Category Archives: Human Interest

Albright & Powell: Two Former Secretaries of State in Conversation

International Students, Immigration, Diplomacy

May 31st, 2019

ap053119

This year’s NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo was held in Washington, DC and wrapped up on May 31st. The highlight of my 2 ½ day attendance besides the fruitful meetings with colleagues and strengthening partnerships with client institutions and organizations was the opening plenary that included two former U.S. Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and General Colin Powell which was moderated by Dr. Esther Brimmer, Executive Director & CEO of NAFSA.

The following are excerpts of their discussion on international education, immigration policy, and diplomacy which I’ve paraphrased to the best of my ability based on notes I was able to take:

On International Students:

Secretary Albright stressed that we need to have an understanding of international education and the importance of students from U.S. going abroad and international students coming to study in the U.S.  As a professor at Georgetown University she knows how dire the situation is as the number of international students coming to study in the U.S. has been declining. She sees this as a great loss to U.S. higher education and U.S. diplomatic relations with allies and adversaries.

On the Iron Curtain and the Cold War:

General Powell said when he joined the military 60 years ago, the military had a clear understanding of its mission. His first assignment was to stand guard behind the Iron Curtain. He said the rules were clear. Stopping the Russians was the mission. Both the Soviet Union and the United States knew that they had the capacity to destroy each other, and knew each other’s capabilities. This knowledge had a stabilizing influence. Both countries looked to the Third World and competed for it.  But the Soviet Union started to show cracks. Then the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed on Christmas Day 1991.  “The world as we had known it and the sense of anticipated destruction we’d been preparing for went away,” he said. The President at the time, George Herbert Bush, saw this as a brand new world, but one thing became clear was that throughout the Cold War years the U.S. knew its enemies and was prepared to take them down and defend those western European nations and any one who wished to join the American theory of democracy, equal rights and open economic policy. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union the lid on the proverbial boiling pot came off and what was inside was a scorching stew of sectarianism, different economic positions, and people who still wanted to be autocrats. And, these beliefs were spreading around the world. The U.S. and its allies may have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union but they had never anticipated the sectarian differences and rise of autocratic political systems in countries like Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and Egypt.

On Immigration and Diversity:

General Powell continued by saying that immigration, this wonderful national identity that America upheld for many years, is now becoming a problem in Europe because they did not prepare for it well and have not done a good job in managing it. And now it has hit the U.S. He urged that the U.S. must sort out what its policy should be with respect to immigration and international students. He warned that the U.S. is on the brink of turning into a country that has become more autocratic than any time in his life time. “We have a President who thinks he knows what he is doing,” he said. General Powell was chagrined by the lack of dialogue between the two political parties. He recalled that during his and Ms. Albright’s respective tenures as Secretary of State, they were able to resolve problems by having members of both political parties communicating with each other. “The Republican party is solidly behind the president no matter what he says or does and the Democrats are trying to figure out what they’re going to do,” he continued.  “Immigration has been the life and soul of America. It is who we are,” he added.  General Powell spoke of his parents who came from Jamaica to America on the banana board in 1920’s. His parents met in New York, married, and led a comfortable life. “I grew up in a diverse multi ethnic neighborhood. Born in Harlem, raised in the Bronx, called Fort Apache. It was called a bad neighborhood, but I loved it. I met every ethnicity of the world in that city block. I loved it.  I learned how to live with people who weren’t just like me, except they were just like me. We are human beings, we are Americans,” he continued.  He emphasized the importance of developing a solid immigration policy one that doesn’t make it difficult for young people to come here to study and doesn’t make it even more difficult for them to stay if they’ve succeeded in getting a solid education.  He feared that these young people’s opinion of the U.S., “once the crown jewel of the world,” will not be looked at the same way again. He said that “this image has been damaged but that America is still a country you can believe in, but that we need to sort ourselves out. It’s not about Make America Great Again, America never stopped being great.”

On Technology and Globalization:

