Willamette University

Educating for Global Citizenship

By Kris Lou, PhD

As record numbers of U.S. students are studying abroad and international students are enrolling in U.S. institutions, universities across the country are focusing their efforts on internationalizing their campuses and curricula. For liberal arts universities these initiatives are usually conceptualized in terms of educating the “global citizen,” developing global leaders and shaping the individual for success in a worldwide, multicultural workforce. Willamette is no exception and is currently examining its strategic mission with specific focus on the international dimensions of the Willamette education. With widespread support to redouble our efforts to internationalize the campus and curriculum, we must revisit the university’s core mission in an increasingly interconnected world context.

While the terms “global citizen” and “global community” resonate widely, very little attention is paid to their definitions and implications. It is important to examine the assumptions underlying these phrases, not just to ensure that we are unified in moving forward with programming, but also to consider whether our notion of citizenship reflects the 21st-century realities of a global community in which actors at all levels are engaged and instantaneously connected. If successful citizenship in any community relies on effective communication, where does this leave us when educating for global citizenship?

Primarily, we must ask ourselves whether we understand and agree on the skills and knowledge required of a successful global citizen. For example, if we endeavor to graduate leaders for the global community of tomorrow, whose community do we mean? In what ways will the international education at Willamette prepare our graduates to recognize alternative ways of thinking and being? How vital are these skills in applying disciplinary knowledge in multicultural, multi-national conditions? Will the Willamette graduate be capable of accepting and adapting to cultural differences in order to communicate effectively and lead in a truly global community?

One hurdle in addressing these issues is the need to transcend the mindset that what works in the U.S. context will also succeed in the global setting. We might refer to this as the “golden rule” approach: the idea that we need only to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Or, put another way: What’s good for us will be good for others. This approach is certainly effective when the community of citizens shares the same norms, beliefs and general behaviors. But when we want to tap into the vast diversity of the world’s cultures — its resources of alternative ways of thinking, living and being — we will need to shift our mindset to allow us to also do unto others as they themselves would have done unto them.

This is where intercultural development becomes crucial to our students. This is why mere exposure to other cultures does not suffice. Our internationalized campus and curriculum must stimulate our students’ intercultural development beyond ethnocentric perceptions and behaviors and toward the acceptance of and adaptation to difference.

In an essay for an Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) discussion series, Grant Cornwell and Eve Stoddard address the challenge:

“A college education should provide students opportunities for sustained, reflected-upon practice in intercultural relations. This may be achieved by using the campus as a laboratory for diversity, study abroad or service learning, but in all three there should be conscious strategies for connecting the global and the local.”
“While ‘globalization’ refers to the realities of the world we live in and prepare students for, ‘interculturalism’ refers both to the increased mixing of peoples in that world and the skills needed to interact with people from varying backgrounds and social locations.”¹

Put another way, the concept of an individual citizen must be understood within a framework of a community. Successful citizens — leading citizens — will be capable of understanding and adapting to the values, norms, behavior and ideals of communities outside of their own. Willamette graduates will need the skills of empathy and intercultural sensitivity to do this. These capacities are vital for good leadership and for living Willamette’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born,” in an increasingly global future.

¹Cornwell, Grant H. and Stoddard, Eve W. Globalizing Knowledge: Connecting International & Intercultural Studies. Occasional Paper for the AAC&U Discussion Series.

Willamette's International Identity

Happily, Willamette is extremely well positioned to meet these educational challenges. First and most importantly, Willamette’s faculty members are highly skilled, with extensive experience in international education. Many hail from countries outside the U.S., and many more have experience living, studying, teaching and conducting research abroad. The role they play in motivating, directing and challenging students to participate in the difficult but highly rewarding semester or year abroad is invaluable and cannot be overemphasized.

Furthermore, whether through their contributions in the classroom or through co-curricular activities, international students in our undergraduate, graduate and Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) programs allow U.S. students — including those who ultimately will not study abroad — to develop intercultural skills as they share ideas and challenge each other’s thoughts, beliefs and perceptions in residence halls, through collaboration and through friendships. This process is critical for the segment of Willamette’s student population that does not venture beyond the cultural confines of Salem.

Equally important is the ongoing effort of building a diverse campus community as represented by race, disability, sexual preference or economic class, to name just a few of many possible factors. Exposure to difference coupled with related skill development is vital for all students — indeed for the Willamette community as a whole — and is a necessary condition for the development our graduates require.

Cultural Immersion and Curricular Tools

Building upon the noteworthy accomplishments of the late Kelly Ainsworth (director of international education at Willamette from 1995–2002), Willamette has expanded the scope and refined the focus of the international dimensions of its liberal arts education. For example, the last 15 years have seen significant growth in study abroad opportunities for Willamette students with the result that well over half of any graduating class will have earned academic credit abroad. In this regard, Willamette compares very favorably with its peer institutions on a national level, consistently ranking among the top 15 for its percentage of students participating in study abroad.²

The number of participants, however, is only half of the international study equation. It is imperative that we maximize the study abroad opportunity — as well as the intercultural programming on campus — by intervening in the educational process with intercultural coursework that guides the students through reflection, discussion, writing and ultimately the application of their experiences. The potential of this experiential learning cycle goes untapped when an immersion experience, whether abroad or in Salem, does not contain an explicit intercultural curricular element.

