International Seminar Introduces Foreign Dignitaries to United States
They have come from nations as different as Peru and the Republic of China, Sweden and Nigeria, Ireland and Vietnam.
They have come to spend a summer at Harvard, to get some idea of what America is like, and to get to know one another.
Gathered together in the Harvard International Seminar, they are officially recognized as "promising students and individuals who are achieving eminence in some field of endeavor and who wish to broaden themselves through contact with colleagues from other countries."
The idea of the International Seminar was conceived by Professor William Elliott in 1951. But for all practical purpose the program's success is accredited to Professor Henry A. Kissinger '50 who has served as director and chief fund-raiser during the seminar's 18-year history.
A serious drawback to the seminar this year is Kissinger's absence. Because the program is sponsored by a single professor, not directly by Harvard the funds come from outside sources. Without what has been described as "the magic of Kissinger's name", it is difficult to raise the $80,000 necessary to fund the participant's transportation, room and board and $15 a week spending money.
Another problem is management of the program. In the long run, there is no one to carry on the direction of the seminar. Thus the future of the seminar is in doubt. After this year it will be "suspended", pending Kissinger's return.
Dr. Benjamin Brown, now acting director, describes the seminar's purpose as follows:
"Our main goal is give a group of leading young people an opportunity to gain insight into the American way of life. The seminar also affords them an opportunity to compare the problems and conditions of their own countries with those in the United States and the countries of their colleagues.
"A third objective is to establish better understanding among a select group of people who will be in top leadership roles in their countries in the years ahead."
Only 40 of the over 500 applicants are accepted--approximately half are interested in a field of the humanities and half in politics and economics. Among the noted members of the politics and economics section this year are Carlos Garcia, Justice of the Argentinian Supreme Court; Hannes Androsch, member of the Austrian Parliment; Luke Kai-hsin Chin, editor of "Chinese Communist Affairs" and Mohaned Berjaoui, Lebanese ambassador and former member of Parliament.
The actual seminars are held only three days a week--Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Under the guidance of a faculty member (Stanley Cavell in the humanities and George Cabot Lodge and Jon Stoessinger in politics and economics), the participants discuss their readings or presentations as a manifestation of American life and compare them wit their own experiences.
The academic days also often include informal talks with guest speakers. Some of this year's speakers have been statesman Averill Harriman, sociologist David Riesman '31, Far Eastern expert Edwin Reischauer and M.I.T. Linguistics professor Norm Chomsky.
The other days are taken up by group field trips to industry, trade union headquarters, settlement neighborhoods, prisons or other characteristic American institutions. But the highlight of each week is the Wednesday night public forum conducted by the members themselves on subjects of common interest. Recent panels have discussed "Is Parliamentary Democracy Dead?" and "After Vietnam, What?".
These last features of the program allow the seminar members of familiarize themselves with the traditions of the 35 nations represented, and thus to form a common bond. As Brown explains it, "The entire six week period is a very intense experience. By the end of the summer the members have formed a very cohesive body.
"And although the seminar is short, we have found over the years that the participants generally tend to stay in touch with each other," the acting director added.
The motives which the participants had for applying to the seminar vary, but there is an overall consensus that the academic side of the program was secondary to the change to become familiar with the United States.
A comment by Robert Skidelsky, a research fellow of the British Academy, was typical of the feeling among the other members. "I didn't come primarily for the program. I was more interested in meeting what I thought would be people of eminence and talent from different countries, and in being exposed to American life," he said.
Bogoljub Kustrin, a researcher for the Institute of International Politics in Yugoslavia said "This was a fine opportunity to made a first visit to the United States. I know America only from books, and it's very different when you see it for yourself.
"I had no real preparation for the program itself because I had not much idea of what it would involve beyond discussions. But I was very pleased wit the opportunity to meet American people. I have found them to be spontaneous and very kind."
A more political reason for involvement was sited by Mohamed Berjaoui, a Lebanese ambassador and former MP. He explained, "I had a more selfish reason. My first purpose was to give a better idea of my own country. We are Americans to have a more objective misunderstood over here and I want view of Lebanon. My participation in the seminar has also helped my colleagues have a clearer understanding of my country."
Exactly how the seminar members feel they apply their experiences in the United States after they return home again varies, although most say the most useful result is the understanding and friendship established from the six weeks of living together.
Skidelsky remarked that "my chief interest is in current affairs, and although the seminars did not increase my knowledge, they helped broaden my perspective. I now also have contacts all over the world. So I think the benefit of the International Seminar is both very personal and worldly."
Skidelsky also pointed out a crucial drawback of the seminar. "There are so many different countries represented here that it is often difficult to get into anything more than a general discussion. There are just too many different interests to be catered to."
Brown concurred, adding that "Because their knowledge of the United States and their colleagues' countries is inconsistent it's necessary that they begin conversing on a general level. But there is a more specific focus placed on issues as they move along.