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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Cover Story

PLU International: Global perspective brings unity through diversity

PLU Passport
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 call global.

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 Kelleher.

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 further achievements."

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, too.

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 behind.

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 conclusions.

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 harmony.

The awareness of this is clear among PLU leaders.

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