Tales from the Departure Lounge

#30 Karin Fischer (The American Dream)

November 29, 2023 Andy Plant & Nick Cuthbert Season 2 Episode 30
Tales from the Departure Lounge
#30 Karin Fischer (The American Dream)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, award-winning reporter Karin Fischer from the Chronicle of Higher Education joins the TFTDL crew to discuss the BIG questions in geo-politics. Is the American dream still alive? Has the work of international education been eroded by trade wars with China? And why can't you get diet Dr Pepper in other parts of the world? 

Karin is one of the trusted voices in our sector - but she is simply trying to tell the stories of inspirational students and shine a light on what is happening in the sector. Even if that results in jail-time for people. Another lovely Canadian living abroad, we talk about getting an MRSA, what it means to be 'screeched-in' and why you should never eat the purple cheesecake. 

Final boarding call: (Old) Hong Kong

Link to Latitudes: https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/latitudes

This episode is sponsored by AHZ Associates - trusted UK university representatives helping students from all over the world to enrol in British universities. Find out more at www.ahzassociates.co.uk

Tales from the Departure Lounge is a Type Nine production for The PIE www.thepienews.com

Andy:

you can fire away from there, everyone I spoke to mentioned you by name we'll sort of meander through and see where we go.

Nick:

Welcome to Tales from the Departure Lounge. This is a podcast about travel for business, for pleasure, or for study. My name's Nick and I'm joined by my co-pilot, Andy. And together we're gonna be talking to some amazing guests about how travel has transformed their. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey. Welcome to the podcast.

Andy:

Today we're joined by the award winning journalist Karen Fisher. She's a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Nick:

she is one of the trusted voices in our sector. And in a world of fake news, people are searching for voices they can trust.

Andy:

she's a another lovely Canadian who's not living in Canada. Her father was a professor who travelled quite widely, and then throughout her job, she's travelled all over the world, reporting on higher education.

Nick:

We talked a lot about the culture wars in America at the moment, and what the American dream is, I was trying to get tips on how to be an actual journalist from her.

Andy:

Yeah, be a proper journalist.

Nick:

We covered everything from infectious diseases to Diet Dr Pepper.

Andy:

Or the lack of availability of Diet Dr Pepper.

Nick:

The big geopolitical issues of the day.

Andy:

She's the voice of American international education with thousands of subscribers to her newsletter Latitudes. From studying abroad to exposing dodgy players in the industry via Hong Kong and local Canadian moonshine, let's get some tales from the departure lounge from Karen Fisher.

Karin:

in international education, politics have just become so much more, intrusive in a way that, you wonder all the good that's being done is that being squandered because of these incredible geopolitical shifts. it was like the cheesecake was purple, which in retrospect, you should not have eaten that in a cafe that like was Intermittently losing power, if we were in Bar Newfoundland, you'd be probably pretty drunk because, they have this particular, sort of hellish liquor called screech and you get screeched in, When I talk with students,, They often talk to me about the American Dream being something where Access to opportunity is, more universal. And, you know, it's not,

Nick:

before we get into the episode, I want to quickly tell you about a new sponsor for the show. AHZ are a company close to my heart. They are official UK university representatives and they support students from all over the world to study in the UK. For more than a decade, they've grown with the UK sector to be one of the most trusted of agents. Their enrollment data now places them easily as one of the top recruitment partners for UK universities. You may have noticed that their competitors have all started to promote other study destinations, such as Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand. So for British universities, it is becoming harder to stand out. a strategic decision to stay loyal to the UK and remain destination specialists. Students literally have a world of university choices now. But if a student is passionate about studying in the UK, AHZ are perfectly placed to represent your institution, your unique features and your recruitment objectives around diversity and quality. They are proud to represent the UK and they want to work hard for you. We always say that they are a local agent with a global reach. So if by some miracle you're not already partnered with them, I suggest you get in touch for 2024. AHZ are one of the biggest success stories in the sector. Don't take my word for it, just ask around. There are many people who will vouch for them. Check out ahzassociates. co. uk Now let's get on with the episode.

Andy:

Karen. Welcome to the show. So good to have you on

Karin:

Thanks for inviting me. I'm looking forward to it.