Secretary Albright continued with General Powell’s sentiments and said that the world is counting on a U.S. that demonstrates “normal reactions to the problems going on,” but that is not what the U.S. is currently doing. She spoke about technology, both its positive influences as well as how disruptive it can be.  She said there are two megatrends that we are witnessing that have both positive and negative results. The first megatrend is ‘globalization’ and most of us have benefited from it in one form or another and most of it are the students who were able to travel from their country to another to study and saw themselves as a global citizen. “Being a global citizen is not an insult. But there is a downside to it. Globalization is faceless. People want an identity. We want to know who we are and where we come from.  But if my identity hates your identity, we end up with hyper-nationalism. Which is very dangerous and that is the downsize of globalization,” she said. Another megatrend is ‘technology’ which has great benefits, and she used the example of a Kenyan woman farmer who no longer needed to walk for miles to pay her bills and can do so now by using her mobile phone and even get an education online, or start her own business.  But the negative part of technology is that it “disarticulates voices.” She referred to the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 that was part of the Arab Spring movement, where people in Egypt in January 2011 were summoned to Tahrir Square by Social Media. But once the people gathered at the Square they had no sense of what their organizational system was going to be once they had overthrown President Hosni Mubarak. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood was organized and had been organized for many years. In her opinion, the November 2011 elections in Egypt following uprising were held too soon and this is why the Muslim Brotherhood was able to win the election which caused more disruptions since it wasn’t what the people who had gathered in Tahrir Square had wanted. But the continuous disorganization made it unbearable for the merchants and shopkeepers who

were trying to make a living in the marketplace in a city that was riddled with chaos and disorder. They wanted order which led to Egypt having a military government. She sees what happened in Egypt as an example of why people, during periods of rapid change and disorder, call on autocratic leaders.  She quoted a Silicon Valley individual whose name she had forgotten as having said the following appropriate statement: “People are talking to their governments on 21st century technology, the governments are listening to them on 20th century technology, and are providing 19th century responses.”

On World History, Geography and Culture

Secretary Albright then spoke of the importance of learning and understanding the geography, history and culture of countries in order to help share cultural policy. She said she is known as “multilateral Madeleine,” and that Americans don’t like the word multilateralism that it has “too many syllables and ends with an “ism.” She regards international education and cultural diplomacy and learning about the other as the ultimate aspect of partnership. “We need to understand where we come from and none of that will happen if we decide to see ourselves as victims,” she added.

On Post 9/11 Immigration Policies:

General Powell recalled that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. reacted by shutting down the flow of refugees and enforcing stricter visa regulations on international students. No sooner had these regulations been enforced that he began receiving angry calls from university presidents who implored the State Department to ease up on the student visas.  They argued that international students were financially beneficial to U.S. institutions of higher education and helped keep their institutions operational. He said today China has about 400,000 students studying in the U.S. and the current Administration is accusing Chinese students as spying for their government as an excuse to make visa requirements more difficult. General Powell quipped that the U.S. need not worry about Chinese students spying as “there are spies amongst us here.” He blamed TV news and social media as exaggerating events to scare the American people so much so that we cannot have rational intelligent conversations. “They (N. Korea, Iran, China, Russia) are not enemies, but our adversaries. If N. Korea has a nuclear weapon, it wouldn’t use it because it would be assisted suicide. If they were to drop a bomb on a U.S. city, the U.S. would in turn annihilate them,” he said. He found it odd that the current Administration is arguing that Iran is going to build nuclear weapons when this issue was taken care of in the Nuclear Agreement of 2015 which stopped them from further developing their centrifuges. He did not view Russia as a military threat because “it lacks the economic strength to back it up.” As for China, he found this Administration’s fear tactics concerning China baseless in that China is already defeating the U.S. economically and doing so very well. He asked: “Why would they (China) want to attack us, when they have us buying the stuff they make?”

 On Diplomacy:

Secretary Albright stressed the importance of diplomacy but said that “diplomacy means having people who are diplomats and allocating resources to fund the diplomats” and the need to have a State Department that is properly staffed with appointed Ambassadors at their posts in countries around the world. She also stated that the foreign students who come and study here build a network and when they graduate they return home and hold positions in the private or public sector. Some run for political office and some get appointed to be ambassadors of their own countries. She shared that the current Japanese Foreign Minister was her student at the Modern Foreign Government course she teaches. “This is how you build diplomatic relations. The people that you meet at school are people who are going to show up again. It’s an automatic network. Diplomacy works, if you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This can be achieved more easily if there is a basis of understanding of each other’s cultures,” she said. “ One could prove the importance of international education by the mere fact that it works. It helps create friendships,” she emphasized.

General Powell recalled that at every post he had held, one thing he learned that has proven effective is the ability to listen to people and talk to people, and not shout at them.  He also mentioned that today, at City College of New York Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, the institution he had attended as a young adult, 90% of the student body is a minority and 80% were born in another country. “They are going to be great Americans. This is who we are and this is what makes us great,” he said.

