Friday, October 14, 2016

The Master Hunt

If you've noticed that in the later half of this year I haven't been the most consistent blogger in terms of frequency of updates, it's because I actually have some exciting news!

First, I've been published! This isn't my first publication (I worked for a regional newspaper before I started college, and more relevantly have a story relating one of my experiences in Taiwan published here) but it is my first academic publication. It's not even all that academic, because I don't work at a university, don't have academically-based postgraduate education (my Delta is technically equivalent to a Master's but is more of a professional degree than an academic one), don't have a research budget and, thus, can't really do hard research. But, I did enjoy writing it, and hope you check it out - first link in this paragraph. I explore teaching note management skills as a method of introducing learner autonomy into the classroom, with an exploration of my own note-management teaching strategy.

Second, I've been accepted to grad school! I'll be starting at this program at the University of Exeter in July 2017. It's a program with a special schedule made for people like me who can't just up and move to England, or somewhere else, for postgraduate study but don't have a lot of options where they live. I applied quite early, but I was ready to and the platform was open, so I don't feel too weird about that. I would have gone this year if I'd had the money. That's what took away my blogging time, to be honest.

Anyway, I have a few thoughts on my process of researching, choosing and applying for Master's programs as an American in Taiwan. I am sorry to say that while there are some good things, it's mostly bad news. That is unfortunate not only for Taiwan, but also the USA.

Let's start with Taiwan. My biggest hurdle was finding a good program - I started in Taiwan but just couldn't find one that quite met my needs. I may not be in Taiwan forever, so I need a program that is internationally recognized, from an internationally-known university. It doesn't have to be the best of the best - I'm not saying this out of snobbery. I simply need a degree that is more likely to get me a higher education job outside of Taiwan should I ever want one. I'm sorry to say that nothing on offer in Taiwan fits the bill. NTU is the only university of international repute - that doesn't mean other universities are "bad". Many are very good. They are not, however, universities whose degrees will pique the interest of someone tasked with hiring a new lecturer at University of Wherever, in Wherevertown, Somecountry.

There are MA TESOL and MA Applied Linguistics/Applied Foreign Languages programs in Taiwan: Shi-da, National Taiwan University of Technology and other schools offer them. Many are taught in English. They are not, however, going to do much for me internationally. Also, testimony of what one actually learns on these programs from a friend who did one in teaching Chinese turned me off to the idea of studying in Taiwan. He was, shall we say, less than impressed.

This is not entirely fair, but it's the truth. And NTU? They have a Linguistics program and an Education program, but not an Applied Linguistics one as far as my research found. I certainly did not find an MA or MEd TESOL program though them.

I have heard that there's a Master of Education program available through a small university in the US that allows you to take classes here, but that was something someone told me - I haven't found any evidence of its existence in my research. Anyone?

Columbia University Teacher's College Tokyo would have been an option, but they are apparently closing the campus - at least, a friend of mine went there so I know it's a real thing, she says it's closing, and I can't even find a reference to it existing online. Not that it matters: the tuition was similar to that in the US, and I can't afford US tuition. So, studying in a fully face-to-face program from Taiwan was quickly dismissed as 'not an option' for me.

So, I have to throw a little shade on Taiwan for not having a lot of educational opportunities for someone in my situation. I've discussed this before: it was an ordeal to even get a CELTA and Delta. We left the country for the former and did a distance program for the latter. A Master's just wasn't going to happen.

There are a number of distance programs: Nottingham, University of Southampton with the British Council and more in the UK (many, many more - I couldn't possibly link to them all), USC and Anaheim in the US (these were the only two distance programs I could find) - but I didn't want to do a distance Master's.

Why? The first reason is that, rightly or wrongly - and I happen to think wrongly - distance-learning postgraduate degrees tend to get the side-eye from academic institutions looking to hire, even if they are from reputable institutions. The second is that I did distance learning for my Delta. It was fine, but I want something different. I want to actually meet people in person and have real-time discussions using my actual voice.

So, I looked into what it would take for me to do a face-to-face Master's outside of Taiwan. Brendan and I are super-solid, I knew we could weather this, though I didn't particularly want to be apart for a year or two. I looked at King's College, Durham, University College London and more in the UK (not even going to bother with links, you can Google those yourself) and very few choices in the USA, because I honestly could not afford US tuition. I also looked at York University in Canada, but couldn't have afforded to live there and pay tuition. The same is true for the universities of Melbourne, Brisbane and Queensland, which I also researched. I looked at Germany, as well, but most schools (at least the ones I looked at, including Bonn) want you to pass a German proficiency test even if you are taking a program in English. I doubt I'd have the time to learn German at that level,

In fact, I only looked at two face-to-face programs in the US: Columbia (because if I'm going to commit I may as well aim high - also I wouldn't need a car in New York and it's close to family) and SUNY Albany, one of the bigger campuses of my state university system and the only one to offer an MA TESOL. State university tuition would have been "cheaper" (cheaper than Satan's own private university pricing, so that's hardly a consolation) and at the time I was thinking I could live with my grandfather. He's since moved and that is no longer an option.

This is where I throw a lot of shade on the USA.

Total tuition for the programs noted above that are based in the USA:

USC Rossier School of Education (online) - approximately $50,000. They bill it as being the same as face-to-face: you videoconference the classes and they treat you as though you are 'there'. You're not residing there, though, so I do wonder why the tuition has to be as high. They don't need to worry about space, maintenance, grounds, utilities or security during my residency because there isn't one.