Andy:

the first question. We always ask our guests is if you could take our listeners anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Karin:

I think where? my favorite place in the world is Hong Kong. There's something about the air and the smells. And it just always feels to me like it's several places in one. It's like a bustling city and, gateway to China. And you can just get on the train and half an hour be, in an entirely different part of, That the city of the island and, go on these credible walks and, be, in nature. I've been there dozens of times, but every time I go back, there's a new place to eat, a new place to go, a different hike,, and I've gotten to know a lot of people there. so, it's always good and fun to go see old friends and maybe also pretty nostalgic because it's not been a place that's been very easy to go in the last few years,

Andy:

So why did you go there first time round? How come you've been there dozens of times?

Karin:

the first time round I was actually on a journalism fellowship, and it's also where I met my husband. So it has that extra, extra resonance. It was a pretty important place, just for the covering of international education, and then because it has this personal resonance if I was in China or elsewhere in Asia for, a period, can I spend a weekend and like get away and go there?

Andy:

I absolutely love Hong Kong It's a place of business and a place of. Amazing social life in a very condensed area,

Karin:

yeah, and there's such energy to it. I think that's part of it too. You go there and you feel,, quite jet lacked, but energized.

Nick:

And you said you met your husband for the first time.

Karin:

yeah, We were actually on the same, journalism program, which takes, journalists from around, North America, just around Asia Pacific. So there are probably a dozen of us, a few from the U. S., China, India, Indonesia, Australia. We all came together, and it was such an interesting experience, to travel with a group of people who were from such, different backgrounds, and the only commonality we had was that we were all reporters, Initially, I think we're all, a little awkward around each other, a little, you know, hesitant, our India and China reporters often came to heads, very different philosophies of life, but it was also just so much fun, to share meals and to see the different places through everybody's different eyes and, everybody loosened up a little bit and, whether it's like drunk on,, soju or food drunk a lot, you just learn so much about different people and I don't know, it just lets you go beyond the superficial of say business travel.

Andy:

So when's the last time you went back to Hong Kong or even to China? A lot of guests have talked about, the old Hong Kong and then the new Hong Kong. A lot of people. concerned about human rights issues, about freedom of speech,

Karin:

the last time I was in China was, right before the pandemic, like a couple of weeks, honestly, before it started to become. became sort of publicly aware of it. I worry about it. I've in fact talked to a lot of people who studied China and are scholars of China and of their region and traveled there routinely And, it's been because be the combo of, pandemic restrictions. And then the costs have just made it impossible. So those people, I've not been able to go back and obviously you see things from afar and you worry, is it going to be the same place? When I first went, To Hong Kong a dozen years ago, the environment, on many levels, politically, socially was very different. And so I do, frankly, worry, what might be lost. Don't know. Worry is not the right word. sometimes just brings you up short. It seems You just, you regret it almost in international education, politics have just become so much more, intrusive in a way that, you wonder all the good that's being done is that being squandered because of these incredible geopolitical shifts. I don't know if we got very, it was a very different direction from the question initially.

Nick:

When we saw, the CIA and MI5 come out in a joint statement and say China the greatest threat to society, I think is the way they put it. it was unprecedented really. And since then, you just have this ongoing. geopolitical tension. Being based in the U. S. you must feel that

Karin:

Yes, I think it's quite different now particularly around Chinese students, there's been a lot of investigations in the U. S. about, research ties with China, collaborations, and, one of the things people will say to me, academics, researchers, scholars will say, a dozen years ago, I was rewarded for this. My institution wanted me to do this, and they encouraged me. And now I'm under suspicion because of that. There was a poll a couple of years ago here in the U. S. in which more than half of the American public said they were skeptical and thought perhaps there should be some limitations on Chinese students. And,, again, regret is something. You just wonder what was squandered. The fact that you've had so many students from a place like China come and study in the United States and Canada and in Britain, there's an opportunity for so much understanding. And now, You wonder if that's going to be possible in the same way anymore.

Nick:

How much travel were you doing? I can imagine you get lots requests speak and attend and cover, all sorts of things.

