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WHEN Harvard mailed the acceptance letters for the Class of '94, University administrators boasted of the fact that they had admitted many more international students than they ever had before. They cited a Nigerian from Hong Kong and a Kenyan from Singapore. Their joy reminded me of James Watt proclaiming a fully integrated cabinet by citing all of the different kinds of minorities who were represented.
The influx of international students supposedly fulfills part of President Derek C. Bok's goal to internationalize the University. Making Harvard students part of the world will help those of us who will be involved in government and business in the future. But a more global Harvard is important simply because we are citizens of an increasingly international world.
The program for internationalization at Harvard, however, is not breaking any new ground toward an increased awareness of difference of culture. It is instead strengthening the idea that the United States as a nation is somehow different from all other nations, which we deem "foreign." Harvard is also promoting the American misconception that internationalization is something that only concerns an elite.
These ideas foster an attitude that the rest of the world can be displayed to Americans, but never really experienced.
MOST Harvard students already know that the rest of the world exists. If they don't, Harvard has a Core requirement in Foreign Cultures, a language requirement, lectures on international affairs and study abroad opportunities. We have had these programs for years. That they still haven't brought us closer to internationalization is a sign that information and exposure aren't the only keys to the process.
The only effective way to make Americans part of the whole world is to convince everyone that the rest of the world has an impact on our daily lives. Internationalization is more an attitude than a store of information about geographical facts or a language ability. Although knowledge of different cultures is intellectually stimulating, and our exposure to these societies helps us understand them, our isolationist attitude is too strong to be changed by these kinds of information alone.
The current American attitude is a paradox. We don't consider our own country to be international, but we do, however, consider every other country to be international. We consider the ordinary person in China or Belgium to be international while an ice cream vendor in Kansas is not. In reality, the only difference is in the perception of Americans.
We don't feel international because we don't think that the rest of the world has any impact on our daily lives. Unless a person has a job working in an international company or trading foreign currency, other nations do not come directly into play. Only the people who have lived abroad are considered international.
Yet the world has a profound impact on almost every American's life. From foreign ownership of manufacturing plants to migrant labor to the state of the global environment, Americans--even the worker in Kansas--are part of a larger system than the U.S.A. We let ordinary people in other countries have that knowledge, why can't we give it to the worker in Kansas?
Is it because we don't think that worker could understand? The current thrust of Harvard's internationalization efforts are targeted towards the elite. In other countries, which are perhaps smaller and more dependent on the international community, almost everyone holds the attitude that they need the rest of the world to survive. The United States shares this need, but it is not something we like to admit.
Instead, we train a small core of people to deal with outsiders and leave ordinary Americans to themselves. Our public education system promotes this isolation by only teaching languages to academically advanced children. The rest of the students' education is structured so that they won't have to communicate with the rest of the world. This structured elitism appears at the university level in Harvard's internationalization campaign.
There is no magic key to internationalization. There is no amount of experience with foreign cultures that will automatically make us think globally. The information and exposure that the University is trying to provide are interesting and deserve merit, but these aspects alone will not make Harvard an international place. The programs are too much like showing students slides of someone else's summer vacation to Europe.
What we need isn't a more international University. We need a more international attitude.
It is time we stopped acting like advantaged tourists sharing our experiences with our more isolated friends, and start becoming part of the world ourselves.
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