On Immigration (Reminder why America is the Land of Immigrants):

Secretary Albright said that she and her parents came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in 1948, Her father had been a Czechoslovak diplomat and she remembers him saying that during WII when they had sought refuge in other countries, people would say “we’re so sorry your country has been taken on by Hitler, you’re welcome here, what can we do to help you and when are you going home?” When she and her family came to the U.S. after the communists took over Czechoslovakia, people would say, “we’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible system, you’re welcome here, what can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?”  That is what made America different from other countries and she felt that this has been forgotten by many Americans. She saw the anti-immigration sentiments of the past two years to America’s detriment. She said that one of her favorite things to do is give people their naturalization certificates. The first time she did it was on July 4, 2000 at Monticello. She overheard one person say: “Can you believe it…I just received my naturalization certificate from the Secretary of State and I’m a refugee!” She went up to him and said: “Can you believe the Secretary of State is a refugee?” She added, “We are great, we don’t need to be great again, we just need someone who understands this about America.”


jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Greece: Shakeup at the Higher Education Level

May 17th, 2019

Greece

The Greek government recently announced the merging of its technological education institutes (TEIs) into universities. Here are some facts on this merger with a brief overview of the universities and TEIs and the anticipated impact of the merger on Greece’s higher education system:

About the merger:

  • By a vote of 147 in favor and 100 against, Greece’s parliament, passed the new higher education law that allows existing graduates of TEIs to upgrade their degrees to full university qualifications.
  • The new law will allow those employed by the government who are graduates of TEIs to qualify for higher salaries once relegated to university degree holders.
  • Guesstimates claim anywhere up to 400,00 TEI graduates will have their degrees upgraded.

 Here are a few facts on Greece’s higher education system:

  • Prior to the passing of this new law, Greece had 2 sectors of higher education: 1) the university sector; and 2) the technological sector.
  • The university sector encompassed Research Universities, Technical Universities (Polytechneia), School of Fine Arts, and the Open University.
  • The technological sector included Technological Education Institutions (Technologika Ekpedeftika Idrimata/TES) and the School of Pedagogical and Technological Education (ASPETE).
  • Greece has 23 universities and 15 TEIs (including the School of Pedagogical and Technological Education)
  • Minimum academic requirement for admission to the first cycle of undergraduate programs at institutions in the university and technological sectors require the Apolytirio Genikou Lykeiou (secondary school certificate).
  • Institutions in the university sector offer not only undergraduate but postgraduate and doctoral level degree programs.
  • Institutions in the technological sector offer only undergraduate level degree programs.
  • The duration of most Greek university first degree programs is 4 years. There are 5-year degree programs in the following specialties: agriculture, architecture, dentistry, engineering, and veterinary science and 6-year program in medicine.
  • The degree awarded on completion of the university program is the Ptychio and for engineering and agriculture studies it is the Diploma.
  • Completion of a final paper in the 4-year program is not required but it is typically required in the 5-year engineering and agricultural programs.
  • Entrance to the postgraduate programs requires completion of the first degree validated by the Ptychio from either a university or TEI or a university Diploma. Postgraduate programs lead to the award of the Metaptychiako Diploma Eidikefsis (postgraduate diploma or specialization) after 2 years of study and completion of a final paper/thesis.
  • Doctoral level studies usually take 3 to 4 years and require for entrance the Metaptychiako Diploma Eidikefsis. The degree of Didaktor is awarded after defense of the doctoral thesis. In some cases, students may be admitted directly to the doctoral program with a Ptychio or

Here are what critics of the new law are saying:

  • The upgrading of the TEIs to universities will devalue degrees of those who have met stricter admission and program requirements at universities.
  • Some fear that those working for government will want to have their pay enhancements backdated to reflect this upgrade of their degrees.
  • Many are concerned that overnight the mergers have promoted TEI faculty to full university professors.
  • Critics claim that universities and other stakeholders were not included in the discussions about the merger of universities and TEIs which they see as having been forced through by the government.
  • TEIs that have been upgraded to universities have many departments and academic programs that have not been accredited.

 Here is what Kostas Garoglou, Greece’s education minister, has said to counter the criticism:

  • TEI degrees would not be automatically upgraded which are contingent on when the studies were completed, as additional criteria will be established in the next 6 months.
  • TEI faculty who will become university professors could be barred from responsibilities such as supervision of Ph.D. candidates if their experience is deemed insufficient.
  • In some instances, TEI’s research endeavors exceed those of universities.
  • TEIs are mistakenly seen as second-class institutions which Greece’s ministry hopes this merger will help rectify.

We will report back on this evolving new law as more information becomes available.