As Willamette now faces key strategic planning choices, we can take pride in the fact that the university finds itself in a leadership position regarding intercultural intervention in the study abroad context. In addition to the wide range of programs that meet the needs of a student body with varying abilities, experience and interests (including the TIU/TIUA/WU partnership and the Granada program highlighted elsewhere in this issue), every Willamette student studying abroad now receives a base level of intercultural instruction that accompanies the study abroad program.

This component takes the form of a partial-credit, required course called “Maximizing the Study Abroad Experience,” which supports our students in optimizing the learning potential of cultural immersion. The course extends the framework of study abroad to encompass the preparation phase, the in-culture experience and the post-reentry period. With this course we have already begun to refocus the role of international programs at Willamette.

While “Maximizing the Study Abroad Experience” might be viewed as a minimum level of intercultural education that should be part of any study abroad endeavor (which by itself already sets Willamette apart from the majority of liberal arts institutions), a more rigorous, in-depth approach can be illustrated in a full-credit course, “Intercultural Study within Cultural Immersion.” This optional course, offered each semester for the last three years, engages Willamette students and international exchange students weekly through intensive collaboration on intercultural issues. Students receive orientation and training in a pre-departure workshop before setting off for their destinations around the world. Then, each week during the semester abroad, they complete assignments that require them to observe, interact, reflect and write about their experiences. All students in this course have the same assignments, but they are based in different countries. Students form small groups of three or four, typically including two or three Willamette students and one international student in Salem. They then post their written work to an online software platform (previously Blackboard, now called WISE) and provide feedback to the others in the group while the instructor oversees and guides the discussions toward key issues and learning moments.

“Intercultural Study within Cultural Immersion” allows the learning process to transcend the specific cultural contexts within which the students find themselves. It enriches the discussion of intercultural issues as the students begin to recognize social norms and values as social constructions particular to each culture. They learn how their own identity is a reflection of the society they grew up in and are empowered to channel the dissonance and ambiguity of study abroad into truly transformational learning.

One tool used in measuring this transformation is a psychometric inventory, which assesses the students’ orientation to cultural difference and provides a pre- and post-study measure of their intercultural development. Since students vary in their orientation to difference, the inventory allows the instructor to target specific lessons for specific students and to group students according to their general stage of development.

The inventory results, taken with the students’ writings, evaluations and anecdotal reports from the coursework, are convincing evidence of the value of curricular intervention in study abroad. This model can be easily expanded and adapted to service-learning contexts, international/multicultural student programming and campus community events.

Willamette students show continual interest in applying what they have learned through Language in Motion, which is a program that effectively widens the scope and reach of the above coursework. This project not only creates a venue for returned study abroad students and international students to interact and learn from each other, it also extends and deepens Willamette’s commitment to the Salem community. By visiting schools and offering lessons based on their experiences, Willamette students can play a key role in enhancing language and culture learning in the K–12 school system. Moreover, Willamette students are seizing the opportunity to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills in a concrete way. They bring the reality of intercultural challenges and richness into the K–12 classroom and serve as role models promoting the value and learning potential of cultural differences.

It is important to note that studying abroad is also an indispensable vehicle for language acquisition, as well as for gaining access to disciplinary courses that are not offered on the Willamette campus. These are extremely important benefits of international programming that extend the university’s educational mission. But the core goals of the liberal arts education — educating the whole individual, challenging the students to develop as citizens capable of understanding their identities within particular social constructions and thereby applying tools of critical reflection to make moral and ethical choices — will go unmet in today’s global community if we fail to infuse our international efforts with intentional intercultural skill development.

Willamette’s Office of International Education takes seriously its role in challenging students to develop as positive social change agents. Part of this process involves reinforcing the habit of reflection in communicating effectively across and within cultures. We believe international education — whether through study abroad or international student programs that engage the Willamette community — is a laboratory for the larger liberal arts mission; it aids us in negotiating ambiguity and confronting the challenges of complex, intercultural difference through reflexivity that informs agency. It is not enough to procedurally offer our students the opportunity of exposure to others. We must also expose our students to themselves and their own culturally bounded ways of thinking, thereby removing the limitation of certainty in favor of an appreciation for humility, empathy and difference.

These are the attributes of the successful global citizen in a truly global community.

²Institute of International Education Open Doors report, 2008.

View more study abroad images in the Tellus Gallery

A scene in Vienna captured by Carissa Deethardt ’10. The man in the foreground reminded Deethardt to “be still and experience,” she says.

Grand Canyon
Martina Haindl and Majed Alsubaie, Willamette international students, at the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Baratt Miller
Barratt Miller ‘10 signs a Northern Ireland peace wall. Photo by Alison McCartan ‘10.

Jan Taborsky ’09, MBA’10 biked his way across France — using his Willamette gear.

New Zealand
Sundown in New Zealand. Photo by Brianna Grinnell ‘09.

TIUA Students Dancing
TIUA students perform on campus as part of Opening Days programming.

Venice, Italy. Photo by Claire H. Lindsay-McGinn ’10.


Kelly Ainsworth: A Lasting Legacy

Kelly Ainsworth, director of international education from 1995–2002, left behind a greatly expanded range of international programming. In 2002, Willamette established a scholarship fund in his name that provides assistance directly to students going abroad. A contribution to the Kelly Ainsworth International Scholarship is an option for anyone wishing to donate to the university.