COUNTING DOWN SUMMERS & SPRINGS

As a die-hard traveler, it still amazes me that over 50% of Americans don’t have a passport. How is that possible? I am on my 4th or is it 5th passport? Old ones are saved tenderly with their stamps to exotic destinations, bent pages, creases, folds and a permanent curious curve of the passport itself. Kind of like I’ve had it in my backpocket all the time, but I haven’t. Those passports trigger memories of places, people, experiences, successes, mistakes, loves won and lost, with a sweet-aching the Brazilians call ‘saudade’.

Last year, I had to add pages to my existing passport. The stamps are coming faster and more furiously. It’s as if the realization of Don Henley singing, “There’s just so many summers, so many springs” is an imperative, a magnetic inescapable pull. Yes, just how many summers and springs are in our future? Of that, no one can be certain. But I’m certain of one thing and it’s so close and personal I can almost feel and taste it. That certainty is that I know my time is finite, like sand thru the hourglass. That is the good news. I am one of the lucky ones. I know to cherish the days & months on a calendar. Not because they are guaranteed, instead because they are a coveted promise of a future of more tomorrows.

So my passport is more than the legal document of my nationality, it is my passport to future summers and springs (and falls and winters, too). It represents my wings into the future; and my continuing quest and adventure to discover the world. And, not surprisingly, discovering the world opens vistas into the depths of who I am, and my place in this world, as well.

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WAKING UP IN RIO

Photo by Roberto Beltrao

It’s dawn.  Light is coming through the window.  The only problem is it’s a window that doesn’t belong on THAT wall?

So I have to tell myself to relax, breathe, and in a moment or two I’ll remember just where I am.  But I keep staring at that window, dazed and confused by it being on the wrong wall.  I’m not high, hooking, or demented (at least not yet); but those first few moments after awaking can be anxiety-causing and panic-driven for people who travel.

It must be so easy to awaken with your shoes under the same bed week after week, month after month…. to awaken to the same sounds and sights must be quite comforting.  But for those that travel, our morning disorientation is a small price to pay for feeding our adventurous spirits.  So I’ll awaken to windows on the wrong wall, shadows of unfamiliar furniture, and even sounds that make me wonder out loud, ‘Where am I now?”

And waking up in Rio is a mini-adventure.  Radiantly blue skies, street conversations in Portuguese below my window, and the cacophony of city buses beginning their morning runs after the silent lull of the night. But my absolute favorite dawn signal that ‘’this is Rio” is the Bem-Ce-Vi bird (great kiskadee).  The distinctive call of this delightful South American bird serves as my ‘wake-up call’ many mornings.  Listen carefully to his call, sounds like he’s saying “Bem-Ce-Vi” (I see you.).  Good morning, my feathery Bem-Ce-Vi friend.  Bom dia, Rio!

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FROM TOURIST TO ITALIAN RESIDENT, BUT WHY?

It was love at first sight over 30 years ago- this love affair I have with the Amalfi Coast.  This spectacularly beautiful place still takes my breath away.

It’s been an interesting, challenging, wonderous, and scary first month settling into my ‘Barbie-sized’ apartment in Atrani, Italy.  Some call me brave or adventurous; while others think I am simply crazy.  I think it is all of those things.  But most of all, I think each of us is driven by something, something unique to us- this may include the need to belong, the need for success or status (whatever that means), the need for safety, the need for predictability, the need for identity, etc.  Well, I think some of us are driven by something far different.

Remember those carnival rides- carousels, ferris wheels, bumper cars, & roller coasters?  Being raised with 3 boys (2 brothers and a male cousin), we were quite the daredevils.  I quickly outgrew the carousels in favor of faster, steeper roller coasters, and hammer rides that not only went fast but upside down.  And I think some people like me are searching for that same rush.  Some might say thrill-seekers or adrenaline junkies.  Some will sky-dive, climb mountains or race cars.  International travel gave me that rush- for a while- and still does.   

But investing personally, financially, spiritually & physically in another country, culture, & language is a wonderful high to me.  It seems to feed my need for adventure, my overwhelming curiosity, and my strong identity as a global citizen (friends call it my ‘gypsy soul’).  What a thrill to tackle a new place, solo without a net!  The world is an interesting, awed-inspiring place.  And exploring new cultures, languages, customs, and history, up close and personal is energizing.  

