Monday, February 29, 2016

Mexican Journey

Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
Campus San Luis Potosi
Last week Jenny and I traveled to Mexico (our first time!), having accepted an invitation to participate in the Global Faculty Program at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. The gig emerged from a dinner conversation with Claudia Ugalde in St. Petersburg, Russia of all places. We’d both completed three weeks of a study abroad program in Finland and were enjoying a meal with other friends and colleagues when Claudia recommended the Mexico program. Since I’d enjoyed working with her students so much, she figured I’d have a swell time on one of their home campuses. So after submitting an application I received to word: I’d be heading to San Luis Potosí.

Pozole in SLP Old Town
I had no idea of what to expect. Her colleagues and I discussed plenty of logistics: flights, lodging, that sort of thing. But my actual duties remained flexible until a few days before departure. That’s when I received word of their request that I’d teach ten lectures on a broad range of topics. They’d read my vita and found topics that fit with my skills and interests, and in fact I really only needed to prep a handful of presentations. They were happy for me to repeat lectures for several class sections.

Searching for Street Art
Still, there are few things that are both as exhilarating and terrifying for an educator as flying into another country, arriving late at night, waking up super early to prep, catching a ride to campus, being shown around various spaces, finding my assigned classroom, figuring out the tech, getting to know the professor hosting this lecture, sizing up the students as they walk in, and then hearing a silent voice in my head that goes, ".... and nowwwwww... teach!" 

Campus San Luis Potosí 
Thus I especially appreciated the pleasure (and relief) in knowing that the old tricks and half-forgotten techniques, the familiar dance and untrodden path, managed to connect. On my first day I presented two versions of "Gamification: Disrupting Business and Higher Education,” smiling to find that this topic is just as relevant in Mexico as it is in Belarus, in Finland, and in California. Pretty soon I got into a pleasant groove, presenting lectures on "Silicon Valley Startup Culture," "Intercultural Communication: Crossing Borders and Dismantling Walls" (with some snippy Trump references, of course), and "China: The Once and Future Superpower.”

Nighttime in Jardín Guerrero, Querétaro
Somewhat embarrassingly, I also prepped a lecture called "Mediated Communication: Rethinking Engagement in the Age of Ubiquity” but accidentally fired up the wrong Prezi one day and ran the “Intercultural Presentation” talk instead. Neither the professor nor the students seemed to mind, though, and we ended up having a rollicking visit. The conversations that ensued gave me much to contemplate about life in Mexico, and about local perceptions of U.S. culture. That evening Jenny and I joined other visiting faculty and a wonderful campus host for late-night dinner in a restaurant themed after Frida Kahlo. The food and chat were delightful.

El México de Frida
After finishing my tenth lecture and saying goodbye to our new friends in San Luis Potosí, we joined a Monterrey Tech tour of Teotihuacán, which included an opportunity to learn about indigenous astronomy, agriculture, and spirituality - and to climb the Pyramid of the Sun. I can still hear the whistling wind and see the clouds roll over the valley, and I can still smell the burning sage we used for a ceremony that gave us permission to ascend those sacred steps.

Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán
Afterward our group sampled some local tequilas (Jenny passed on that part, of course) and then cruised back to SLP. With all the driving back and forth, we ended up getting three hours of sleep before our return flights. But we’re wide awake in our love and affection for Mexico. My new pals there have encouraged me to return one day, and I hope I can. Indeed, I can't believe it's taken me this long to begin exploring this amazing place!

Atop the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán
Check out my Facebook album for more pix.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Iowa 2016

Jeff Darcy
OK. Joke’s over.

Recently while having coffee with a colleague, the topic of Donald Trump came up. My pal had noticed a number of political posters in our hallways, some comparing Trump’s rhetoric with the vile history of Nazism. She was glad to see that many of our students are politically involved. I replied that I appreciated their sentiments, even as I bemoan their excesses. “Comparing Trump to Hitler,” I said, “just seems silly.”

I affirmed my belief that Trump is a circus sideshow of blustery soundbites and shameless hucksterism. Yet a vibrant democracy must allow for his voice, I said, grating as it is. Splashing a swastika Trump’s over goofy hairdo kills the potential for serious debate. What’s worse, the attack mutes the meaning of real Nazis and the real terror they spread. Sure, Trump projects a cult of personality. His reckless militarism is scary. And his “take back our country” pablum begs the question, “take it back, from whom?” Trump’s a fool. But he’s no fascist. An opportunist? A bully? A chickenhawk? Oh, yeah. But let’s not hyperventilate just yet.

My pal rebuked me. Hitler was mocked and ridiculed, too. And then he took power.

I thought about this for a few days… until Sarah Palin entered the fray to throw her support behind Trump. “OK, that’s it,” I said to myself. “The 2016 campaign has officially become a conceptual art exhibit.” And sure enough, there was Tina Fey once again delivering a ruthless satire on SNL, rendering Palin somehow more of a laughing stock than she was in ’08. Best of all, Fey merely had to repeat Palin’s bizarro-land stream-of-consciousness almost word for word. I began to relax. Of course Palin would stand beside Trump in the political cloud-cuckoo-land of 2016! These gags write themselves.

To this point I’ve believed that Iowa Republicans would eventually get the joke. But enough Hawkeye State Republicans caucused for Donald Trump to put the New York billionaire officially in the number two spot, sending The Donald off to New Hampshire where he holds a commanding lead. This is the guy who joked that Megyn Kelly’s tough questioning could be explained by “blood coming out of her wherever,” the guy who ridiculed John McCain by saying, “'I like people who weren't captured,” the guy claimed he could "could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" and not lose any voters… This guy almost won the GOP Iowa primary.

I still think that Trump is a national embarrassment, and I continue to believe that the democratic process is resilient enough to endure his shameful rhetoric. And I remain adamant that efforts to denigrate political hacks as “Nazis” insults both history and our potential to disagree in a constructive manner. At the same time, I will no longer dismiss Donald Trump as a national joke. He nearly took Iowa, losing to the slightly less loathsome Ted Cruz; he’s running for President of the United States, and he can still win.

If we let him.