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W&L Unpacks a Global Learning Initiative (Magazine)

By Amy Balfour ’89, ’93L
From the Winter 2012 Edition of the W&L Magazine 

After participating in a program in China that partnered American and Chinese students, Robert Warneford-Thomson ’12 voiced the discovery that most Washington and Lee students make after their immersion in another culture. “Learning that the world is bigger than you previously thought is such a cool experience,” the Johnson Scholar said. “And it can’t just be distilled to one or two sound bites or a picture in a magazine.” Maybe not. But the magazine’s going to give it a shot anyway with this look at W&L’s proposed Global Learning Initiative and its potential impact on future generations of students.

If it is fully adopted, the initiative will provide far more than the traditional study-abroad experience that W&L students have been enjoying for years. “Global learning means that by understanding a foreign culture, a student not only gains new knowledge about that place but also learns to appreciate better his or her own country and its cultural attributes,” said Larry Boetsch ’69, director of W&L’s Center for International Education. “International education is an aspect of that. It is not just a matter of crossing borders.” The initiative, in fact, proposes no less than a redefinition of a liberal arts education.

Recommendation 1: Articulate an institutional commitment to global learning

In 2009, Boetsch and a steering committee organized five task groups and subsequent focus groups-100 students, faculty, administrators and alumni in all-to review international issues relating to curriculum, students, faculty, administration and policy. The result was the proposal for the Global Learning Initiative. Anchored in the 2007 strategic plan, it contains seven recommendations, plus proposals for implementation in three stages over seven to 10 years. It flows from the W&L Mission Statement, which declares that W&L will prepare graduates for “engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.”

W&L has heretofore taken a piecemeal approach to global education, according to Boetsch, with pockets of support in discrete departments. Today, however, that’s an ineffective way to prepare students. “We realize that none of the problems that require solutions for the next generation are, one, going to be done in one country; and, two, are going to be solved by a single discipline,” said Boetsch. “Interdisciplinary and internationalism go hand in hand. It’s all connected, and we have to be thinking about it.”

Students also must be prepared to compete for jobs in a global economy. “When I sat in a classroom at Washington and Lee and thought about the guy sitting next to me as my competitor, that was fair,” said Boetsch. Today, however, “any student sitting in a classroom at Washington and Lee has to think they’re sitting next to a Chinese person or a Bulgarian or a Russian or an Indian,” he continued. “That’s who they’re competing against.”

An international banker and consultant who has lived and worked internationally for 35 years would agree-and he’s also an alumnus, Bruce MacQueen ’70. “We live in a world that is globalized, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said, “but that means it’s a world to which one has to adapt throughout one’s career.”

Recommendation 2: Further engage the faculty in international learning

Beginning this winter term, faculty liaisons are advising students about studying abroad. These professors represent a variety of disciplines, advocate international study and help students integrate international experiences into their coursework.

Faculty liaisons will also investigate the academic worth of international programs. “We want them to determine what programs abroad make sense academically for the humanities or sciences or the Williams School,” said Boetsch. “That’s not something the Center for International Education should be doing, that’s something faculty should be doing. So they’ll be doing the site visits to programs and doing a better job advising students.” Site visits have become increasingly important as more students choose to study abroad throughout the year and during Spring Term and attend programs that faculty have not yet vetted. With the shortening of Spring Term from six weeks to four, the trips now cost less, so more students can participate.

Faculty liaisons will streamline program selection by establishing pre-approved programs. “We’ve had a couple of these in the Williams School, where enough of our faculty have reviewed a particular program and felt comfortable with their faculty and the rigor of their courses and the breadth of their curriculum,” said Rob Straughan, associate dean of the Williams School.

Straughan and other faculty will also broaden the pool of countries offering pre-approved programs. “Specifically, we don’t have anything of that sort in Asia or Eastern Europe,” said Straughan. “We need to get a presence in other parts of the world, particularly in the Far East. We have to get China involved, given the prominence that the country plays.”

Brook Hartzell ’00 supports the details of this recommen-dation. A member of Alumni Abroad, a group that advises Boetsch, she works in Singapore as part of the Asian Pacific marketing strategy team for Seagate Technology. “The selection of courses and foreign university partnerships has always been available in the W&L curriculum,” she said, “but you can’t forget that as an 18-year-old, a little structure in how to order the classes can only help for you to get the most benefit.” She studied abroad after graduation, earning a master’s in management, economics and international relations as a Ransome Scholar at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.

Recommendation 3: Attract international scholars

This recommendation includes existing and new institutional relationships with foreign universities, plus more visiting scholars, lecturers and performers. In 2010, one particular lecturer, a North Korean refugee, talked about escaping from Kim Jong-il’s oppressive regime. His story grabbed Uri Whang ’13, a classics and politics major from Collierville, Tenn. “It was just very moving. I can’t even imagine how someone would be able to do that, and I think a lot of our students felt the same way, because if you were there, everyone was silent, and some people were crying,” recalled Whang, the outreach co-chair for the Pan-Asian Association for Cultural Exchange (PAACE).

Blaise Buma ’13, of Buea, Cameroon, who started the W&L Foreign Affairs Society, would like to see public debates about high-profile, international current events. “It would bring international students together and get people on campus,” he said. Further, booking well-known speakers from around the world, said Buma, “would really raise the profile of W&L on a national stage.”

Recommendation 4: Integrate global learning into the undergraduate curriculum

One of the items under this recommendation involves technology. Along those high-tech lines, Boetsch described a Global Learning Center in a recent letter to international alumni:

On one wall, a student-produced slideshow of images depicts literary themes in public architecture in Germany….In a 3-D display, visitors can hear the voices and smell the cooking fires of the village in Ghana that hosted last Spring Term’s course in the economics of developing countries. An open classroom reveals small groups of W&L students in animated conversations with groups of Italian students at one of our partner institutions abroad. A large screen helps viewers walk through an archaeological site in Turkey, where W&L students and their professors discuss the importance of a recent discovery.

