Feature Article

Empowering World Citizens

By Samantha Mocle

Students work with a local farming community in Ecuador on a Shoulder to Shoulder project

New international student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has dropped 6.6 percent since 2016. More than 650 higher education foreign language programs have closed. Of international students studying on U.S. campuses, 51 percent represent two countries - China and India - while all others have five percent or fewer of the spread. Taken together, these trends from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Modern Language Association have triggered alarms for institutions whose "global" identities rely heavily on statistics.

Students don't need to visit a multitude of countries to develop a dynamic world perspective. A multifaceted global view can stem from just one trip, or even the classroom. To support that journey, an institution's global identity must be rooted in curricular and travel programs richly layered with multicultural perspectives and values. The goal? To foster mature individuals who can conduct business and establish interpersonal relationships beyond cultural, political, or lingual barriers.

Not just 'the West and the rest'

"Global is not simply about geographic constructs. It is about multiple manifolds and perspectives. It is about positionality."

This idea is core to Associate Professor of History Dennis Frey's pedagogical approach. He is adamant that a successful global education begins with blurring the lines on a map. As the head of Lasell College's core curriculum committee, he oversaw the process to ensure that all students, regardless of academic major, are given tools to self-reflect on their cultural awareness. That meant shifting the College's general education requirements from siloed categories - historical, multicultural, ethical, aesthetic, psychological, to name a few - into ones reflective of a broad global mindset.

Lasell College is the proud home of graduate and undergraduate students from 30 countries on six continents.

"It was important that our curriculum didn't just look at 'the West and the rest,'" says Frey. "As a society, there is a tendency to only think through these isolated lenses, but we want students to see the complex transformations and connections between pockets of humanity."

The core curriculum requires students to complete credits in four areas of knowledge perspective -aesthetics and creativity, global and historical, individuals and society, and scientific reasoning and problem solving - that blend broad themes of the human experience with nuanced explorations of the self as related to the world.

The latter is a skill that Associate Professor of Management Martin Walsh asserts to be critical for any individual entering the workforce.

"A global consciousness and intelligence is an indispensable piece of any student's perspective," he says. "To learn to appreciate different cultures is not something you are born with. It is something learned and manifested over time."

He warns of the tendency of becoming self-ethnocentric - judging everyone else by one's own culture and determining that differences make others inferior. It is a concept that faculty must be cognizant of in their course design and class discussions.

In her required HIST 104 course, sophomore Allie Jo Amos '21 examined concepts of patriarchy and privilege. She was pleasantly surprised at the depth of knowledge she acquired in just one semester.

"I just thought we'd just look at Western culture, to be honest," she says, "but we covered all areas of the world. The class made me more open-minded about how society changes over time."

Senior Olivia Addington '19 had a similar takeaway from her HIST 104 course.

"It taught me to look at things more closely and to always keep an open mind," she says.

That, according to Walsh, is what employers want beyond the required industry skills for a job.

"Your resume tells people your skills," he says, "but the interview determines whether or not you are a good fit for their organization. It is a personality test, and it shows your awareness of the world and others."

Reflective journeys

Not all study abroad programs are created equal. When the desired outcome is world-minded citizens, an institution must consider its entire global footprint - a combination of curriculum, college-sponsored international learning experiences, engaged students from around the globe, organizational partnerships, and study abroad programs - not just one element over another. In this sense, it is important to measure both quality and quantity, according to an article from Andrew Gordon, CEO and founder of the Diversity Abroad Network.

"The goal of the thousands of professionals who work in international education isn't simply the transactional aspect of our work, sending students from point A to point B for a fixed period of time," he writes, but rather, it is about "the opportunity for growth and development ... that prepares students for success after they leave our institutions."

Lasell's Director of International Services, Sarah Driscoll, says that the ideal situation is to meet different needs and comfort zones - whether that means traveling out of the United States for the first time or learning to speak a new language - to help students flourish. Regardless of country or length of stay, Driscoll hopes that students return with new connections in their field and a broader perspective on their place in the world.

Lasell's home tuition model enables students to pay the same amount studying abroad as they would at home.

Take, for example, Rebecca Van Spall-Hood '19, a senior psychology major and criminal justice minor who studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Her internship with the Bridge Project, an Irish program focused on rehabilitation and recidivism reduction in the criminal justice system, exposed her to a different work atmosphere than she was accustomed to.

"The culture was completely different," she recalls. "In Ireland, they treat every employee the same, whether you're the CEO, an intern, or an observer."

That cultural shift put pressure on Van Spall-Hood to reflect on her professional capabilities and adjust to meet expectations. The result was a net positive; she helped create a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) facilitation guide that the Bridge Project has now put into practice.

