Travelogue

In 2006, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings invited TU President Steadman Upham to join her and 11 other university presidents to participate in an educational mission to Asia. President Upham sent back these entries during the course of his trip.

Educational Mission to Asia

Nov. 8, 2006

As many of you may know, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has invited me to join her and 11 other university presidents participating in an educational mission to Asia. The American higher education system remains a premier destination for students from across the globe, and during the course of this trip, we are seeking to create connections that will encourage and facilitate international students studying in the U.S.

As I prepare to embark on my nine-day journey to Japan, South Korea, and China, I am reminded about how much global education has changed in recent years. Truly, the world is shrinking, and opportunities for international engagement are more plentiful. In keeping with our obligation to prepare students to be global citizens, TU currently is engaged in efforts to both broaden and deepen global perspectives within the Tulsa Curriculum. The University is supplementing its degree programs to emphasize the richness of experience provided through global diversity. Further, the Center for Global Education is working diligently to create opportunities for TU students to study overseas and enhance their college experience.

I am proud to be carrying the message that The University of Tulsa truly is a university of the world. This fall, more than 450 international students representing more than 60 countries are enrolled on our campus. Our community reaps benefits from the presence of international students who choose to study here. International students bring unique social, cultural and academic perspectives and talent that enrich the campus experience for our students, but also provide opportunities to widen the perspectives of others who might never have the opportunity to travel overseas.

In addition to the cultural aspects that international students provide for our community, there are also economic and diplomatic benefits, as well. Nationwide, international students and their dependents contribute more than $14 billion to the U.S. economy each academic year. They also share their experiences with colleagues back home, which is important for maintaining our bilateral relationships across the globe. In fact, hundreds of current world leaders once studied in the U.S.

During the course of this trip, I intend to provide regular updates about our travels and experiences, which will also include official photos and news dispatches. I encourage you to check back periodically to monitor our progress as we engage in this significant educational mission.

Kyoto, Japan

Nov. 10-11, 2006

The delegation assembled at the Detroit airport, then boarded the plane for the long flight to Japan. We arrived in Osaka and were met by representatives from the U.S. State Department. After clearing customs, we received the first of several briefings about upcoming activities and then boarded the bus for the two-hour ride to Kyoto. Tomorrow we will meet with members of the Kyoto academic community— presidents and faculty from several universities in the Kyoto region. I am particularly interested to learn from them about the way Japanese higher education is being transformed in response to increasing government demands to be more responsive to the tides of globalization. Among the several countrywide programs being advanced by the Japanese Ministry of Education is one to bring more international students to study in Japan. I am certain that this subject will be a central topic tomorrow in our discussion with presidents and faculty. Japanese universities also are interested in seeing more of their students study in the United States and other countries. Thus, their interests and ours at The University of Tulsa align well.

After our meeting with the Kyoto academic community, the delegation will tour the Kamigamo Shrine of Kyoto, a World Cultural Heritage Site and the oldest Shinto shrine in the ancient city. Kyoto is a bustling but beautiful city, and I am looking forward to getting better acquainted with the landscape, people, and cuisine as we walk between sites.

Tokyo, Japan

Nov. 12-13, 2006

President's trip to TokyoThe bullet train ride from Kyoto to Tokyo was one of the most interesting transportation experiences I have had in some time. The smooth ride belies the fact that the train travels at speeds over 100 mph. The train cars are spacious and comfortable, and the service, like all service in Japan, is diligent, polite, and efficient. Travel time from Kyoto to Tokyo was just over two hours. The bullet train system in Japan makes in-country air travel completely unnecessary. We could benefit mightily in the U.S. from such a train system, especially a link from Dallas, up through Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis and terminating in Chicago. What a pleasure it would be to travel in comfort and at high speed without having to go through an airport!!

Meetings this morning with the senior leadership and students of Waseda University were very productive. Japanese students are eager to study in the United States, but have many misconceptions about ease of access, cost, and difficulty of the curriculum in our universities. One purpose of our trip is to allay such concerns by providing information about the visa process, availability of financial aid, and courses of study. I found the directness of the Japanese students and their command of English to be very impressive.

President's trip to TokyoThis afternoon we had lunch with a large group of business men and women who are members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The discussion focused on the growing needs of business and industry worldwide for highly trained, well-educated, multilingual individuals. It is clear that U.S. universities are looked to, especially in the management, scientific and technical areas, for leadership. At the same time, it is also clear that competition from universities in Australia and the U.K. is eroding the once preeminent position of the United States system of higher education. The message is clear: We must redouble our efforts to maintain an unambiguous lead in providing the finest educational opportunities to international students. I am proud that our delegation is carrying this message so effectively to our Asian friends, and I am proud of our efforts in international education at The University of Tulsa. 

