International education is vital to higher education

by John Hayes, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

In my view, one of the most important elements of higher education for all students should be international education. I have a friend, with whom I correspond frequently, who teaches at the American University of Cairo. She sends digital images of her travels to Luxor, desert oases, and archaeological digs, as well as the sights of Cairo, such as the sun setting over a nearby mosque, its color enhanced by wind-borne desert dust carried aloft. You can almost feel the heat begin to dissipate as people are called to prayer.

The point is, in every way, the globe has shrunk. Everyday events, some that exhibit enormous impact on all civilization, impinge on our lives with alarming frequency. And I do not just mean the obvious events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001. I also refer to the cost of steel for the new library and for the soon-to-be-constructed professional studies building, both of which are paying a higher than expected price for steel. Why? Because China, the number one steel producer in the world, has now become the number one importer of steel also, not only for its modernization efforts but also because of its $37 billion worth of construction efforts for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

I also refer to inevitable global warming caused by greenhouse gases, with a disproportionate share emanating from the U.S., that promises to wreak havoc with civilization. I refer to the invasion of the second most oil-rich nation by the U.S. And I refer to the catastrophic environmental consequences of cutting down the tropical rainforests.

If ever we needed citizens with an appreciation for the differences among the three Abrahamic religions that can turn the Middle East into a powder keg, for the cultural and political differences that would induce the Chinese to spend well more than three times as much on the 2008 Olympics as was spent in Athens four years before, or for the arrogance of power in the West that can lead nations to invade oil-rich countries with brutal dictators but to turn a blind eye to genocide in others, well that time is now.

We do our students a disservice – and offer a less than full education – if we do not support a curriculum with rich international components. I believe that one of the best ways to get this education is by studying abroad.