Karin:

I was spending probably. Close to half of my time was on the road. Obviously the pandemic happened and none of my time was on the road. Um, and now it's bumped back up. I do a lot of long features and I do a lot of stories where I talk to students and, I did a story, for example, about stranded students, a student who was Stuck here in the US and couldn't return home to, Mongolia and a student who had been studying here. Studies were disrupted. She had to go back to China and then she couldn't come back to the US really easily. And the student from China in particular, I would talk to her. after she got done her studies in the middle of the night when nobody was awake on, there was some immediacy and intimacy that we built over zoom. And, I done a lot of stories where I spent a lot of time sitting in, students dorm rooms and tagging along with them, to their parties. But I guess that's a very long way of saying I don't travel as much and I miss it a lot.

Andy:

There's some things that you have to do in person that you can't do remotely.

Karin:

Oh, sure. I mean, it's really hard to get a sense of a place. For me to write about, Chinese families and their decision making having, been there, but if I'd never been, if I hadn't spent, weeks at a time and sad families, dinner tables, for hours, it would not work. If you want to tell those deeper stories, it's just difficult to build that kind of,, engagement and relationship over Zoom.

Nick:

I think it's so important that we do take that time to listen to more students. Andy, we need to get more students on the podcast, really. Yeah, absolutely.

Karin:

I think it's an excellent point, I also tried to bring students to talk about their experiences because we have a tendency, to talk about international students as if they're a monolith, and they're not.

Andy:

So, Karen, what's your dinner party or your bar story that you would tell somebody about your experiences overseas?

Karin:

well, if we were in Bar Newfoundland, you'd be probably pretty drunk because, they have this particular, sort of hellish liquor called screech and you get screeched in, which is like, this terrible, like rock gut liquor down your throat and you would. you'd probably be insensible, so even if I told you a story, you might not remember it the next day. I mean my worst, uh, The trip itself was quite good. I spent, I three weeks in India. My husband, came to meet me. And on the last day he ate cheesecake, which you shouldn't do. And so he like was sick for weeks. But I also came home and I don't know, I thought I had jet lag. And then I was sort of hallucinating a little bit. And my, I went back to work, and I was like, what is wrong with you? And I said, I can't even lift my arm. And I realized I must have nicked myself and gotten MRSA. And it, spread through my whole arm. And the only thing that was good was, weirdly, my... Primary doctor at the time had been an infectious disease specialist in a previous life. And so, I showed her my arm, which was like, getting larger and larger by the moment. And she immediately knew what it was and shot me full of, the most antibiotics that she could. And said, you can't go to the hospital because either it will make you sick or you'll make everybody else sick. So you need to. And then I would just, hallucinated for, and was just incredibly ill for the better part of two weeks. And thank God I had, uh, one of my colleagues and friends lived across the street from me and she came and knocked on my door, signs of life, basically. Fortunately, it was at the end of my travel experience, so it didn't disrupt my time in India. that's the positive spin on it all.

Andy:

So, so what would have happened if you didn't come across the exotic disease specialist? And what did you call it, Karen? Mercia? Mercer?

Karin:

MRSA,

Andy:

Wow.

Karin:

it's M R S A, it's like an especially, antibiotic resistant, sort of infection. I could have lost my arm.

Nick:

When you said I travelled home, I thought we were gonna get our first parasite story here.

Karin:

We think maybe my husband had one because it was like the cheesecake was purple, which I would, in retrospect, you should not have eaten that in a cafe that was Intermittently losing power, but nonetheless, he's also sick for weeks, too. I just remember like it was I think it was the fall when we went and he came to visit me in Washington for American Thanksgiving, and we just both late and bad and drifted out in and out of consciousness. We're a fine pair. I've been back to India many times since then, but he is not.

Nick:

I don't know if you saw in the news recently, there was a lady and they basically found the first living parasite in a human brain. you see this?

Karin:

No.

Andy:

she was having seizures, something to do with the frontal lobe. And so they operated and they pulled out. several centimeters worth of worm that had been living in her brain and it turned out she was eating certain vegetation and she hadn't washed it properly and something so it actually entered the bloodstream, gone up into her brain and then lived there for a while. Yeah.

