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Internationalizing U.S. Campuses Benefits Students

Internationalizing U.S. Campuses Benefits Students

Increasingly, U.S. colleges and universities are making efforts to internationalize their campuses by welcoming more students from other countries and collaborating with international institutions on study abroad and other programs.

"America welcomes international students, and we want American students to look over the horizon and seek a world of learning experiences," the State Department's Karen Hughes said recently in hailing a report showing that international study is growing dramatically. "This two-way exchange of talent and knowledge is good for individuals and for relations between countries."

This year, the Department of State issued more than 600,000 student and exchange visitor visas, a record number.

There is no single blueprint for successful internationalization, given the size and diversity of the U.S. educational landscape -- about 14 million students attend more than 4,200 public and private institutions of higher education -- but common themes emerge from a look at two winners of the International Institute of Education's (IIE's) Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education in the category of Internationalizing the Campus: George Mason University (GMU) and the University of Delaware (UD).

"We see global awareness as a fundamental prerequisite for educational quality in the 21st century, and we're working hard to improve our achievements in this area," Peter Stearns, GMU's provost and academic vice president, told USINFO.

GMU, which won a Heiskell Award in 2006, has four campuses in Virginia and one overseas in Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. Altogether, 30,000 students attend GMU -- about 18,000 undergraduates and 12,000 postgraduates. International students make up about 6 percent of the student body and hail from 127 countries.

"Everyone benefits from these international initiatives, particularly our students," said Lesa Griffiths, director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Delaware, which won the Heiskell Award in 2007. The school has more than 1,400 international students among its undergraduate population of 16,000. UD wants students to understand the political, economic, social and cultural changes affecting the world so they can "actively participate in and contribute to global society," Griffiths said.


GMU's Stearns emphasizes the mutual benefit of internationalization and the importance of reciprocity. "We don't want to seem to be taking American stuff abroad as if we're somehow saving the world," he said. "We're eager to work with international students, to collaborate with international institutions so that there is benefit on both sides."

Not only has GMU become more internationally diverse since it began a concerted effort to attract international students in 2000, Stearns said, but "that diversity and that global quality" have become reasons students choose to come to GMU. Various surveys have detected among GMU students a "noticeably greater" awareness of and interest in global issues, he said.

In 2003, GMU instituted a major in global affairs. It started with four students, grew rapidly to 250 students by 2005, and this year has about 470 students. "We're very pleased with this ... because this major does have a significant foreign language requirement," Stearns said. "This is one of the most attractive majors we have in terms of drawing undergraduates to George Mason. And many of the students go on to careers in the international field in nongovernment organizations, in government service and in international business."

Another curriculum change GMU made was to require that all general education program students take at least one course in the global affairs category.

GMU has seen the participation of its undergraduate students in study abroad programs "grow reasonably steadily" to 1,100, or about 5 percent of its undergraduate population. IIE in 2005 estimated the national rate for U.S. college students studying abroad at 1.4 percent.

GMU involves its international students in campus life with, for example, an annual weeklong international festival during which international students present programs that reach out to the student body. Also, international students are housed "in ways where they can interact with American students," Stearns said.


At UD, 41 percent of 16,000 undergraduates study abroad. In 1921, Raymond Kirkbride, a French language professor at UD, proposed the first U.S. study abroad program after serving in France in World War I. The first eight UD students set sail aboard the Rochambeau on July 7, 1923.

UD has a variety of study abroad programs, targeting freshman as well as older students, and participation has increased 70 percent in the last five years, Griffiths said. Its bachelor of science in international business studies requires the completion of five courses above the intermediate level in a chosen foreign language, as well as a semester of study abroad where the foreign language is spoken.

On its main campus in Newark, Delaware, UD has instituted a Global Community Speakers series, bringing high-profile individuals to discuss international events and global issues. Nearly 60 faculty members have received funds and attended a workshop designed to introduce them to new pedagogical strategies for the inclusion of international themes in their courses.

UD collaborates with close to 90 institutions throughout the world, Griffiths said. One example is a partnership with Babes Bolyai University in Romania, where UD provides technical assistance to Romanian scientists and government representatives in coordinating their efforts against avian influenza. "The program has resulted in an exchange of scientists, veterinarians and graduate students, and we hope to continue our work together and learn from each other," Griffiths said.

Both UD and GMU have seen student interest grow in non-Western languages, starting or expanding programs in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. Interest in Spanish has grown significantly at both institutions as well. GMU added Korean this year and will add Farsi in 2008.


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