Sources:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/05/09/change-degrees-greece-criticized-political-not-educational

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/greek-reforms-set-upgrade-thousands-graduates-degrees

https://www.nuffic.nl/en/subjects/education-and-diplomas-greece/


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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An Artist’s International Student Journey

Remembering Monir Farmanmaian (1924 –2019)

May 3rd, 2019

monirPhoto via: Keyhan Life

Monir Farmanmaian, the Iranian female artist known for her mirror mosaics and geometric patterns passed away on April 20, 2019 at the age of 97 in Tehran.  Until recently, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about Monir, only a cursory knowledge of her and her work through articles and photographs. I only began to learn about Monir, her art and accomplishments, five years ago when I read an extensive article in The New York Times on the exhibit of her work at The Guggenheim Museum.

My appreciation of Iran’s classical and contemporary art has been that of a late bloomer and one that I’ve very recently began to explore, albeit very slowly. My earliest recollection goes back to the first and only decade of my childhood growing up in Iran, where accompanied by my art loving parents I found my young self standing in the spacious but dank and dimly lit basement studio of a struggling artist somewhere in Tehran. There were a few more of these types of visits to artists’ studios around the city, but my first visit to the young artist’s basement showroom is the one I still see in my mind’s eye. My parents supported this artist, whose name I don’t recall, by purchasing a number of his paintings which were displayed on the walls throughout our house. One, which hung in the sitting room where my parents entertained guests, was my most favorite. You could only make out the painting from afar; close-up it was a mashup of colors, soft hues of orange, yellow, blue and sand. Once you pulled back a few steps and sat in the furthest seat in the room, you were able to take in its full beauty, faint silhouettes of a caravan of camels, a ghostly apparition of the bygone days of the Silk Road, floating through the desert as the sun ever slowly dipped and disappeared into the horizon.

As a ten-year old, I had little knowledge and exposure to Iranian culture. My parents seldom, in fact never, listened to Iranian classical, contemporary or pop music. I was exposed to The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Bossa Nova, Jazz, Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. The films I saw in the cinemas in Iran were mostly foreign, dubbed into Farsi. My mother took me to my first opera when I was eight. It was Puccini’s Turandot at Rudaki Hall in Tehran.  My piano teacher took me to my first recital when I was around the same age to hear a talented young pianist from America perform pieces by the masters of western classical music.

I first left Iran at age ten to start school in England. After that my returns to Iran were more of a tourist’s; short stays for a couple of weeks or months during the Christmas and summer holidays. And, at sixteen, I left Iran to study in the U.S. At the time, I didn’t know that it would be the last time I’d see Iran, my home, and many of my relatives. I didn’t know that my departure was permanent.

There’s something that happened to me as a young woman leaving Iran, first for England and then for America. I started to detach and let go of that which identified me with my place of origin so that I could acclimate, blend and fit in at my new home.  What little I knew of Iran’s rich cultural history, I let go of.

Monir Farmanmaian, née Monir Shahroudy, didn’t let go and didn’t detach. Instead, she embraced her Iranian heritage and culture and infused her art with it.

Monir was born in 1924 in Qazvin, Iran to progressive parents who supported and encouraged her education. After her father was elected to parliament in 1932, the family moved to Tehran. Her love for art began at an art class she took in school once a week. She’s noted to have said that she found it “more fun than math.” After graduating from high school, Monir enrolled at the University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts.

UOT
University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts

In 1944, at the height of WWII, Monir together with her brother, her fiancée and his  friend, left Allied-occupied Iran on a British liner bound for Bombay (today, Mumbai), India. They then boarded an American naval ship that took them as far as San Pedro, California, and after four days and three nights of traveling across the U.S., they arrived in New York.

She continued her education at Cornell University and Parson’s School of Design. We may say that Monir was the first Iranian student to come to the U.S. to study during WWII.

After college, she worked as a fashion illustrator and graphic designer. She even created the Persian-violet trademark for Bonwit Teller, the luxury department store in NYC.  At Bonwit Teller, Monir crossed paths with none other than Andy Warhol who at the time was working as a shoe illustrator.

bonwit

In New York, Monir’s social circle included artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol,  Joan MitchellAlexander Calder, Frank Stella, to name a few.  In the early 1950s, she used to visit the Guggenheim museum when it was still in a townhouse and known as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. She was also there in 1956, the day when ground was broken for Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete spiral.

Her first marriage to an Iranian artist with whom she had migrated to the U.S. seemed to have stifled her creativity. It was only after they had divorced that Monir truly came to her own. After her divorce she returned to Iran. It had been 12 years since she had left and she was wary of returning, not sure of what to expect. She remarried Abol Farmanfarmaian, a man from an aristocratic family, whom she knew of her time living in New York. Back at her homeland, and in a happy marriage, Monir began to flourish as an artist. Inspired by the Persian art of mirror mosaics, known as ayeneh-kari, Monir began to explore the use of this medium and fusing together Islamic patterns and modern abstract geometric shapes and design that soon became her signature creations.