An estimated 34% of Americans own a passport.  That means the vast majority of Americans can’t even leave the US.  And of that 34%, most venture past US soil for the occasional vacation.  However some Americans have moved to a foreign country for work, military service, school, or after meeting a significant other.  A few retire as a couple overseas.  When you dissect the numbers further, how many single sane Americans actually choose to live abroad, outside the structure and comfort of work, Uncle Sam, school, or with a foreign/domestic partner?  Yep, that’s me.  So I understand why some see me as a lunatic.

Even Americans living abroad (for work, school, military or retirement couples) find people like me an exception, or is that ‘just special’?  And there’s no statistics about my group, the group I will call, ‘Living-Global-Solo’.  We are a small, select & eccentric group.  And surprise-surprise, we are few and far between.  We might be as rare as diamonds, but we are just as tough.

So that’s why I did it.  I needed that thrill, to feed my global curiosity, & spread my gypsy wings (again).  And living in Atrani, Italy ‘without a net’ gets my adrenaline pumping.  Plus,
it’s one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on earth.  I’ll be easy to find, I’m the one smiling through confusing Italian communications, metric measurements, Euros not dollars, and cultural missteps.  And sometimes I’ll get really, really lost.  “Where am I? Haven’t I been lost here before?”  Even lost, I am one of the lucky ones.  I have found a life that fuels my soul- and I know I am living the life destined for me….

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CIAO, BELLA ATRANI

Atrani town & beach

Setting up a new (admittedly tiny) residence in a foreign country takes courage, planning and a bit (or alot) of madness. Luckily I have all three. Many asked me why I would spend my hard-earned cash on such a very tiny apartment, in a tiny town (only 900 residents) on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.  Atrani, I-T-A-L-Y?  It was an easy decision, I’ve vacationed here dozens of times, and these pictures ARE my backyard. I’m a 1 min walk to the piazza, and a 2 min walk to the sea/beach. What my micro-studio apartment lacks in size, it makes up for in location, location, marvelous-glorious (!) location…

After weeks of preparing a packing list and shopping ’til I dropped in Los Angeles, I loaded up three suitcases with about 50 lbs each- pillows, sheets, towels, shower curtain, throw rugs, scissors, stapler, tools (2 screwdrivers and pliers), toiletries, radio, anything and everything I could think of that I might need to begin this new adventure. In addition to countless clothes, I brought running outfits and shoes, and surfing rash guards too, just in case I found some surf, somewhere. And a ‘swifter’, my favorite red Brazilian nail polish, 7 pairs of Havaianas sandals, and 10 bikini’s made the trip.  Atrani is a tiny village- no Target or Walmart here. The closest household shopping is at least an hour’s bus ride away- so my list had to be complete and pre-planned. It was. But after 2 days of settling in, I realized I should have brought a smoke detector, eye drops, a few more throw rugs, & clothes pins. But, ya can’t think of everything.

The Amalfi Coast of Italy is one of the most beautiful places on earth. For centuries it’s been the playground for royalty, popes, and politicians- and they, and many rich and famous still summer here. With neighbors like Sophia Loren (who once lived down the road), how could I go wrong? Getting here from Los Angeles involved 2 plane rides, a bus, a train, and finally another bus.  Schlepping 4 pieces of luggage (3 weighing in at 50 lbs each wasn’t easy, but I was committed- or maybe should have been?) There were only luggage carts at Rome airport, nowhere else– and NO porters to help. So I had to strap 2 suitcases together, then hands fully loaded, drag it all around Rome train station. Not fun, not pretty, but ya gotta do what you gotta do. Luckily a sympathetic train rider lifted all my luggage onto the train, while he and another fellow passenger lifted them down as well when train arrived in Salerno.  This American notices & loves Italian chivalary. Facing at least 25 steps down at the Salerno train station and NO porters in sight; I thought, OK, guess I’m stuck here until a solution appears. Presto- Francesco, who apparently just hangs out to help for whatever you wish to pay. God bless him– I just couldn’t have done it alone. He stayed with me at the bus stop, and even loaded my bags onto the Amalfi bus for me.  Arriving in Atrani was a different story. After being dropped at the only bus stop in Atrani, there are about 45 steps down. No one in sight. So this ‘can-do’ woman carried ONE suitcase down about 10 steps, then returned for the next suitcase, then the next suitcase.  Then I repeated the process again for another 1o steps, until all 45 steps were behind me.  It took multiple trips, but I did it. Then the wonderful restaurant at the base of the stairs held my suitcases so I could take them to my apt in multiple trips- 47 steps UP to my apt. each trip. Exhausting, back breaking work- but well worth it.  Later, every muscle was sore… I’m sure there is NO Stairmaster equipment here! Most homes are over 80 steps up, some are 100’s, yes hundreds of steps up. So my 47 steps are almost sea-level to the locals. 🙂