Karin:

they know that's what it was? Or were they totally shocked when they opened up her skull? I found a centimeters long parasite.

Andy:

completely shocked because it's never been documented before, ever. And obviously they weren't expecting a wiggling worm to be extracted. Anyway, listeners, if you've got parasites, please tell us about your tapeworms.

Karin:

now just uh, the potential to lose my arm seems pretty tame by comparison.

Andy:

The second, Section of the podcast is called any laptops, liquids, or sharp objects. When you go traveling, what do you have to take with you or what are your travel hacks?

Karin:

I always carry a water bottle, which seems stupid sometimes. But at least, even if I go someplace where I can't drink the water, I can boil water in my hotel room. Take it with me. If I could have a travel hack, if I could wish one, it would be that like dive Dr. Pepper was available globally because. I'm allergic to coffee and, I'm often desperate for caffeine and, drinking various weird versions of Coke in places instead.

Andy:

So it's not available. Worldwide's, Dr. Pepper.

Karin:

I don't even think it's available broadly it's like a regional soda,

Andy:

so you have to stockpile it and put it in your, in your hold luggage so you can take it with you.

Karin:

I'd be a little afraid of it exploding, I think.

Nick:

Do you find that you can write on the plane, you can work on the plane, and are you waking in the night to write? I'm interested in this.

Karin:

so there's writing, and then there's writing. I'm never going to write a long feature on a plane, probably, but, I write a newsletter every week, I write that on the plane, it's short bursts, and, I can concentrate that way. I'm sure the people that, asked me to come to speak to them would not like to know this, but I often I write a speech, I at least organize my thoughts on the plane.

Andy:

Are you looking for tips from a proper journalist, Nick? yeah, exactly.

Karin:

Ooh, burn.

Nick:

Uh, no, he's not wrong. I'm always interested in people's creative process when their best work comes to them. It's not always the normal times of day. Do you have personal writing projects in the background?

Karin:

I have a sort of book in my head that I would like, to do, but, I haven't been able to do that, I traveled last year to Africa, with a group,, And, one of the guys that I was traveling with is working on his doctoral dissertation. And he set up our entire flight from New York to Accra. Writing his dissertation. I was just in awe. I was like, How can you do that? My husband's written a book and he just takes so much discipline that I'm jealous of that.

Andy:

Apart from Hong Kong, where have you been recently or where do you want to go?

Karin:

Oh my God, I want to go everywhere, right? we've been so cooped up for so long. The last big trip I took I went to Tuscany, and I was traveling with my three nephews who are between four and 10. And, this was their first really Big trip and just like seeing a place through the eyes of kids my oldest nephew was observing how. Other people observed him and, he was very puzzled and he said, Auntie Karen, why do you think people are coming up to me and speaking to me in English when we were in Italy? And I said, Maybe they heard you talk and you said, no, no, this guy came up to me and I said, well, you are wearing a University of Michigan baseball cap and a fluorescent yellow Nike sweatshirt. So you might look a little American, so maybe that's it.

Andy:

I'm intrigued by, the outbound interest in study abroad from, from Americans. I heard a statistic, which I don't know if it's a myth, but... 70 percent of Americans don't own a passport. When I was there traveling, on the Greyhound buses I met lots of people who'd never even seen the ocean. they hadn't traveled to the either coast. and it really shocked me. I'm always intrigued about people on the inside of America and how they view the world.

Karin:

I mean, passport rates are pretty low, and, of American students, less than 10 percent of them do have any sort of, international study experience. and when they do, it's mostly a short one. The U S is a big country and so you can travel quite a lot and never leave, I was talking to a student, for a piece I'm gonna write, who'd grown up, In rural Appalachia. And people who don't know, it's quite rural. It's quite poor. and, he grew up with a small town and was the first in his family to go to college. And he got a email out of, the blue one day from the study abroad office that said, Hey, because you're this first generation student, you can qualify for this program that takes students like you for free to go and study in London or Dublin. And his first thought was, somebody's scamming me. And I was like, what did you think the scam was? He was like, I have no idea, but I could not imagine that somebody was saying to me. We're gonna pay for you to go overseas. He just thought that was like the craziest thing and he went and had a great time and now he wants to go and study abroad more.

