host of speakers, I gained an understanding of the German educational system and German culture. At the age of 11, German students are given the power to determine their future educational path. The decision students make at that age will determine whether they will enter a university or vocational training program after high school. Germans’ view this system as a just means of determining who should attend university and separates those who can succeed and those who cannot. Education is a government-sponsored entity and university admissions are highly selective.
"As a Fulbright participant, I believe that the program truly achieved its stated goals."
- Robin Lee
I was surprised to learn that at German universities, the model for student support services is new. Until recently, little attention was given to the importance of student services. The campuses had few staff. Student services offices were small, had meager resources and often had only been in existence a few years.
I also discovered that the graduation rate of undergraduate German students is abysmally low. Several of the universities failed to disclose their graduation rates via public record. Retention rates at German universities are becoming the subject of more conversations, as are discussions surrounding teaching and the quality of instruction. Because of the Bologna Process* and increased collaboration among European universities, German universities are beginning to examine their efforts to retain and graduate students.
After a few days in Germany, I began to consider myself an ambassador of sorts. A few students confessed to me that they had never met an African American person before. Much of what they knew of Black America had been acquired by watching the German translations of MTV and other related television programming. Needless to say, I was never at a loss for conversation during my visits to German universities.
The goal of the Fulbright program is to promote international understanding and afford the opportunity for cultural exchange and the negation of cultural stereotypes that exist between the United States and other countries. As a Fulbright participant, I believe that the program truly achieved its stated goals. My involvement as a Fulbright scholar was a vast learning opportunity. I learned so much about the German educational system and culture, how others live and how people outside of the United States view us. My Fulbright experience will significantly shape my administrative work and scholarly activities for years to come. I am grateful for the opportunity and eager to share what I learned with my colleagues.
* The Bologna Declaration of June 1999 put in motion a series of reforms needed to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, and to make education more compatible, comparable, competitive and attractive for Europeans and for scholars from other continents.
For more information about Fulbright Opportunities, visit www.iie.org/fulbright.