Toyko to Seoul

Nov. 14-15, 2006

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, held a lively reception at the ambassador's residence on the evening of November 14th that included many prominent Japanese business leaders and academics. A number of former Fulbright fellows to the United States were in attendance, as well as dozens of other Japanese leaders who had graduated from U.S. universities. Seeing so many accomplished people from Japan in one room, and recognizing the impact that U.S. higher education had on them, provided a wonderful reminder of how our universities have helped to change the world.

President's visit to SeoulWe arrived in Seoul on the evening of November 15th after a full day of meetings and activities in Tokyo. Seoul is a sprawling megalopolis with enough traffic for several cities. To expedite our arrival at the hotel, our motorcade was provided a police escort through heavy traffic from the airport. The daring-do of the motorcycle officers en route produced a constant stream of oohs and aahs from members of our delegation. The good news is we made it, and so did the motorcycle officers!

When I checked into the hotel and entered my room, I received an important reminder that I had just gained entry to the most wired country in the world. Although I could find one light switch when I entered my room, I could not find the switches for any of the other lights. Moreover, I could not find the climate control for the room, and there was no remote control for the television. In fact, there was music playing in my room (classical), but I could not see any radio or speakers. Then I noticed a small control panel on the bedside table that provided the answer: every light and device in the room was digitally connected to this panel. From one spot, I could control all of the lights, the heating and cooling system, the television, and radio from a small device plugged into one of the electrical outlets by the desk. I could even illuminate a small digital sign on the door that instructed hotel employees to leave me alone (do not disturb) or make up the room. To boot, there were two cell phones on the dresser that had been programmed for my arrival and would deactivate upon my departure. I definitely knew that "I was not in Kansas anymore."

Today, we have a full slate of meetings with South Korean government officials, university leaders, and Korean alumni of U.S. universities. We'll end the day by joining the U.S. ambassador to South Korea at a reception held to mark Secretary Spellings' visit. And tomorrow, bright and early, we depart Seoul for Beijing.

Our journey to this point has been fascinating and useful. I have made many important contacts that I hope will allow us to begin establishing relationships with Asian universities for student and faculty exchanges. I see great promise in these beginning steps.

Seoul to Beijing

Nov. 16-17, 2006

Our last meetings with higher education leaders in Seoul turned out to be among the most productive of our sessions. The delegation met at Sungkyunkwan University, one of the oldest universities in the country, with a number of presidents and chancellors of Korean universities. Sungkyunkwan was founded more than 600 years ago to develop scholars based on the teachings and philosophy of Confucius. Today, the Confucian heritage of the university is still a powerful force in shaping its strategies and mission, but Sungkyunkwan University also has evolved into one of the top universities in Korea for science and engineering.

Our roundtable discussion focused on ways to foster research collaborations between Korean and U.S. scientists and engineers, but also touched on student and faculty exchanges in the humanities and social sciences. I believe that The University of Tulsa has opportunities to develop closer relationships with some of the top universities in Korea, and I look forward to working with Dr. Cheryl Matherly, TU's associate dean of the Center for Global Education, to advance more discussions with our Korean counterparts.
Yesterday, we left Seoul bright and early for the flight to Beijing. We arrived in Beijing and were immediately whisked away to Beijing Normal University for a conclave with the Chinese deputy minister of education, the president of BNU, and a few hundred students. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings delivered a powerful speech on the importance of educational partnerships, stressing the critical value of student exchanges with China. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to mingle with the Chinese students. Their eagerness and English language proficiency was humbling, as was their intense desire to know more about the United States.

Beijing is an amazing, huge, and vibrant city that is "under construction." Looking out my hotel room on just a small slice of the city skyline, I counted 18 super cranes working on new high-rise buildings. This feature of Beijing is repeated in every quarter of the city we visit. I have never seen so many new buildings under construction, nor have I seen such an amazing outward sign of economic prosperity. I now understand better why steel and cement prices in the United States have been so negatively affected by the demand for these products in China, and why we struggled so holding the costs down on our new campus buildings.

President's stop at Sungkyunkwan UniversiityLast evening we met at Tsinghua University for a roundtable discussion with the presidents of a dozen of the best universities in China. We had a substantive and frank conversation about joint research, visas problems for entering Chinese students, the affordability of U.S. higher education, and the need to have more Americans study in China. Our roundtable was followed by a lavish dinner at Tsinghua University's ultramodern research park, where more than 400 companies (including Google and Microsoft) have major research operations. The Chinese hospitality has been overwhelming. I sense a major and deep commitment by the Chinese to broaden and deepen collaborations with the United States.
The day was concluded by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Secretary Spellings and the Chinese Minister of Education Zhou Ji that commits to a broadening of student exchanges between our two countries.

This will be my last posting of the trip as our schedule from this point on is even more frenetic than in previous days. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you next week in Tulsa.