Sunday, February 03, 2008

Internationalizing in DC

I’ve just gotten back from a great conference in DC. I love to travel and go to conferences, especially when I’m “in the flow” and I keep meeting interesting people or things happen. First of all, I missed the snow storm by hours and got out of Kalamazoo and Detroit more or less on time. Then I had a great conversation on the plane to DC (no middle person), with a guy who spent most of his career in mental health, used to lead the drug and alcohol abuse programs in Maryland, now is evaluating health programs throughout the country. Since my first job was in a state hospital in Ohio, we had lots to talk about. My favorite story of his was about a group of dispirited vets, and the problem of foster care kids needing a place to stay between homes. He had gotten an old house for the kids that needed a lot of repairs, but had no funds. The vets stepped in and fixed and painted the house, just asked that it be called Rainbow Beginnings. He told me to look out for the George Bush Center for Intelligence (CIA) sign on the drive to my friends’ house. Made me smile each time I passed it.

The conference was the American Council on Education (ACE) Internationalization Collaborative annual meeting. I know it’s another absurdly long title. But WMU is part of this collaborative of higher education institutions that are trying to work towards better international programs. The buzzword this time was “comprehensive internationalization.” Western has some pretty impressive programs going, but we are still looking at how to make sure every graduate is ready to function in the ever changing global environment, even if they don’t do study abroad or don’t hang out with our international students.

I attended one of the pre-conferences that was focused on doing an Internationalization Review, and extended process of evaluating where you are and where you want to go. I am in an International Education Council (IEC) working group trying to review the state of Western’s internationalization across the curriculum, but I think we might need to think more broadly about reviewing all of our internationalization efforts and seeing how they interconnect or could connect. I also found myself thinking how we could apply this to the library. We are doing this with our strategic planning, various task forces, LibQual and other initiatives, but I’m not seeing where we are going clearly. Maybe it’s just me.

The conference itself consisted of plenary sessions with panels, and breakout discussion groups on the topic presented either by discipline or type of institution we represented. Many interesting projects and initiatives were presented. Some stick out in my mind:

Global Design Studio (IUPUI) – an architecture professor works with his students on real life situations throughout the world and has students design appropriate housing for people who have lost their homes in disasters like Katrina in New Orleans and the tsunami in Indonesia. They work with local communities as well as local companies to make sure they are fulfilling actual needs. This has expanded way beyond architecture into an interdisciplinary project, where students and faculty from other university departments are involved - environmentalists, health workers, social workers, journalists, and more.

Arcadia University (PA, outside Philadelphia) has a couple of amazing things they do with their freshmen. First of all they take every freshman, 500 of them, to the UK during spring break. This 8 day trip is often their first outside the country, so there is a lot of preparatory work, lots of hand-holding, debriefing, etc. and they only charge the students $300. Arcadia also houses the Center for Educational Abroad, which is a service providing study abroad opportunities for students from many universities, so they have the staff and facilities in place overseas. The other part of this project that was really exciting was that to chaperone the students, they ask staff to come along – and not just staff from the international office – this includes all staff – custodial, cafeteria and office workers throughout the campus. The second freshmen project is that they have some freshmen do their first semester abroad. They actually get much more individual attention that they would on the US campus, and the experience solidifies a cohort that stays together through graduation, an event that happens at a much higher rate than usual.

The most library oriented thing I did was my meeting with the head of the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress. I am going to be on his panel about the changes in book chambers in the post-Soviet republics at the Slavic studies conference in November. We will look at how many of these national bibliography agencies have been incorporated into the national libraries. After discussing our panel, we had a wonderful Indian dinner prepared by his French wife. (He specializes in Romania.) Is that international enough?

During a break on the second day, I just had to stretch my legs and went outside to find a beautiful sunny day. As I walked down the block I came upon the Society of the Cincinnati, with a sign that their museum was open for a couple of hours on this day. I couldn’t resist peeking in. The guide swooped down on me and asked how much time I had – 15 minutes – OK, she’d give me a 15 minute tour. And here I was going to stretch my legs and cool my brain, but got an intense lecture on Larz and Isabel Anderson, who built this house by 1905, to have a place to entertain when the Congress started sessions –I guess it was THE place to be. He was an ambassador, she the richest woman of her time – her father controlled the Boston Harbor for a while. When Mr. Anderson died in 1937, the building and most of its contents was donated to the Society of the Cincinnati – an exclusive club of male descendants of officers of the American Revolution - both Lafayette’s and Washington’s men. The Society is an historical and educational organization that promotes knowledge of the Revolution. The house was amazing, as could be expected. Marble floors, paintings including a massive painting by Villegas that no museum wanted and was brought to town on their yacht, choir stalls taken out of some poor European church – for decoration, not religious reasons. Of course I was a few minutes late to my next session.

After the conference was over, I needed to air my brain, before heading to an evening with my friends. I went to see the Vietnam Memorial. It definitely has a reverent aura around it, especially in light of the ongoing loss of American lives overseas. I hadn’t climbed up to see Lincoln’s memorial since my parents took me there as a child. That huge, gleaming white sculpture also left me in awe. I was there just at dusk, so I saw the incredible view from the Lincoln Memorial, down the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument transform in the changing light. I seem to remember quite a few movie moments occurring here. On the way back to my car I saw Einstein’s memorial. I loved the clumpy sculpture (I am sure there is a more sophisticated term for this) of this brilliant man, in his rumpled sweater and sandals, casually sitting with one foot up, papers in his hand. Though the sculpture is substantially larger than life, it looks like he was a short man. At his feet is a celestial map.

To end my delightful experience, at my friends, we played Cranium – I was partnered with my 10 year old goddaughter, and we had fun guessing each other’s charades, songs, drawings, spelling words backwards, running around the house finding things, figuring out words in categories. We tried to do most of it in Latvian, but some of the word games had to stay in English.

The Regan National Airport was also a new adventure, as I have always driven to DC, never flown in. I somehow didn’t realize how close it was to downtown and the main mall – just across the river in Virginia. It was strange to be greeted by the Washington Monument as I was driving away from the airport. Leaving this morning I had my first experience with a new safety contraption that shot bursts of air from head to toe. This was looking for explosive chemicals on me. Ah yes, we must be especially vigilant for terrorists in the capital. But as we were taking off above the city, and I saw all those government buildings, I realized that there is a lot of power concentrated in one area that could be vulnerable to attacks by those who hate us. Though we have given them plenty of reasons why, it was still a bit disconcerting.

No comments:

Post a Comment