Friday, March 31, 2006

Leaving Switzerland for Bhutan

This Sunday, I'll be leaving for Bhutan - after all the preparations, the adventure Bhutan starts very soon. Let me explain you what I'll be doing in Bhutan and what I've done during the last five months.

Helvetas calls itself Swiss Association for International Cooperation and is involved in projects all over the world. Together with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Helvetas is involved in projects in Bhutan since 1975. The support from Helvetas/SDC consists of a large number of projects, e.g. building bridges, training of agricultural workers, and various projects in the educational sector. Helvetas/SDC assisted in building schools and got involved with the teacher education. In the area of teacher education, there have been several projects in the past few years. The one that is currently running is called STEP (Support for Teacher Education Program) and that's the place where I step in. One part of STEP is about integrating ICT into the teacher education.
To spread the use of ICT in a community, it's a good strategy to get the teachers involved and give them the necessary education - so that they can get their students involved and teach them the skills that are necessary in the age of information. As I know from my experience as a student in Swiss schools, it is not entirely easy to integrate the use of ICT into schools. There are a lot of traps hidden, one has to get the acceptance from the community, money has to be freed to be able to buy ICT infrastructure, and keeping the infrastructure running in reasonable condition is not entirely trivial. I'm a little bit out of touch with the Swiss school system, but my guess is that we mastered the first few steps of integrating ICT into our educational system - but we probably have a lot of steps left.

In Bhutan, I'll be staying at the NIE (National Institute of Education) in Samtse. Samtse is a city in the south of Bhutan. To be honest, I don't know yet that much about Samtse and its surrounding. I'm excited about getting in touch with that region and the folks living there. At NIE Samtse, I'll be helping out with my knowledge wherever it is needed. I have a Terms of Reference but time hasn't yet come to talk about that. First, I have to get a feeling for what the current state is and where it makes most sense to invest resources.

After this short introduction of what I'll be doing in Bhutan, let me summarize what happened during the last five months and why you probably didn't hear that much from me:
Life has been busy. I returned from the US on a Monday in the end of October and on Tuesday, classes at ETHZ started. A semester filled with classes, seminars, and a semester thesis. Classes were great and I learned a lot. The seminars (here and here) were a good opportunity to practice my spoken English and to get a feeling for how you can present a rather technical subject. The semester thesis was a really good experience too - I had a rather theoretical subject. I really like the type of work that I was doing but I just couldn't get a result. This was rather frustrating. I started questioning myself; whether I was just not capable of doing work in this field. So there was definitely frustration involved, but I think that this is part of what research is about. If we knew from the beginning that there will be a result and how we can get it, it wouldn't be research. From today's point of view, I think that it was a good experience to realize that if you want to do research, you'll have to be able to cope with frustration. So thanks to Robert Berke for supporting me during the time of the semester thesis!
To finish the last semester and kick off the new one, I had an initial face-to-face with Prof. Welzl and Dr. Gaertner yesterday morning; I'll be doing my master thesis in their group. We haven't yet decided on a specific subject but agreed that it will be something from the area of computational geometry. I'm very much looking forward to this project - a project that will start in about four months - after I have returned from Bhutan.

Let me finish this lengthy post with a picture. Jordan Kern, a friend of mine from UNC Chapel Hill, stayed in Switzerland during the last weekend. He is currently studying in France and it was a blast having him in Switzerland. We went up to the Jungfraujoch (that's were the picture is from), stayed in Zurich, Lucerne, and Baden, and just had a good time.

Wish you all a great weekend!

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