Saturday, December 22, 2007

Price of Plagiarism

by: Jennifer Kumar

I found out through personal experience that in some places plagiarism does not have a bad reputation, in fact through plagiarising reputation through higher marks is rewarded.

This place was my study abroad location, India. In fact, the way the educational system was set up at the time I was there, I know why this was happening. In fact before going to India, some international students I studied with here in U.S. from India were plagiarising in different capacities, though not as blatant as what I found in India.

Semesters began with students frantic to find one copy of the latest textbook or written materials for the class. Soon as the coveted collection of materials were found, one student would tally up how many people wanted copies - some wanted their own, and sometimes small groups of students would share one copy among them- and run out of the college gate, across the road and to the 'xerox' station. There, the materials would be handed over to the clerk running the shop, he'd take the materials, tally, ask for single or double sided and if it needed to be bound or not, and tell the student when to come back to collect the finished copies. After collecting study materials, the next aspect of plagiarism was the tests and assignments. It was better to write answers on papers exactly as the teacher had said, or exactly as stated in the favorite text of the teacher. I realized quickly it was better to regurgitate word for word to get better marks.

The thing is I don't think people thought of it as plagiarism, though. Educational systems were not set up for individual thought or any open expression. Students were not encouraged to speak up, especially if the opinions differed from the teachers. This was my impression in comparison to my college experience in U.S. I am thinking Indian students accustomed to growing up with that culture may have a different outlook on that.

The one place, however original ideas was encouraged was in our thesis project. Standards for citing other author's works were equitable to what I experienced in U.S. The majority of the project needed to be the student's original creation based on their personally created social interviews, research and analysis of statistics. Citing other articles was required for justification of arguments.

I am inspired to talk about this after reading two recent articles written on this topic- Australian University May Discipline Staff in Plagiarism Scandal, but Not Students and Yale Professor at Peking U. Assails Widespread Plagiarism in China. A few suggestions I have for colleges hosting international students to alleviate these concerns is:
1. Colleges hosting international students must address this in the orientation sessions.
2. Colleges hosting 2+2 or twinnings programs must assure the foreign university they are paired with have similar definitions for plagiarism.

Before I went to India, I did a lot of reading about the collective culture, but no amount of reading could have prepared me for immersing myself behaviorally, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually in this culture. Collective cultures revere collective and consensus thinking - with the leadership in thought generally coming from someone respected in the family, college, or in the field of study. Words from that person are rarely questioned and are taken at face value. It is a shift in many aspects of life for a person to transition between these two cultures. I do not pose these arguments to justify plagiarism, but to demonstrate that college and university staff must be culturally sensitive in addressing these issues and not expect all students studying in Western countries would by default already be subscribing to the same plagiarism rules as the U.S.

Additional Resources: Australian Government Research Snapshot: International Students by Gender Twinnings (2+2) Programs Gain Popularity Between China and Canada

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Economics of Study Abroad - Reflections

by: Jennifer Kumar

Reflecting on the current state of the American Dollar, I posted a link to an article from titled American Expats in Britain Suffer ‘24/7 Sticker Shock’. Since, I have located another article titled The Dollars and Cents of Studying Abroad. In reading these articles and being aware of the ever increasing market for ‘study abroad’ loans, I wanted to share my thoughts on the economics of studying abroad.

I admit years ago (1997 to be exact) economics was the main reason I went to India as a matriculated student rather than a Minnesota MSID exchange student. It was a very competitive program to enter, but I was accepted. However, had to decline later when the tuition rules changed and I was expected to pay twice the amount I was paying per year at my home college (the new total was over US$20,000). So, I did not attend that program and took a different route to India. Within two years, I became the first matriculated student from America to attend Madras Christian College. I also became the first American to graduate from the college with a M.A. Social Work two years after that.

How did economics factor into all of this? Well, rather than pay U of M $20,000 for a one year program that would not give me a degree, I paid $2,000 for a two year stay in India to achieve a Master’s degree. Within this US$2,000, I paid for my full tuition, room and board (three semesters on campus and one as a paying guest), mess (hostel food), in country travel and miscellaneous expenses. Within this budget I lived very well. The fight tickets to India and back were more costly than my degree and in-country living expenses! When I began working in U.S., I came to find out that I really saved a bundle as my colleagues had spent upward of US$50,000 for their social work master’s degrees here in U.S., and were in major debt.
So, economics played a different role for me than today's study abroad students. Today, the toll of economics is set against the fluctuating dollar, which seems to be loosing purchasing power around the world. This encourages students to choose the countries where the dollar can go father for daily living expenses. This may encourage students and colleges to take new approaches to study abroad. Of the many approaches that exist, I will discuss two:

1. Comparing prices based on total amount spent on tuition and living expenses once in country. Quoted from The Dollars and Cents of Studying Abroad, “For Middlebury College students, for example, a year in Florence costs around $37,000; at Santiago, Chile, it's $27,000.” This, of course, is an extreme example, but none the less quite realistic. I know this kind of comparison haunted me in my study abroad choice between India and Japan in 1997. Of course, India won out – and must I add for many other reasons beside economics!
2. New approaches to study abroad that expel the myth that study abroad is a diversion on the path to getting a degree and that Americans have to pay American tuition even in other countries where those expenses would be less. Twinnings programs allow for the smooth flow of academics so that a degree is the final outcome and saving money is inevitable. For instance, Rajagiri College in Kochi India has Twinnings Programs in various subjects and in various colleges around the world. Economics and the promise of a ‘foreign degree’ for many Indian and non-Indian students alike are the selling points. For more details on this see the Rajagiri Twinnings Brochure for economic breakdown – from the Rupees perspective.