"Even if you study abroad in a country that speaks English, the adaptation to a new culture is its own language," she says. "In Ireland specifically, the culture is very religious and based on thousands of years of Catholic practices. I am not religious at all, but I had to respect those boundaries and mold to the idea that just because it wasn't a norm for me didn't mean I couldn't appreciate what I was being taught."

Similar adaptations take place through the College's Shoulder to Shoulder international service learning projects, where students immerse themselves in communities to support local initiatives.

"The assumptions that students bring in are challenged almost immediately," says Thomas Sullivan, associate professor of ethics, who has led student cohorts to Uganda and Tanzania.

For example, in the Tanzanian school where Sullivan's students taught, each child operates on the expectation that if they don't bring their notebook or pencil, they won't write that day. Each year, the children have asked Sullivan's students for materials on their first day there.

More than a third of Lasell graduates have had a college-sponsored international learning experience."Of course, the natural inclination is to give them a pencil. But the challenge there is to not undercut what the children's teachers have been trying to instill about responsibility, for the sake of easy generosity on our part."

"Those cultural behaviors help students become more open to change," adds Jose Guzman, associate professor of Spanish. Small differences in the ways people say hello, for example, reveal to the students how societies can accomplish the same thing in different ways.

He jokes that he flies home with a different group of students on the plane ride back from the visit to Ecuador that he leads.

"The project just opens their minds," he notes with a smile. "They become appreciative of what other people prioritize: for example, collecting pounds of potatoes over several hours to support a family farm or walking an hour each way to school through forests and hills. This makes them more flexible to acknowledging differences and helps them operate beyond stereotypes."

The world of tomorrow

"The world a student enters 12 years from now will be radically different than the one we live in now," says Walsh. The management professor's sentiment resounds with Associate Professor Stephanie Athey, who also directs the College's Honors Program. Currently, Athey is tasked with developing a system by which the institution can measure a course's effectiveness where global preparedness is concerned.

"Intercultural competence goes deeper than the title of a course," she says. She and her colleagues are diving deep into the College's course content to develop a rubric by which their global mindset can be measured. That means, in her words, that faculty should be able to tell when and where students have been exposed to those different concepts and modes of thinking while in school, whether that is abroad, on campus, or at an internship.

They aren't alone in their endeavor. Driscoll and her team continue to evaluate program effectiveness and are simultaneously creating study abroad program plans for students in Lasell Works, the College's professionally focused undergraduate program that requires a full year of online coursework. And, in 2018, now-junior Ahmed Almutairi '20 worked with faculty and the registrar to develop two new language courses, Arabic I & II. Lasell students would frequently ask him how to say their names and basic phrase in his native language. From those small requests came the idea to launch the courses.

"I am passionate about teaching Arabic on campus so that if any student ever moves to or studies in a country that speaks it, they won't struggle," he says. Almutairi and his peers in the Lasell Saudi Student Association volunteer locally at hospitals, for example, to serve as English translators.

Lasell's international service learning projects take students to Antigua and Barbuda, Vietnam, Mexico, and Ecuador for as long as two weeks. On campus, students learn about culture, history, economy, language, and what it means to be a guest in another country before they depart. The trips are "not just visiting for the sake of tourism," notes Associate Professor Jose Guzman. Rather, they are a two-way immersion between host and guest. "The most important thing that our students get out of these projects is a true understanding of what it means to be human," says Margo Lemieux, professor of art and graphic design, who takes students to Vietnam each winter. The College also recently entered into a partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Antigua and Barbuda as a result of its ongoing relationship through the Shoulder to Shoulder program. The new program provides online professional development courses in international inclusive education to the island-nation's teachers through Lasell's Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) division.

Elizabeth Hartmann, associate professor of education, has taken students to Antigua for five years and is pleased with the evolution from a standalone visit to a collaborative and reciprocal partnership. This spring, teachers from Antigua visited Lasell and elementary schools in the Greater Boston area. Hartmann was excited for them to compare what they saw in a U.S. classroom to their approach at home, particularly since Lasell students get to do that every year when they travel to Antigua.

"It isn't enough to just bring students to their country. You have to provide and advocate for the full cross-cultural partnership to really deepen a global experience," says Hartmann.

That dynamism affirms Athey's belief that this pedagogical direction is critical in preparing students to succeed across industries.

"As the globe becomes smaller and our population encounters huge challenges, we want students to have the basic tools to engage those problems," she says.

"We can't predict the way the world will change, but we know it is happening fast."

Photos provided by Margo Lemieux, professor of art and graphic design; Rebecca Van Spall-Hood '19; Katie Porter '18 G'20; Jose Guzman, associate professor of Spanish

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