In 1958, she won a gold medal for her display at the Iran Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 1963, she had her first solo exhibition at a gallery in Tehran.

artmonir

Monir’s rising star as an artist was halted by the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979. She and her husband left for NY soon after. Her art collection in Iran was confiscated by the government. America in 1979 was not as welcoming as when she had first arrived in 1944. The Iranian Revolution, the US Embassy hostage crisis, and then September 11, had placed anyone of Iranian and Middle Eastern origin in the Axis of Evil camp. Monir was turned away by galleries. No one was interested in her work. In NY, she continued creating her mirror mosaics and reverse glass paintings, mostly for herself and friends. After 25 years of living in self-imposed exile in NY, Monir and her husband returned to Iran. She was allowed to open a studio. Soon, she began receiving commissions one of which included a piece for the opening of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006. Another was a permanent six-panel installation in 2009 at the Queensland Art Museum in Brisbane, Australia. The Iranian director, Bahman Kiarostami, premiered his documentary Monir in 2014.  (For a clip of Bahman Kiarostami’s documentary Monir, click here.)

In 2015, at age 93, almost 60 years after Monir had first visited the Guggenheim in its original townhouse, she had her first comprehensive retrospective of her work in the United States. The exhibition “Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014” was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

If we ever find ourselves questioning the viability of international education and the intangible benefits of student exchange programs and access to higher education, we need to remind ourselves of the real life stories of people like Monir Farmanfarmaian and those who came before and after.  The trajectory of Monir’s life, from the town of Qazvin, Iran, to the capital city of Tehran, and then New York, and back to Tehran is as depicted in her beautiful mirror mosaics. Fused together, it is a reflection of the richness and vibrancy of her own dual education, global experiences and those of her cultural heritage.

Additional Reading & References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/21/arts/design/monir-farmanfarmaian-iranian-and-nonagenarian-celebrates-a-new-york-museum-first.html

http://www.reorientmag.com/2015/01/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://hyperallergic.com/276470/a-portrait-of-an-iranian-artist-who-went-home-after-35-years-in-exile/

http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_third_line_at_abu_dhabi_art/

http://p-l-us.com/en/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://kayhanlife.com/news/kayhan/obituary-artist-monir-farmanfarmaian-celebrated-for-her-mirror-work-dies-at-97/


jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Filed under Arts, Creativity, Human Interest

Nashira Eco-Village In Colombia A Matriarchal Example Of Women Empowerment

April 26th, 2019

Commentary: Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Angela Dolmetsh, Ph.D., on Facebook. It turns out that both Angela and I attended the same boarding school in England. Charters Towers School was based in the small sleepy retirement community of Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex. It was an international boarding school for girls and attracted young women from all corners of the world.  Though Angela and I attended CTS at different years, there is an affinity that is shared by us Charterians that transcends time and place. This is one of those intangible positive side effects of having had an international education experience. The connections and friendships made with classmates from diverse cultural backgrounds leave such a memorable and indelible mark that transcends time and one’s place of origin.  Today, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, many of us have been able to reconnect, stay in touch and hold reunions no matter where our life experiences have taken us or where we live. The young women of CTS have grown to be mothers, grandmothers, teachers, artists, engineers, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and advocates for social justice. Angela’s achievements are impressive, but it was her founding of Nashira, an eco-village in her homeland of Colombia which fosters women empowerment that captured my attention when I first saw her Facebook post. I knew I had to connect with Angela and invited her to share with us the story behind the Nashira project and its positive impact on the lives of the women it has helped and the community. 

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO
ACEI


columbia_042619

Little is known about the economic structure of some pre-Colombian societies, as there are few early written records. Archeologists have been very reluctant to accept that some of these societies could have been matriarchal and practice different economic relationships. The particular culture that I will talk about is the Kansateura culture and the Nashira eco-village a practical example.

In the first century AD in the Cauca River Valley in what is now Colombia, there lived a community that is believed to have adhered to maternal principles and worshipped an earth mother figure and many female deities. The Malagana or Kansaterva culture was only discovered 30 years ago when a sugar cane worker accidentally uncovered a gold figure. He had discovered a remarkable hoard of ceramic and gold artefacts, very different in character from other previously known indigenous cultures in the region. The gold pieces were very fine and experts have recognised their quality by comparing them to objects found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The ceramics depict mostly female figures and amongst them were alcarrazas or drinking vessels with double spouts with figures of women fiving birth.