Based on this limited discussion, there are different ways of approaching the economic quandary of studying abroad. It may seem that as the dollar fluctuates, study abroad is out of reach. I challenge this assumption because there are so many avenues to study abroad and with enough research and the right mindset there is a good study abroad fit for your academic, professional, personal and economic goals!

Share you experiences or other study abroad economic considerations below.

Note: The link I have found for MSID India appears to go to Jaipur and not Pune. I could not find the Pune program. If it exists, please send the link to me by leaving it in a comment below.

Related Posts/Sites: One list of India Study Abroad Programs

Friday, December 14, 2007

Resident of Nairobi Slum Graduates from University of Manchester, U.K.

by: Jennifer Kumar

Question everything. Anything is possible. Dare to expect the unexpected. Take the path less traveled. Go against expectations.

This is the life story of Sammy Gitau, a lifetime resident of one of Nairobi, Kenya’s poorest communities- a slum in the middle of the city. The story of his life is commendable. He has definitely seen times most of us are afraid to talk about let alone experience first hand.

He knew his studies would take him places. Though he has had only few years of formal schooling, he is now a proud college graduate from the University of Manchester in U.K. with a MSc in International Development Project Management (IDPM).

His story teaches us many things. One of the things that it teaches me is that “there are many ways in and many ways out” and some of those ways are far from conventional. I am sure, for instance the University was ridiculed for accepting such a student. After all, plenty of students ‘formally schooled’ and highly ranked also applied. What did the students think? But, the university took a risk on experience over test scores! How novel!

How did Sammy get to go abroad? Being from a slum, how could he afford the travel and living expenses abroad? Over his lifetime (currently at the ripe old age of 35), he has inspired his neighbors and fellow ‘slum dwellers’ to rise up and have better lives. Without studying books, but knowing his community, his people, and his country he created his own community development programs. These programs had international visitors over the years. His superior networking abilities roped in insurmountable international moral and financial support. It was through his track record on the ground, his grassroots effort paid off, literally. Now, to return to Kenya foreign educated at one of the world’s top institution.

So, two days after Kenya’s 44th Independence Day celebration, one of Kenya’s hardest working ‘regular Joes’ has achieved a new freedom of his own for himself and his people. I wish Sammy all the best in using his new found knowledge to enhance his family, his community, his country and his world!

For the entire article, titled From Slum Dweller to Miracle Graduate click here.
University of Manchester

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Americans Need to Improve Geographic Literacy

by: Jennifer Kumar

The other day I visited the RIT campus in Rochester, N.Y. I met an African Student there. She said she was from Rwanda. I said, "Oh, you're from Africa...." As I trailed off, I was trying to place it in my mind. I knew it was landlocked (not near the seashore), but what countries bordered it? As I was thinking about that, the student commented, "Wow, you know it is in Africa! That's more than most students here know!"

Hearing that I was embarrassed for Americans. That being said on a college campus no less, is even more disheartening. And, some of these students may decide to study abroad! How can students be sufficiently prepared to study abroad if they can't even locate countries on the map or know which continent they are on?

Of course, my geography skills always need to be brushed up on. I think there are 192 countries at present. Out of those, I may be able to name less than half. I feel pretty proud that I can at least name the 50 states and, for the most part, can draw the map and plot them from my memory or at least tell which states border which states.

But, being that my literacy needs to improve in this department, as well as many Americans, the National Geographic Society is aiming to solve this problem. You can find out more about it by reading this article.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Insatiable Interest in International Exchange

by: Jennifer Kumar

Bullet Points of My International Education Inspirations
- 11th and 12th grade met and made friends with international students.
- 12th grade I tried to apply for study abroad to Spain.
- Junior and Senior year of College I learned Hindi, Japanese, Asian History.- Junior and Senior year of College I performed Japanese Cultural Dances.
- Senior year of college I worked for the Global Ambassadors international students mentor program.
- 1998 December made my first trip to India, visiting Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Thirupathi and Mumbai.
- 1998-1999 worked for Harvard Institute for International Development as a project accountant for economic development programs in India and African countries.
- 1999 created a dream team of friends and influential people to provide me the opportunity to be the first American to study at Madras Christian College.
- 1999-2001 was the first and only American to attend and graduate from Madras Christian College, India.
- Active participant in Indian cultural clubs from 2001- present.
- Series of cultural competency trainings on Indian culture at Hillside Children Center 2004-2007.
- Organized two conferences on unifying cross cultural issues attended by over 100 people.- Visited Rajagiri College, India, presenting a talk on Utilizing Indian Social Work Degrees in U.S.
- Performed Indian cultural dance, Thiruvathirakali, in Rochester, New York. (see videos below)
- Volunteer at Nazareth College Center for International Education 2007. (I am the graphic designer of the fall 2007 issue.)
To see more of my career accomplishments, visit my career portfolio.

Study Abroad Resources at Amazon

International Education Resources at Amazon

Search India at Amazon