Out of the Box Global Opportunities: International educational opportunities provide a wonderful point of departure for students and institutions to expand their horizons
October 1, 2007
Howard and Matthew Greene
WE DOUBT THAT THE Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan and its capital city, Bishkek, come readily to mind when educators consider learning opportunities for their students and faculty that stretch the boundaries of conventional international education. This fact notwithstanding, we decided to focus in this month's column on a particular educational institution that, for all its uniqueness, is representative of the broad range of programs available to students and faculty in the less traditional regions of the world. The senior Greene author serves as a trustee of the American University of Central Asia and thus has a pretty fair idea of the programs and the people that make this developing institution of higher education a marvelous learning environment both for the peoples of its region and for Americans who want an out-of-the-box international experience.
FRESH WINDOW OF LEARNING
In our dialogue with ever growing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students regarding their desire to experience a world beyond their immediate college or university, we find many of them aware of the expanding nontraditional (by Westerners' perspective) countries and cultures that are of future importance economically and politically as, in the terminology of Thomas Friedman, the world becomes increasingly flat. Rather than study Romance languages or the art and culture of the traditionally popular European countries, many thoughtful and adventurous individuals are seeking an experience in emerging nations and non-Western cultures. Such opportunities are broadening the base of the types of students who wish to pursue an international experience, particularly those with an interest in Asian studies, international relations, business and economics, and teaching. At present, only some 200,000 American college students choose to study abroad-not an impressive figure given the overall student population of more than 16 million. The American University of Central Asia serves as one model of what can be a fresh window of learning for your students and faculty. Let us use this young and growing institution as a model for thinking creatively about international programs that could be developed for your community.
AUCA is an independent, undergraduate college created on the model of the classic American liberal arts curriculum with generous support from individual donors in the United States and several of the Central Asian nations, the Open Society Institute, and the State Department. The establishment of this kind of an educational institution of higher learning in the midst of a geographically vast, sparsely populated region that is thousands of miles from its intellectual antecedents in Europe and North America may at first glance appear to be a fool's errand on the part of a small band of educators and internationalists. However, as one studies the history of the region, keeping in mind the shrinking of our international social, political, and economic boundaries, one sees that the development of such a college is anything but quixotic.
With a population that is 75 percent Muslim and 20 percent Russian Orthodox, Kyrgyzstan's neighbors include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. The present enrollment of some 1,300 students represents 25 different nations, while the 130 faculty members represent 14 countries. Among the languages taught are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Kyrgyz, Russian, and Turkish. One small educational community could not possibly reflect any greater ethnic and cultural diversity. With emerging economies based on great natural resources in the region, a tradition of political tolerance, an ancient history of trade and commerce along the fabled Silk Road, and an important political and economic role in the region that has developed over time, the small nation of Kyrgyzstan is a marvelous site for a college that stands for a high standard of intellectual development, open dialogue, and democratic values. In the words of the university's president, Ellen Hurwitz, "The AUCA experience combines the strengths of three rich traditions: American-style critical thinking, Central Asian multiculturalism, and Russian pedagogical discipline. The result is a unique approach to the liberal arts developing along the ancient Silk Road and bringing new ideas and leadership to emerging democracies."
We strongly encourage leaders of IHEs to broaden their perspective on international programs that represent critical learning experiences for their constituents. AUCA has established formal relationships with a number of leading American universities that provide opportunities for specialists in disciplines that match the programs offered at AUCA. This is a window that IHE leaders may want to explore for appropriate members of their faculty as well as for their students. What more effective means are there to prepare our future leaders to understand, appreciate, and deal with the richness of diverse cultures and nations across the face of this earth we all should cherish and nourish? We can affirm the potential interest on the part of many students who are seeking new frontiers of exploration and learning.
We see many students in the early years of high school who are already seeking out and participating in international exchanges and programs. Some have lived abroad as members of expatriate families, and others are living in the United States as expatriates from Asia, Australia, Europe, or Africa. Many have a family heritage that is multinational, multicultural, multilingual. They are entering college, in other words, predisposed toward global living and learning opportunities, and in many instances they have already experienced them firsthand.
Some of the programs available to American high school students include exciting combinations of travel, community service, cultural and linguistic immersion, and education abroad. Where There Be Dragons, for example, takes students to such locations as Tibet, Vietnam, India, China, and Guatemala. In some cases students can earn credits through Prescott University (Ariz.). The Experiment in International Living allows high school students to participate in summer learning programs around the world. Global Works and Putney Student Travel are two other major companies offering service learning and other programs around the globe. There are, of course, many other such programs at the high school and college levels, and many colleges maintain their own programs and relationships with academic institutions abroad.
Hamilton College (N.Y.), for example, offers students not only a preferred list of study broad programs, some in conjunction with Butler University (Ind.) or Arcadia University (Pa.), but also maintains an academic year abroad program in Paris that has run for fifty years. Some freshmen will be admitted to Hamilton if they will agree to take their fall semester at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Middlebury College (Vt.) presents a similar array of entrance options and study abroad choices for prospective and current students (see our previous University Business articles on admissions alternatives). Another trend in sight is the assistance of American universities in the opening of foreign campuses in places such as the Middle East. Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) has opened a campus in Qatar, as has Weill Cornell Medical College (N.Y.).
The American University of Central Asia is but one example of a number of such outlets for students and faculty. It is time to enlarge the international educational box and for students as well as faculty and administrators to realize the opportunities that await them both at home and abroad. As we become more of a globalized world, integrated educational opportunities and exchanges provide a wonderful point of departure for students and institutions to expand their horizons.