2columbia_042619

There is a ceramic figure or a woman giving birth seating, probably pregnant and breast feeding at the same time quite distinct from any seen before in other pre-Columbian cultures. Archaeologists believe the Kansaterva culture was matriarchal and worshiped not only the mother earth but also women goddesses capable of fulfilling the functions of mothering and generating the miracle of life giving.

Significantly and symbolically, the eco-village Nashira is located in the same area as the Kansaterva culture.  Nashira is an ambitious project in the Cauca river Valley in Colombia that aims to solve not only the problems of poverty which affect a considerable section of the Colombian population, but also to serve as an environmentally sustainable pilot project for a community where women rule.

In Colombia, 32% of households are headed by women and depend on their work as the main source of income. As a result of the gender structure of Colombian society and high male mortality rates, due to 70 years of civil war, massive displacement of rural communities and endemic violence, women are frequently responsible for the care of the family including the elderly as well as children.

The women of Nashira lived previously in cluttered rooms in rented houses with up to 70 other people and often with only one shared bathroom.

At that time the government required a down payment of 10 per cent of the cost of the house for them to finance the rest, an impossible task for people below the poverty line. For that reason, it was imperative that the land should be free.

An NGO provided a three-hectare piece of land where eighty women heads of families, have developed a happy and sustainable community. The women built their own houses using environmentally friendly parameters. The wall panels were made from materials recycled from previous constructions.

The women of Nashira cultivate staple crops using permaculture techniques, fruit trees flourish in the common areas used by the whole community. Some of the cooking uses solar power and the women proudly collect and recycle organic and inorganic waste from the neighbourhood. The recycled plastic, glass and other inorganic materials are used to make products for their own use.

75 % of Nashira’s households are headed by women as they are the main income earners. All administrative decisions are taken by the women by consensus. The consumption of alcohol is not encouraged and men who have incurred in violent acts against their partners or children have been expelled. There is no crime in Nashira. Violence against women was eradicated as Nashira is a community with open doors, where women support each other and men have developed a new culture of love and respect for women. Childcare and maintaining the ecovillage are tasks, shared through “mingas” or collective work.

angela

Angela Dolmetsch, Ph.D. received here doctorate from the University College London. Her doctorate thesis is on Women in Colombian Politics. She is the Founder of the Eco-village Nashira. She is a published author and is International Honorary life President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. She is also the Director and interviewer of the weekly TV program “El Agora” and a columnist of the daily newspaper “El Pais”, Cali,Colombia

angela.dolmetsch@gmail.com

Additional Reading on The Nishira Project Ecovillage:

https://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/womens-ecovillage-colombia-nashira

https://operationgroundswell.com/past-programs/nashira/

https://ecovillage.org/2018-hildur-jackson-award-extraordinary-project-nashira-ecovillage/

http://gift-economy.com/angela-dolmetsch-nashira/

 Publications by Angela Dolmetsch:

“La otra cara del Dólar”,  (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1985)

“Of Govermnments and Guerrillas” (London: Biddles, 1988)

“El Hombrecillo que se tragó a Dios y otros relatos (Cali: ASOMUCAF, 1999)

In preparation “La Mujer en la Politica en Colombia Contemporanea. Tres experiencias reveladoras”

“Nashira, Las Mujeres Cambiando el Mundo”

NOTE: On May 8th, ACEI will be hosting a FREE webinar on the education system of Colombia and Opportunities for Student Mobility.  Join us!


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Don’t stagnate – elevate: the magic of change

April 19th, 2019

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We humans are creatures of habit and deeply distrust and avoid change. My current TEDx talk is about exactly this and it has a lot of connections to our work in the internationalisation world.

Why do mobility exchange numbers start to stagnate, e.g. in the Erasmus program, why do we fail to motivate all students to go and explore the world: e.g. a meagre 1.7% US students (332,000 mobile amongst a population of 19.9 Mio) are mobile. The main reason is that mobility is one of the more drastic and large versions of change and we humans simply hate that.

Instead, we love to stick to habits – e.g. most people choose the same restaurant and often the same food when going out for dinner! We wonder why less than 10% of students become mobile across the European countries but we do wonder much less if we know that 66% of Europeans live within 25km of their parents and only 0.4% changed their country of residence in the last year. This is the level of immobility that we are dealing with!

