International learning helps us know world

David Cordell

Whether we seek to cross oceans to better understand other people or to share our own culture, the means to do so are as close as a community college.

International education programs work to promote global understanding. They bring the world home in the form of exchanges and take our students abroad to study.

This coming week (Nov. 12-16) the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State sponsor International Education Week to underscore the importance of the role colleges play. Governmental organizations, non-profits and colleges and universities across the nation mark the week with celebrations.

Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the week on the government’s official Web site. "We are proud that the high quality of American colleges and universities attracts students and scholars from around the world. These individuals enrich our communities with their academic abilities and cultural diversity, and they return home with an increased understanding and often a lasting affection for the United States," Powell said. "At the same time, it is important for American students to learn other languages, experience foreign cultures and develop a broad understanding of global issues."

This is not academic window-dressing. Through international education programs, students gain deeper understanding of the humanities and learn business and communication skills with real-world applications.

That’s especially true here where exporting is big business. The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area was the nation’s top exporting metropolis in 1999 and 1998, selling $32.4 billion in merchandise to foreign markets, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

So it makes sense that the state’s community colleges actively develop global relationships. Last year, 5,580 international students studied at community and technical colleges in our state. Edmonds Community College, Bellevue Community College and Seattle Central Community College ranked among the top 40 associate institutions in the nation hosting the most foreign students, according to Open Doors 2000, a report by The Institute of International Education.

The quality of experience that international education programs offer is most compelling. When students interact with people from different cultures they show enthusiasm and they are, in a word, enlightened.

To see international education at work, take a look at these recent examples at Edmonds Community College:

n Instructor Melissa Newell said teaching art appreciation to U.S. community college students in Italy was a "life-changing" experience for herself and her students. Instead of viewing slides, the students stood in awe in front of actual art works from the Renaissance era.

n Staff from the Student Career and Employment Services and Business and Technology Center shared insights about worker-retraining with education leaders from the Russian Far East.

n The college developed an English language immersion program for the Volkswagen company’s executives. Instructors from the college will travel to the company’s manufacturing plant in Mexico and assess their training programs.

n A former international student, Kiyo Kangu, graduated from the college’s horticulture therapy program last year. It was an area of study unavailable in his country. Now, he has started a non-profit organic farming and horticulture therapy business to help the elderly and disabled in Japan.

n German students Maike Dupont and Jacqueline Matthies are participants in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a reciprocal exchange paid for by the U.S. and German governments to strengthen ties between the younger generations. They will study at the college for a quarter and work in the U.S. for six months. "It is a political exchange," said Dupont. "We are to act like mini-ambassadors."

n English as a Second Language students will share their cultures with Edmonds-Woodway High School’s intercultural communications class as part of events for International Education Week. Basak Ildiz, an exchange student from Turkey, helped organize activities for the week. "There are many international students at this school (EdCC)," she said. "It is easier to show the American students here more about our cultures because they already know a few things."

To create stepping-stone experiences like these, community leaders with foresight strengthen the college’s international programs. They, like Secretary Powell, know it benefits students, the college, the community and the nation.

This is a time when Americans feel a need to understand other nations and to be understood. Programs at local colleges make this easier and create informed citizens. Contribute to our world’s future by supporting international education and exchange programs now.

For more information about International Education Week visit http://exchanges.state.gov/iew2001. To learn more about study abroad at Edmonds Community College, please go to www.edcc.edu/studyabroad.

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