“Education can and must go on everywhere all the time.” –Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat
In April, I had the privilege to travel to Romania. The experience was a memorable one and, on the one hand, reminded me how the global community of lifelong learners and lifelong learning has both expanded (new audiences of learners) and shrunk (common learner needs and issues); and how, indeed, the world has become flat, as Thomas Friedman has argued. On the other hand, the experience demonstrated how very differently Romanian higher educators perceive the world from their American counterparts. It also brought home the great potential that exists on an international scale for educators and learners.
No one should be surprised that, as the American Council on Education (ACE) has acknowledged on its website, “higher education in the 21st century is a global enterprise.” International education is no longer simply an array of student exchange programs and travel study opportunities. As ACE notes, “Research collaborations, joint teaching, and institutional partnerships link institutions across the globe, and competition for students, faculty, and resources is international in scope.” This global perspective is a kind of “butterfly effect” where decisions made in one corner of the world often have a dramatic impact on people in an opposite corner.
In its 2011 report, Strength through Global Leadership and Engagement: U.S. Higher Education in the 21st Century, ACE states, “A prerequisite for success in this new era will be active, ongoing engagement on the part of colleges and universities in the United States with institutions around the world.” According to the report, “Active engagement with the rest of the world has become fundamental to a high quality education, one that prepares students and their communities for the larger world in which they will live and work.”
Higher education has long been engaged in international outreach. At the University of Oklahoma, many academic programs offer international classes, whether in the form of foreign language immersion classes in specific countries, travel study opportunities or exchanges, or semester abroad programs. Significantly, OU is the institutional home to more than 1,700 international students (Fall 2013 data), mirroring the fact that the United States attracts 17 percent of all international students.
A somewhat recent initiative is the university’s program in Arezzo, Italy. Students participating in the Italian Center of the University of Oklahoma travel to the small Tuscany region town and take OU courses taught by OU professors. In addition, they take courses in Italian language and culture to get the full flavor of the educational environment around them. Internships, too, provide students with credit and noncredit opportunities to work with local public or private organizations and businesses.
One of OU’s newest colleges is the College of International Studies, created in 2011, which reflects President Boren’s vision of global engagement and provides a wide array of international opportunities to OU students. In addition to the program at Arezzo and other activities, the college offers an informational program touching on international issues that airs on Outreach’s KGOU Radio.
We in the College of Liberal Studies are well aware of the globalization of our society. After all, our CLS students are literally everywhere in the world. Beyond this, though, we have attempted to address the issue of gaining a wider, international perspective. Not long ago, CLS unveiled a fully online bachelor’s degree program in World Cultural Studies.
This degree was initially designed for military personnel facing deployments, individuals who need to be equipped to function in a variety of cultural settings and interact with people of many different backgrounds. But others will likely gravitate to this degree, such as employees of organizations that operate internationally or spouses of military personnel or executives who are, at least temporarily, living overseas. The program should have appeal, too, to anyone interested in other cultures.
Of course, the College of Liberal Studies is an integral part of University of Oklahoma Outreach. Through Outreach, we are engaged in literally dozens of international initiatives. These include: Advanced Programs, offering OU graduate degrees at military bases and other sites in the United States and in Europe; Center for English as a Second Language, providing English language education for non-native speakers and equipping them for university work; Sooner Jump Start, a study abroad program for Chinese high school graduates who gain knowledge and skills to equip them for their future life in U.S. universities; and the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. A potential international initiative that emerged from my trip to Romania is a series of noncredit leadership certificate programs offered through the new Outreach Center for Leadership Excellence.
These are just a few of the many ways the College of Liberal Studies and OU Outreach engage with our increasingly “flat” world and help students better understand the perspectives of other cultures. For more information about relevant courses or about the World Cultural Studies degree program, I suggest you visit both the College of Liberal Studies website and the Outreach website.