Why are we so resistant to change? This has biological and psychological reasons. The most striking biological one is that our brain is the Lamborghini amongst our organs: not the largest (only 2% of the body mass) but the one consuming most of the energy (20%). And every change needs thinking and thus energy. Habits on the other hand do not and are therefore more efficient. Psychologically, habits are attractive because they make us quicker – no decisions to be taken, that is why we usually shave on autopilot – and most importantly, they keep us in our comfort zone. People do not move away far from home because that keeps them in their social comfort zone (parents, friends) and when you do not risk new food, you stay in your “nutritional comfort zone”. Importantly for us, most students are therefore very reluctant to leave THEIR social comfort zone, i.e. their home university.

In short, habits are very strong and stop us from changing. Now we could leave it at that, but I strongly believe we should not. Change is favorable for us in many ways: a study by Staudinger 2018 showed that the amount of gray matter in the brain in areas related to learning and attention is closely related to how much the patients changed job tasks over many years: more change -> more gray matter -> healthier brain. And also, only by change can we make new exciting experiences. So, we need to tell students that going abroad does not mean losing the old friends but rather gaining a lot of new friends!

But how do we achieve change? We need mainly time and pressure and I explain the reasons in the TEDx talk. I also give you an 8-step recipe and ask you and everybody to not stagnate by sticking to habits but elevate yourself by embracing the magic of change.

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Uwe Brandenburg holds a PhD from the University of Bristol in Globalisation Studies, an MScEcon from the University of Wales at Swansea and an M.A. in Islamic Sciences from the WWU Münster.  He is currently the Managing Director of the Global Impact Institute in Prague and Associate Professor for Regional Cooperation and Impact of Higher Education at the University Rovira I Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. Prior to that he was Managing Partner of CHE Consult and CHE Consult Prague. He was also Director International at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for eight years. Uwe has published widely on the topic of internationalization such as the much debated article with Hans de Wit on the end of internationalization in 2011 in the Boston IHE. He was the head author and team leader for both the Erasmus Impact Study (EIS, 2014) and the follow-up EIS Regional Analysis (EIS RA, 2016), the European Voluntary Service Impact Study (2017). He frequently presents on international conferences around the globe. He also frequently coaches individuals in leadership positions, teaches at different universities and conducts research. Uwe is a fervent believer in the value of change based on his personal experience as well as professional and academic insights. His research interests are internationalization for society, the influence of technological developments on internationalization and the assessment of impact.

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SYRIA: Education in Exile

March 29th, 2019

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Syria’s brutal civil war that began in 2011 has created the world’s largest displacement crisis, with almost 5.7 million registered refugees, including more than 2.5 million Syrian children now living in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (In 2016, we posted an extensive piece on the Syrian conflict and its impact on the education system and the millions of its citizens who have been displaced. Click here to read more.)

The civil war has led to the creation of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government or a government in exile of the Syrian Opposition, which has been formed by the opposition umbrella group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The interim government is seated in exile in Turkey. Its headquarters in Syria are located in the city of Azaz in Turkish-occupied northern Syria.

In effect, at this time, there are 2 governments in operation representing Syria: the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) led by President Assad and the Syrian Interim Government (SIG). Because of the conflict, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in SAR has placed the entire curriculum of secondary education on-line to allow for students to self-study. In this case, students will not receive a report card or transcript for each year of study. The only document they will receive is the certificate for final exams for the Secondary Baccalaureate which provides them access to tertiary education at the universities in Syria.

In direct opposition to the government of President Assad, the SIG’s MOE has instituted its own secondary curriculum for those in the Turkish refugee camps and Syrian schools in Turkey and offers its own Secondary Baccalaureate examinations. The Interim Government’s MOE is working closely with the MOE in the Turkish government to coordinate efforts between the two ministries to oversee all Syrian schools in Turkey. It is also discussing how Syrian university students living in exile can be admitted into Turkish universities to continue their education and qualify for scholarships.

Until recently, Turkey, and with some limitations, France, had been the only countries recognizing the Secondary Baccalaureate examinations administered by the Syrian Interim Government. But on March 11, 2019, the MOE under the Syrian Interim Government announced that its diplomas are being recognized by several European universities in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. The diplomas are not recognized by the Syrian Arab Government’s MOE and any Syrian returning to Syria will not be granted admission to the universities based on the SIG MOE’s Secondary Diploma.


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Now-Ruz, Persian New Year – Celebrating a New Day and New Beginnings

March 20th, 2019

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Seven years ago, I wrote a blog on the celebration of Now-Ruz (New Day) or the Persian New Year. At that time, the talk of war against Iran was the rhetoric of Washington.  Seven years later the rhetoric remains the same and the economic sanctions against Iran have been re-imposed. But threats of war and economic hardship have not dampened the spirits of Iranians in Iran when it comes to celebrating their long cherished festivities of Now-Ruz.

