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Brooke Collison
Sep 06, 2012

A Counselor Educator in Kenya—Blog 6: It’s the Same Everywhere

Yesterday, I attended two faculty meetings at KeMU—a college faculty meeting and a counseling department meeting. Surprise! The topics sounded exactly the same as the ones I’ve been hearing for 30+ years: requirements for continuing contracts, faculty load, effect of increased tuition on decline in student enrollment, cost of credit hour production, and need to have a good dialogue with university administration on some issues. In the department meeting, discussion focused on grade distributions across the several campus programs of KeMU (in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Maua, and Nyeri).

It was déjà vu all over again. I was really just an observer; although, I’ve been welcomed as a full-fledged faculty member by everyone. I had the luxury of sitting back and observing rather than carrying part of the load of the issues. It was interesting to watch faculty members and department chairs work through the sort of universal issues that pervade academic programs regardless of site. I was pleased to listen to discussions which searched for solutions without sacrificing quality. At several times, they would turn to me and ask if the issues being discussed were similar or different than in America. Or, they would ask, “How do you do this in America”? In those instances, I had to say, “It’s the same.”

On another matter: I met the first group of distance education students today. It took me back to the very first day of college teaching I ever had. That was many years ago, when, as a high school counselor I was asked to teach a course at Emporia State University for Harry Waters who had release time for a special project. On the first day of class, I was hyped! I had prepared extensively, was dressed in a white shirt and tie, and going to the classroom early so that I would be on time. That season of the summer in Emporia, Kansas is a time when the mulberry trees are full of fruit and I happened to walk under a tree where a large bird had been digesting more of the fruit than it should. It took the moment of my passing to relieve itself and I ended up with a huge blue splot spreading down the left side of my white shirt. What to do!?!

I entered the classroom with my right hand over my splot, then removed it and said, “I think I’ve been officially welcomed to the campus.” One of the students, Kathy Ritter, always reminded me of that as we continued our professional relationship over the years.

I did almost as poorly today. I was late. I confess that I was confused about the class meeting schedule in the spread sheet that came to my computer, so I was chagrinned when my office colleague called and said there was a class ready for me to meet with them. A mad dash, I’m late, I wasn’t prepared, didn’t have a roster (so I could manage only two of the names half way accurately), and no chalk board eraser [yes, chalk boards instead of white boards]. To add to my problems, there was no eraser and neither of the bathrooms close had TP in them. For a while, I thought I’d have to use the sleeve of my blue blazer to erase boards until a woman opened her purse and pulled out her TP roll (you carry your own because rest rooms don’t have any).

We had a discussion; we exchanged personal information; I have a stack of email addresses; I discovered that all the students work in health care at some level; they asked more about where I am from (you should see the map of the U.S. which I drew on the board—pretty good, I thought); and we made it through the meeting. I apologized for being late and for keeping them over time. At least there was no mulberry crap on my shirt.

I noticed the use of paper phenomenon again at the end of class: When the students turned in a page with the information I requested, they did it on scraps of paper, on 1/3 sheets, on shared pages with another student. When they had been writing in class (in response to my spontaneous lecturette), they had written on every line and to the margins. Last night, my wife, Joan, returned from her volunteer duties at the orphanage and talked about how the little boy she had worked with had been so very careful with the page she gave him on which to practice letters and numbers. And then, at 6:00 AM this morning, we skyped with our granddaughter about her first day at school where paper is something inconsequential to be used with profusion.

Everything in the world is not the same.

Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.

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