Accepting the Invite…

Sorry that there was no entry last week folks – my first gap in this weekly blog. The reason? I’ve been busy in Bethlehem and Ramallah. I was there with the British Council to give an overview of our University’s recent developments in the context of the particular themes of fostering graduates with entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skill sets and attitudes. It’s something with which universities in the region are currently grappling.

I haven’t been to this part of the world before. It’s instantly fascinating. In reflecting on the four and a half days spent out there, my immediate impression is reinforcement of the opinion that, whilst our news channels may not necessarily lie, they certainly don’t tell the whole truth. I think it’s too complicated to fit into news-sized bulletins.

And the whole place is beautifully intoxicating, friendly and curious. It’s a heady mix of ancient influences, jaw dropping architecture with echoes carrying for two millennia, car fumes, winding roads, wheeling, dealing, jasmine scent (in blossom at the moment) and seemingly endless construction and roadworks – every development backs onto scrubland or another plan/ SME in the making.

And in the background is the wall. A dividing undercurrent – concrete, barbed wire and oh so noisily silent, affecting all conversations. Checkpoints abound. A car journey that should take 15 minutes can take more than an hour because of the checkpoints. Little signs on the vehicle registration plates give, or deny, quiet permissions. Underlying tension bubbles and then erupts in places.

On arrival, after a very hectic day first day of conference presentations (including my own) meetings and the beginning of setting up business for the next day (I went to Ahliya University, Bethlehem University on Tuesday and then BZ on Wednesday to give two more presentations) and after being awake for about 30 hours, I decided to take a little wander out in the dusk of Bethlehem.

I trundled for about an hour and took meandering ancient streets to Manger Square, walking along cobbles that are centuries old, now blackened by car tyres. In Manger Square itself, kids playing football jostle for space in a central car park which also has street vendors selling biscuits and black tea from battered flasks. In the background there was the call of the mosques competing with the music from stores and car stereos, itself a jarring cultural mix of influences. I passed one shop selling wooden trinkets and fabrics and there was a jamming session in full progress. Several old men were sat on stools with a number of stringed instruments (not guitars, sounded like sitars, but not) all playing chords and music unfamiliar to my ears. It was fast moving and intricate. Along the way, small details I came across in the architecture jumped out at me – little signals of huge tectonic stories. A particular cross here, or an inscription on stone there, and everywhere a meeting of Arabic, Jewish and Christian influences. Take a look at this little flickr album for some photos and a (very) short video.

I slept (very well) on the first night with the balcony doors open. I fell asleep, and woke up to the humming haze of the city. As I wrote the early part of this entry I could hear early morning car horns and what I think were church bells alongside the call to prayer from the mosques. A digger also started singing its tune in the day’s building works. A true meeting of cross-cultural influences in every sense.

Again, as with several of the previous posts on this blog, I think what I’m writing about here is being alive to, and accepting, the invite. If I’d taken our UK news channels (paper/ media and any other) as the gospel, I don’t think I would have stepped out the hotel room. Of course there are risks, of course there is danger, of course there are people out to take advantage. But it’s the same everywhere and there is also always a huge potential for discovery, growth and generally Good Stuff. The key is recognising when an invite has been given. Most of the time, really, most of the time, there is one there; it’s just a case of seeing it and having the will (courage?) to openly say yes. (And thank you).

Taking my own advice, I was with a guy called Samir on the second day. He was driving me across Bethlehem from one appointment to another and through conversation he offered to show me a place that grinds really good coffee – a take home for the office (they mix it with cardamon here – amazing). He offered to take me there the next day – its a place called Nazeem’s and apparently Nazeem’s mum is the one to speak to if you want the best. What a beautiful invite. I graciously accepted (and said thank you).

See you next week.


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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