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PLU International: Global perspective brings
unity through diversity
By Bassam Bishuti
According to studies conducted by the New York-based Institute of
International Education (IIE), today's students are going to colleges
with the expectation that there will be opportunities to study abroad.
Parents are worried that if their children do not acquire international
knowledge and experience they will fail to survive in the advancing
global and international economy.
IIE statistics show that the number of Americans studying abroad has
steadily increased from 6 to 11 percent over the last decade. Despite
these increases there are those who think even more should be done to
encourage study abroad and the international exchange of students.
IIE President Allan E. Goodman says: "We should have a national
campaign to urge all college students to get a passport. Many colleges
require students to have a computer. I would urge college presidents
to tell their students that a passport is required as well. Students
need to be connected to the world-not just the Internet."
He adds: "To me, in this century, the definition of education also
includes studying abroad."
Committed to the "international"
At Pacific Lutheran University the awareness of these needs is high
on the list of priorities. In preparing the university's goals for the
next decade, President Loren J. Anderson carries the message of international
education with the PLU 2010 dialogues he conducts with university alumni,
parents and friends in his travels in this country and abroad.
"The world is getting smaller, economically and politically, and
we are all getting more and more interconnected, but we have discovered
that we are not getting along together any better. We have to give our
students the perspective to broaden their capacities in order to survive
in this world," says Anderson.
"We are positioned to make international education a distinctive
feature of PLU and the emphasis on the 'international' is high on my
list of priorities," he adds.
Today's statistics prove that PLU is already among the leaders in the
internationalization of university education. According to a recent,
national Carnegie classification of comparable universities, PLU is
ranked among the top 10 universities in the country with the largest
number of students studying abroad.
Also, PLU is placed in a small group of leading comprehensive universities
that have graduated over 40 percent of their students with international
study experience. The number of PLU students graduating this past year
who had studied abroad during their college career was 43 percent, the
highest ever at PLU, according to the provost's office.
PLU's distinction in the international education field is also noted
in national quarters. In Washington, D.C., Christine Corey is a senior
program officer at the International Education and Graduate Program
Service of the U.S. Department of Education and has worked on several
federal grants for PLU students. She says, "PLU is known nationally
for its international studies programs and its ongoing internationalization
efforts. What has made this possible is twofold: an exceptional faculty
and strong leadership."
An old phenomenon
Ann Kelleher, professor of political science, dean of social sciences
and the former director of the Center for International Education, has
worked for years with people such as Corey to provide federal grants
for PLU students. She pointed out that the international aspect of PLU
education is nothing new or novel.
Before it was popular to send students in any large numbers to study
abroad, or to pay attention to how many international students are studying
at an American university, or to slant a curriculum to cover the cultures
or concerns of other nations, PLU was quietly, but consciously, forging
ahead with a dedication to involve its students in the experience of
a shrinking world that lay outside their daily lives.
More than a quarter-of-a-century ago, in the early 1970s, many of the
faculty at PLU were committed to the concept that this is a small world
and they introduced their students to a perspective that today we would
There was nothing overly organized in that attitude. "Just a real
concern for social justice among the faculty, plus a feel for international
humanitarian issues, and major, solid language programs," says
Today, Kelleher is a national consultant on the subject. Together with
Professor Laura Klein, she has written a textbook on the topic-"Global
Perspectives" is required reading in some PLU courses.
But she also credits a long list of people who, over the years, made
the internationalization of PLU education what it is now: Fred Tobiason,
Greg Guldin, Mordechai Rozanski, Donald Farmer, and Judith Carr, among
others. "It evolved naturally by the separate efforts of many people.
They taught history, religion, biology, chemistry-the emphasis was multicultural
in all of them," she says.
The International Core
Already in the 1970s PLU faculty were taking students on trips to Canada,
and other areas. Scandinavian studies were part of the curriculum. In
the 1980s before it ever became popular elsewhere, PLU signed agreements
to send students to study in China-not just to study Chinese, but the
sciences, Kelleher says.
Then, in 1992, President Anderson came to PLU and "suddenly there
was a major leap. He articulated the vision, and focused the university's
attention on the importance of international studies. So, when the popularity
of 'internationalization' exploded at universities in the 1990s, PLU
was already there," she says.
Consequently, it came as just another natural step to reconfigure the
existing set of cross-disciplinary courses into the Integrated Studies
Program--the International Core.
"PLU is one of only a few universities with an International Core-a
collection of basic courses which emphasize the international dimension
of their subjects," explains Judith Carr, dean of Special Academic
Programs and Summer Studies. "If a university is a center of learning,
then what is more significant than to learn about the international
aspects of what you are studying?" she asks.
Even though the unstructured, natural evolution that resulted in the
International Core has continued to this day, the complexity of the
issue has called for more coherence and leadership.
Responding to faculty recommendations, Provost Paul Menzel last July
asked Tamara Williams, professor of Spanish, to analyze the subject
of international education at the university and prepare budget and
information guidelines in order to design long-range plans that will
"refine our strength in international education and move it to
The other side of the coin
The coin, of course, has another side. Students from other countries
are coming to the United States to study and compare cultural notes,
According to IIE statistics, the national average of foreign students
who study at American universities is 3 percent of the student body.
It is remarkable that the number at PLU is over 5 percent.
This owes in no small measure to the personal efforts of Chuck Nelson
who was PLU registrar for years before becoming director of international
admissions two years ago. "We never needed to do any recruiting,"
Nelson says, "they just came to us because of our reputation."
PLU alumni are all over the world, contributing to their societies the
fruits of what they learned here. "We meet them at alumni gatherings
abroad and they are always gratified at the education they received
here," Nelson says.
The worldview perspective flourishes among PLU teachers as well. Over
50 percent of PLU faculty have international expertise of one kind or
another, says Kelleher.
Fear of "globalization"
While the need to ride the wave of international education is evident,
the awareness of the dangers of "globalization" is not far
Although parents, students and educators expect that the economy and,
consequently, the jobs of the future will depend on a more inter-related
and interconnected world, not everyone is happy with what they see as
the internationalization or "globalization"-even homogenization-of
cultures and values that they believe is resulting.
However, American students who have studied abroad usually speak favorably
of being "exposed" to other cultures and of the enrichment
they derived from what they learned in other parts of the world. Foreign
students who have studied in the U.S. carry back with them similar perspectives,
as the experience of PLU educators shows.
The resulting fact, according to Kelleher, is that "the more the
world appears to shrink, the more there seems to be political fragmentation,
decentralization and the strength and persistence of cultures."
Thus, the education that prepares for a supposedly small world may be
preparing for a really diverse world-after all. It is not clear that
the apparent "globalization" of the world or the seeming internationalization
of cultures will mean a homogenized, bland system of values for everybody.
Whatever the final score in this uncertain battle may be, PLU is clearly
guided onward by faith in its pioneering spirit. It is also guided by
recognition that values may conflict, removing certainty and ready-made
Because of its roots in the Lutheran tradition of regarding apparent
conflict as a challenge to creativity, rather than as a problem, PLU
takes this struggle and uncertainty as an occasion to teach its students
that the balance between a shrinking, "globalized" world,
and an ethnically-diverse "global village," is a source of
challenge, a spark to creativity, and a goal worthy of pursuing to achieve
The awareness of this is clear among PLU leaders.
Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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