Still in the planning stage, the center would ideally occupy duPont Hall, which would be renovated, funded by the Honor Our Past, Build Our Future capital campaign.

“We see duPont Hall as an opportunity to create a showcase spot that incorporates the most advanced technologies and creates some of the most exciting learning experiences,” said Jeff Overholtzer, manager of strategic planning and communication for Information Technology Services (ITS) and a member of the initiative’s steering committee. The goal is communication between W&L and international communities, he said, and “to set W&L apart as a leader in the use of technology for teaching and learning.”

Technology can also bring the world into the classroom in hard-hitting ways. “Let’s say we were talking in a politics class about the genocide in Rwanda,” explained Eduardo Rodriguez ’09, an Argentinian alumnus who worked in the Tucker Multimedia Center and for the Center for International Education. Seeing a speaker via Skype or videoconferencing, “brings something way more tangible to the classroom and to the subject rather just reading and discussing it,” said Rodriguez, another member of Alumni Abroad.

Recommendation 5: Make learning abroad an integral part of the undergraduate experience

The faculty recently established four categories of international experience and assigned different values to each. Although foreign study will not be a Foundation and Distribution Requirement, it will become a vital component of a W&L education.

The initiative does not set a target figure, but the number of students studying abroad is expected to increase once all the new strategies are in place. By way of comparison: In 1998-1999, the first year W&L kept study-abroad statistics, 132 students studied overseas. By 2010-2011, 201 students-11 percent of the student body-went abroad. Of the Class of 2011, 56 percent studied internationally.

“The first category is the gold standard-cultural immersion,” said Boetsch. “These are students who are going to learn another language and truly understand the dimensions of another culture through the use of that language.” Immersion candidates will integrate themselves into another culture through a series of international experiences. ” they’ve been abroad for an entire year, that would work for international immersion,” said Suzanne Keen, the Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English and faculty chair of the International Education Committee (IEC). “But more likely, they did a spring trip as a freshman, then they did an international internship between sophomore and junior years.” A subsequent term abroad and an honors thesis written in a foreign language would also likely count toward immersion.

The IEC would consider the various international experiences of immersion candidates and determine whether the students had sufficiently integrated the experiences into their course of study. Qualified students would earn a certificate and a special notation on their transcript. “It says to future employers, this is a person who’s done more than just a standard study abroad. This is a person who’s really gone the extra mile,” explained Keen. Graduate schools would notice as well. By offering the certificate and notation, the IEC hopes to encourage repeat international experiences.

Meredith Hibbard ’06, another member of Alumni Abroad, gives a firsthand look at the value of cultural immersion. “You can’t just sit . . . in the U.S. in a classroom. No matter how good Rosetta Stone is, it’s important for you to really be there and be surrounded by the language,” she said. The two-time Fulbright Scholar spent two terms in Vienna and a summer internship as an undergraduate. “It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone.” Hibbard is now pursuing her master’s in international studies at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.

The second category is the traditional term spent in another country. Though insufficient by itself for the certificate and notation, it may be the best option for athletes or students with significant on-campus responsibilities. Other academic work abroad, such as a summer course, will be a third type of international coursework. The fourth category might include an internship abroad or a spring trip to South Korea with the Wind Ensemble. W&L is still reviewing how to assign value to these non-immersive categories.

Recommendation 6: Make the Center for International Education a major resource for internationalism

The staff comprises director Boetsch, who’s also a professor of Romance languages; Amy Richwine, international student advisor and associate director; Kip Brooks, study abroad advisor and program coordinator; and Latha Dawson, Spring Term abroad program coordinator.

In their promotion of global citizenship, they handle students’ studies abroad; support the faculty in their international pursuits; and assist international students, faculty and visitors. Now located on Letcher Avenue, the office would move into duPont Hall after its proposed renovation into the Global Learning Center.

Recommendation 7: Attract strong international students

W&L had 121 international undergraduates enrolled as four-year students during 2010-11, including students with dual citizenship and U.S. permanent residency. They represented 48 countries and composed about 6 percent of the student body. Countries with the most were South Korea, China, Bulgaria, Argentina and Vietnam.

“The professors are very welcoming, and they actually love to have international students in certain classes, like politics or economics, because they bring a completely different input on issues,” said Rodriguez, the 2009 graduate.

Outside the classroom, international students are active if sometimes low-key members of the campus community. “There’s this impression at times that international students don’t integrate well into the community, but when we actually look at it seriously, we find that’s not the case,” said Boetsch. “It’s unlikely that an international student will be captain of the lacrosse team or president of the EC, but our international-student community plays an important role in a variety of campus activities.”

They may also be perceived as such because of the off-campus location of the International House (I-House). Home to about 20 students, both international and domestic, it occupies the former Delta Tau Delta fraternity on Lee Avenue. Many international students are active with the Student Association for International Learning (SAIL) and the Shepherd Poverty Program. A new collaboration between the Shepherd Program and the Center for International Education aims to make the current I-House the permanent home for the Campus Kitchen and a vibrant cross-cultural lab for international and domestic student residents. A renovated I-House will open next fall as the Global Service Center.

So there you have it, a first look at an ambitious and far-reaching proposal. Some aspects are underway, some are still under consideration. One thing is clear, however. If W&L adopts and successfully implements the Global Learning Initiative, “we would no longer talk about international education or global learning on the campus,” said Boetsch, “because it would be a part of the fabric of everything that we do here.”

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