The celebration of Now-Ruz, takes effect at the exact astronomical beginning of Spring, known as the vernal equinox. Iranians in the diaspora and those living in Iran will celebrate the arrival of the Now-Ruz on March 20th at exactly 2:58:27 PM PDT.

Now-Ruz has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years. Its rituals and traditions date back to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that existed until 7th century A.D. before the Arab invasion and the enforcement of Islam. Today, besides Iran, Now-Ruz is celebrated by nearly 300 million people from several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan and of course, the Iranian diaspora living in all corners of the globe.

In 2009, Now-Ruz was recognized by the U.N. as a tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.”

In preparation for Now-Ruz, Iranians embark on the spring-cleaning of their homes, even make or buy a new set of clothes, and bake pastries in anticipation of visiting guests when gifts are exchanged and feasts enjoyed. Bakeries, food stores, bazaars (even those here in Los Angeles) are abuzz with shoppers stocking up on sweets, pastries, and all the herbs and condiments needed for baking and preparing traditional Persian dishes.

I left Iran when I was 10 before the Islamic Revolution, and remember receiving crisp bank notes from my parents and relatives.  Banks would issue newly printed paper bills and gold coins which were offered as gifts known as eidi.

The rituals surrounding the celebration of Now-Ruz are rich with symbolism and ceremony. They begin on the last Wednesday of winter with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori (Eve of Wednesday), a fire-jumping festival, where people create small bonfires in their neighborhoods and jump over them as the sun sets.

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Parents join in with their children and jump over the flames inviting happiness and abundance while releasing and letting go of darkness and negativity by chanting: “Offer me your lovely red hue and take away my sickly pallor.” With fire signifying light (day), the symbol of all that is good, and dark (night), the unknown and all that is evil, celebrants partaking in the fire festival look forward to the arrival of spring bringing longer days and new beginnings.

As a child growing up in Iran, I remember the minstrels or troubadours, known as Haji Firuz, who sang and danced in the streets dressed in bright red and yellow satin poufy pants and shirts, spreading good cheer and bringing merriment to neighborhoods.

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Another tradition, somewhat resembling the trick-or-treat of Halloween, included young men who disguised themselves as women under chadors (long veils) and went from street to street banging on pots and pans, shaking tambourines and raising raucous, warding off evil or any dark negative spirits. All this was done in jest as seeing a boy or young man in such a disguise invited laughs and more laughs.

Now-Ruz celebrations last for 13 days. As a child, Now-Ruz for me meant a school holiday lasting for 13 days. In fact, most businesses throughout the country would shut down for the duration of Now-Ruz. Everyone was on holiday!

A major feature of Now-Ruz is the preparation of the “Haft-Seen,” (seven “S’s”); a special display of seven specific offerings each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi.

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Typically, the “Haft-Seen” includes the following: “seeb” or apple (promotes beauty and good health), “seer” or garlic (wards off bad omen), “samanou” (a sweet pudding, symbolizing affluence), “sabze” or wheat-germ (representing rebirth) grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year, “sek-keh” or coin, preferably gold (for wealth and abundance), “senjed” (dried fruit from lotus tree, symbolizing love), and “somagh” or sumac (color of sunrise). In addition, there will also be a mirror (symbol for the sky), a goldfish in a bowl (life force), lit candles symbolizing fire and promoting enlightenment, colored eggs (symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth), sweets to spread sweetness and a book of poems by Hafiz or Rumi.

The Now-Ruz festivities end on the 13th day known as “Sizdah Bedar” (out with the 13th), and it is celebrated outdoors. Staying indoors is seen as a bad omen and families spend the day outside in parks and in the countryside near streams, rivers, and lakes, enjoying a festive picnic.

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The “sabze” or plate of wheat-germ that was the centerpiece of the Haft-Seen is taken on this picnic so that young unmarried women wishing for a husband will tie a knot between the green shoots (symbolizing a marital bond) and toss it into running water.

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Despite the Islamic Regime’s attempts to do away with Now-Ruz, calling it un-Islamic and pagan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring continues in Iran

Conquerors have come and gone, dynasties have risen and fallen, and the plans for war may have been penciled in, but Now-Ruz is in ink and etched into the cultural fabric of Iranians. Now-Ruz is a reminder that the darkness is fleeting and the day will soon be longer than the night.

Happy Now-Ruz!

Please refer to the links shared below, to learn more about Now-Ruz:

https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/content/nowruz-celebrating-new-year-silk-roads

https://nbpostgazette.com/happy-nowruz-all-you-need-to-know-about-iranian-persian-new-year/

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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