Anaheim University (online): A little over $20,000, including inexplicable fees such as a "graduation fee" and a "thesis fee" (which is apparently to print and bind your thesis, but $450? Are they binding it in unicorn leather? What the hell?) I appreciate that they are trying to break down exactly what your $20,000 is paying for, and I appreciate that their tuition is more similar to what UK schools charge. But the breakdown doesn't make them look good. My 'graduation fee' is all the fucking money I pay for my fucking degree, not some $300 you tack on. No. Not Okay. Also, I have some serious side-eye for charging for an online degree what UK schools charge for a face-to-face degree. Why exactly does it have to be that high?

SUNY Albany MA TESOL without state certification (which I don't need) - face-to-face: $12,000 and change, per year, 2 year program so $24,000 total. For in-state tuition.

Columbia University - face-to-face: fuck that I'm not even going to bother, what the fuck makes them think a fucking English teacher can afford to pay that shit back, fuck you, a fucking pox on your house!

In comparison, the distance programs in the UK cost about 7,000 pounds, and face-to-face cost about 15,000 and change - for the whole program. This is for international students - don't forget that. What that translates into in US dollars is changing by the day, but suffice it to say the total tuition for an international student (did I mention international), not in-state or even a citizen, is cheaper than going to my own state university in the US which is supposed to be the affordable option fuck you. 

My program at Exeter: 7,950 pounds.


For an option that has me receiving face-to-face lessons, albeit in an altered timeline. At Exeter, which is a great school (ranked top ten, last I checked).


Conclusion: it is really sad that my own country couldn't make it possible for someone whose career requires postgraduate education to grow, who is an excellent candidate to receive postgraduate education, who will certainly complete it, has the chops to get through it, can contribute to our body of knowledge in applied foreign languages, and who will actively use it and will do something good with it (educate people who want to learn English!) - all around exactly the sort of person society should want to get that education - to actually get it. We should be funding people who are excellent candidates for postgraduate study, not pricing it so that you can attend if you're wealthy, whether or not you need to or even should.

Under the US system, it doesn't matter that my potential would have been wasted. It doesn't matter that my career would have stalled. All because I can't afford what they're charging, even at the most affordable option in the whole fucking country at a school that isn't even as good as the one I was accepted to in the UK.

This is why I have a problem with America's economic system. Or at least, this is a prime example of what's wrong. Your opportunities and potential should not be limited by your economic circumstances: whether you succeed or fail, stall or soar, should not be dependent on whether you have an insane amount of money to spend. That's just fucked up. It should be based on your ability to achieve and your willingness to work for same. That's not "work hard and bootstraps blah blah blah Horatio Alger my great grandfather worked his way through college in a coal mine". I do work hard. I work very hard, and I could never pay back the loans for those programs. Never. I love my profession but it is not exactly highly-paid. We do well for Taiwan - sort of - but that means nothing when looking at the ridiculous rates American universities are asking for.

So if America isn't a land of opportunity - more like a land of hurdles and walls - for me, then I don't want to live in it. This is a prime reason why I do not intend to return. Why should I give "back" something to society through teaching and education that society doesn't see fit to give me? I appreciate my basically okay public education through secondary school but the US tertiary and postgraduate system is completely, and utterly, fucked. I want nothing to do with it.

But I have to give a hearty thank you to the UK. You are increasingly alarming me in other ways (Brexit? Really? But thanks though for the low pound) but at least you understand the value of an affordable education, even for international students. Thank you for making possible for me something that my own country wouldn't. Thank you for understanding that good candidates should not be limited by how wealthy they are when it comes to a public good like education. Thank you for recognizing education as a public good. I do not understand why this is so hard a concept for Americans. We're not stupid - what's up with that?

If I ever leave Taiwan maybe I will look into moving to you, because my own country can kiss my butt.

I have one final thought brought about by this whole process: how unfair it is to non-native English speakers.

I teach IELTS. I also have a Taiwanese friend who is planning to go abroad for graduate school next year - he has to take TOEFL. So, I am well-acquainted with the testing-industrial complex in this regard.

What's not fair isn't the test itself - IELTS is fairly well-designed as these things go (I cannot necessarily say the same about TOEFL - cheating is rampant and the speaking test is deeply inauthentic). To study in an English-speaking country, in an English-medium program, you do need a certain level of English proficiency. You I get that, that's not the problem.

The problem is that many of the best schools are concentrated in English-speaking countries. The issue is not that you need a certain level of English to attend Harvard or Oxbridge. It's that the Harvards and Oxfords and Cambridges of the world are all in the West. So a student whose native language is Chinese or Taiwanese has fewer options - there is no Harvard equivalent in the Chinese-speaking world (I can't take universities in China seriously, even the good ones. No true scholarship can come out of a country that limits freedom of speech and academic freedom, dictates what history should be taught rather than actual history, and regularly falsifies scientific data). The best you can do, as I am quite dismissive of China, is NTU. NTU is great, but it's not Harvard.

So that student, brilliant as he or she may be, has a hurdle I don't just because there are few or no equivalently good tertiary or postgraduate countries in their own country, or in their own language.

Thinking of that friend, honestly, he's accomplished more in his life than I have in mine. I may be an excellent candidate for an MA TESOL, but he's on a completely different level (and in a different field). He should go to somewhere like Harvard.

But here I am, thoroughly average me, already accepted at Exeter because I don't have to take any English proficiency tests, whereas he can't be sure if he can go until he crosses the TOEFL hurdle. There is no Chinese-language equivalent.

That's not right.

I have no idea what to do about it, but it's not right.

To end on a high note: when I got my offer letter I walked down the street alternating between feeling like this, and like this.

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