Nick:

so much has been made of the American dream and what drives students to want to study in the us just describe what the American dream is and what the reality is now.

Karin:

When I talk with students,, They often talk to me about the American Dream being something where Access to opportunity is, more universal. And, it's not, um, It's not something that, particular class or race or people from a particular place have ownership of. Much as when one goes abroad, one learns more about oneself. I'm always interested in how the students that I talk with see the United States and how it's different and how they've perceived the American dream. I do still think that they, are attracted to go and study at American colleges because of the, they see the quality and they, cachet of the degree is as providing that access in a way they might not have had if they, stayed at home. and I think too, they see the possibility of studying so many things is very attractive and not being narrowly channeled into one thing. And so I think that's all true. I do think that the way the American dream has been dinged a bit I mean, you could argue about Hegemony and geopolitics going back a long time, but I do think that particularly the sort of bumpiness and the culture wars that have happened in the last, a few years. I mean, the U. S. 70 percent or more of international students are Asian. And, the anti Asian sentiment that the outright racism that was going on during covid that was talked about some of the highest, elected leaders in the country that has repercussions, and it's certainly affected the way that, students see, the U. S. The one good thing is, I do think that people in this field do understand that as a challenge. And there's been a lot of efforts made to say, we want to welcome you here.

Nick:

And, you do see students who have transformed their lives and gone on to incredible things.

Karin:

Exactly. you look at the statistics. I mean, Fortune 500 company leaders, Nobel Prize winners. I'm in California, Silicon Valley. the number of people who founded startups who came to the United States through international education is enormous. It's an incredibly important portal, for the country. And I don't know if everybody always recognizes that, but it's pretty critical.

Andy:

The next section of the podcast is called. What's the purpose of your visit? So Karen, why do you do what you do?

Karin:

It's a million dollar question. honestly, and I've said this before, I stumbled into it I was a political reporter. Even when I came to the Chronicle of High Education, that's what I covered was the politics of education. sO it's sort of happenstance. That I got asked to do this, it's so, so rewarding to see the students,, to come and cross an ocean to study in another country is just an It's an awesome thing to do, like in every sense of the word. To hear those stories and to get to know those people this is probably the thing that motivates me and gets me up in the morning. So I think I'm probably stuck with it and you're all stuck with me.

Andy:

You talked about study abroad there. Was that transformative experience for you, or was there something else that sort of pulled you into wanting this life of travel?

Karin:

My father was, a professor. And he traveled and so that exposed us, to the world Travel itself is really valuable, but it was also the people that then brought toward our doorstep and like the different people that, from all over the globe I can still remember, his colleague from Norway who would sleep in our, spare room for weeks at a time and things like that, that really, just open your eyes to Oh, there's so many different places and experiences and adventures that you can have.

Andy:

Karen, I've been talking to various leaders in the U. S. but also all over the world who have personally named you as somebody that they trust and that they follow. How does that make you feel?

Karin:

Um, I don't know, simultaneously, flattered and under some pressure. Um, I mean, I will say there's so many people with so many different perspectives. but I think I have a privilege right I got into reporting because it can let you, ask the kinds of questions in a way that would seem incredibly. or even maybe rude if you just came up to a stranger. and in a way, what I can bring to the field is to talk to as many people as I can all the time about issues and, to be somebody who can, spot. Things that are bubbling up. Maybe I draw connections between things. Maybe I'm just hearing a lot of people saying the same thing over and over again, and it's not getting paid attention to and I can elevate it. I guess it's responsive ability, and I don't know how true it is. But if I can do anything, I hope I can put a spotlight on the things and the people in the sector.

Nick:

in this age of fake news, people are more interested in authentic content, in your own personal opinion, but also platforming or storytelling other people's real life experiences.

Karin:

I think as journalists, one of the things that has been concerning to me is that anybody can post anything on social media. The issue that you raise is one that worries me sometimes about what the future is going to look like.

Nick:

I wonder if universities really struggle to communicate their value to society anymore, I think there's that erosion, of people understanding what international education and universities do for all of us.

