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Faculty Forum Papers

May 1978 - International Education: A Neglected Resource By

C. Warren Hovland
Religious Studies

May 8, 1978

     In a society where the search for "roots" has become increasingly important, I would like to suggest that the programs offered through our Office of International Education can provide a valuable adjunct to student's educational experience. Through foreign study programs third and fourth generation Americans are finding some of the values and traditions of our ancestors as a source of self-understanding and a clarification of life goals. Entering another society and staying at least a year in that country, learning another language, trying to understand its history and culture can provide the student with a perspective and educational dimension that can be achieved in no other way. Having observed this process for the past two years in the German Study Program, these seem to be some of the more obvious values:

     1. A reduction of parochialism and the tendency to stereotype. The day to day association with a variety of different types of people in another culture helps to reduce stereotypes like: "All Frenchmen are great lovers"; "All Germans are fat and hard working." Our students also encounter stereotypes like: "All Americans are rich and culturally deprived." By experiencing friendships with students and with families some of these stereotypes are reduced. "Pseudospeciation," the tendency to regard our own society as superior and ultimate, is thus minimized.

     2. A less na´ve and more critical analysis of our own society. Exposure to politically sensitive and more sophisticated students challenges our students to examine their assumptions about American democracy. Frequently they discover that foreign students actually know more about America then they do. As Robert Burns aptly put it:

O wad some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us.
It wad fra monie a blunder free us.

     3. A time to reflect on the meaning of education. Students who have been conditioned to think of education in terms of credit hours and GPA's are confronted by an alternative view of the educational process which stresses individual research, much greater freedom to pursue individual interests and offers little supervision or control. Many students respond with uncertainty at this lack of structure but when they experience the positive results they are encouraged to view their own learning in a new light.

     4. A moratorium from pressures at home and society. The demand to conform or get into an established groove is temporarily suspended while students are abroad. As Erikson has pointed out such a moratorium is a need for some individuals to achieve a genuine sense of their identity.

     5. A discovery of the importance of language. Language is a basic tool for understanding people, societies, cultures. Most Americans are "language-poor" and by studying at universities where students often know two, three, or more languages and where one has to really know the language to communicate with people is a great learning experience.

     6. Encounter with great art, music, ballet, theatre, and museums. Many of our students have a minimal exposure to these resources in America or universities. In Europe it is a substantive part of student's experience and a critical analysis of each performance is a regular part of the experience. Population centers provide daily performances of great masters and the art collections are freely available to all.

     A true center of learning is not local or statewide or even limited to national borders. Oregon State University has a responsibility to educate for global interdependence. Like all institutions of learning we should make the study of world affairs, Western and non Western civilization, foreign languages, international relations, international economics and agriculture and the encouragement and opportunities for study abroad an integral part of undergraduate and graduate programs.