It’s taken 2 days to clean the apt and unpack. Still lots to do– and loving it. For some reason, the first thing I did was hang the sheer curtain I brought for my double doors. Yes, I have a delightful view of the neighbor’s laundry, and the 5-star hotel neighbor too. Funny, that’s what I chose to do first, and made me proud that it fit perfectly, as did the curtain rod I brought. Yep, pre-planning, baby.

Rewarded myself with a wonderful late lunch in my backyard, Atrani’s piazza.

Ciao, bella Atrani, your newest resident (#935)  just arrived.

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MINORITY REFLECTIONS IN THE IVORY TOWER

Photo by http://bora.deviantart.com/

Minorities are now the majority in colleges & universities in three states in the US.  California, New Mexico and Hawaii now report over 50% of their college-enrolled students are from minority groups.  Minority college students in both California and New Mexico account for 57% of all college students; while Hawaii reported a whopping 69% of their college students are minorities.  And Texas hovers just shy of the majority mark at 49%.  The national average is 34%.  A report by the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, underscores this continuing trend in the population shift in higher education student enrollment.

In California, having 57% of all college students from minority groups very much mirrors the composition of the state.  The U.S. Census of 2010 reported that 60% of the California state population was from minority groups.  Californians can be proud of this statistic as important benchmark of the close relationship between the general population and the college-enrolled students.

While minorities are taking their place in colleges around the country, they are not assuming faculty positions in the same institutions.  So the face of college students has changed in many states, the face of the professors teaching them has not.  College professors in the U.S. remained overwhelmingly white.  A staggering 77% of college professors in the U.S. are white; leaving only 23% minority professors (Chronicle, 2011).  This isn’t as large a concern in those states in America with smaller minority populations in college.  For example Vermont, Maine, Utah and Kansas all report over 80% of their college students are white.  So the national average of 77% white faculty/professors reflects well on their faculty-student profile.

In Orange County, for example, there exists a huge disconnect between the professors teaching and the college students they teach.  University of California, Irvine (UCI) reported in 2011 that 69% of students were from minority groups while only 28% of their faculty is minority.  A closer look at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) also revealed the staggering gap between those behind the podium and those seated in front of it.  At CSUF, 60% of enrolled students are minorities; while only 29% of the faculty wa minority.  Even more stunning that CSUF reports over 40% of CSUF’s incoming freshmen are Hispanic (31% college-wide); while only 5% of the faculty are Hispanic.

Around the country, and specifically in states serving high minority student populations, some colleges are choosing to reinvent themselves to better reflect the minority students they serve, and their geographic populations as well.  A remarkable example of successful commitment to minority faculty recruitment and retention is the University of Texas-El Paso.  UT maintains a strong minority professorate to serve their growing Hispanic student population.

An important key to finding and retaining talented minority professors is a sincere commitment by a college to reflect their student population.   The good news is the National Science Foundation found that the number of earn doctorates by members of racial/ethnic minority groups continues to grow faster than those earned doctorates by white recipients.  This means the talent pool of minority faculty exists for those colleges truly interested in having their professorate reflect the student population & community they are serving.

For California and for Orange County, the challenge to serve the new ‘majority’ of minority college students is here and now.  And the new ‘majority’ will be looking to the future to see their own reflection in the ‘ivory tower’ of their college.

[Linda C. Orozco, Ph.D. is a recently retired full professor in educational leadership from California State University, Fullerton; with over 35 years of experience in educational administration.  Her research includes international leadership; technology in education; and educational demographics.]

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