Karin:

I think almost everybody who finds themselves doing work in this field did it because they had some sort of really transformative experience that made them invested in believing in the thing they do. I think Everybody talks now in terms of ROI and I feel like. There's going to be pressure on people with an international education to figure out how to talk about what they do that it more broadly serves both the missions of their institutions, but also the things that students want and parents want and employers want out of a university degree. These very deep political, cultural, social divides that Education has found itself smack dab in the middle of those crevasses. And there's just this inherent skepticism among large swaths of the public. And it's certainly a very big American problem, but it's certainly not specifically, specific to the United States either.

Andy:

I asked my son the other day if he ever watches the news, and he said, I do. I said, well, where do you watch it? He says, oh, on TikTok.

Karin:

Do you sense his in quotes, news is different than your news.

Andy:

He does have a, some sort of worldview, but it's not what we would deem, The news that you would get on the television.

Karin:

But I mean, think about what we're doing now. I'm not saying we're making news here precisely, but we're talking to the audience in a different way, a couple of years ago, I started a newsletter and, it's less formal, it's snappier, and it just lets me communicate With my audience in a different way, I get a lot of ideas from listening to what people say on LinkedIn or having you know them sending me emails because you know I wrote about something and it prompted them to think about something that is important to them

Nick:

It's about engagement. about, how it makes them feel and whether they feel included and whether they feel that they can share their voice.

Karin:

Yes, engagement. Thank you. That was actually the word that I was searching for in my head as I talked around it.

Andy:

The last section of the podcast is called Anything to Declare, and this is a free space for you to talk about whatever you'd like.

Karin:

My traveler's wisdom is find a way to get invited to somebody's house for dinner. That's always the best. you're always going to eat really well and you're going to get to know somebody in a totally different way. And, Again, I would probably never do that at home. It would seem, incredibly, presumptuous and rude, but I'm always angling for a dinner invite, when I'm on the road. This isn't really a pitch, but we're only as good as the people who read us and who respond to us. I can be very slow getting back to emails, but I will, people often say, oh, I didn't think this was that important, or I thought it was just me because I'm in my office, and I'm the only one who does this on my campus, but no, if you tell me, maybe I might know that this is the thing that's just dogging everybody who's got your job every place else. And but if you don't tell me, I might not know about it. And so my pitches talk to me. I really like to hear from people., it makes my coverage better. So, to go back to your word, engagement, I really encourage it and wish for it.

Andy:

Have you ever had anybody enraged by what you've written? Or threaten legal action.

Karin:

Um, yes, I've had people enraged about what I've written. Um, Legal action once actually, um, but, but, um, but I was lucky because what the guy was doing was only quasi legal. And so he didn't really have a lot of, legal legs to stand on, but we're writing about, um, this sort of shady way that, Um, the student visa system to set up these sham universities. And, people were coming to the U. S. on student visas and working in, convenience stores. And, this guy had figured out a way to, technically comply with the law, but he was advising colleges that weren't colleges except in name. And our lawyers, they responded to him, but it didn't go anywhere. And some people ended up, charged and found guilty. So I guess it all petered out in the end. I wasn't really worried about going to prison or something.

Andy:

Well, has anyone gone to prison as a result of your writing? An expose.

Karin:

Huh. I don't know, actually, if these people who are running these sham colleges went to prison. I know they were found guilty. I don't know. The American legal system, not a super fast.

Andy:

Hmm. Karen, if you're ever coming to the UK, I'm inviting you into my house. You can come and have a meal. please do. as long as you bring a bottle of Screech.

Karin:

Oh, okay.

Andy:

been, it's been great having you on. Thanks so much for coming on the show.

Karin:

No, thanks. It's been fun to chat, so I appreciate you inviting me.

Nick:

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. As always. If you are a fan of the show. Please leave a review or emailers at sick bag, a tales from the departure lounge.com. Tales from the Departure Lounge is a type nine production for the pie.

Intro to the episode
Word about our sponsor AHZ Associates
Final boarding call for Karin
Any laptops, liquids or sharp objects?
What's the purpose of your visit?
Anything to declare?