Lehigh marks a notable anniversary tomorrow when the Global Union (GU), a coalition of more than 40 clubs and organizations, celebrates its 15th anniversary with a reunion for its alumni and executive board members.
GU promotes international education and cultural diversity by providing a hub for students and groups and sponsoring a range of speakers and events.
“The Global Union is truly a force for good on campus,” said Mary Nicholas, associate professor of Russian in the department of modern languages and literatures. “Lehigh without the GU is unthinkable.
“[GU director] Bill Hunter and his staff have done a magnificent job of showcasing the talents of our students, highlighting our international connections, and helping the larger community learn more about us and about the world beyond Bethlehem.
Antonio Prieto, associate professor of Spanish and director of the Latin American Studies program, says he is impressed by the growth of the GU and the programs it sponsors.
“International Week offers a plethora of cultural events for students and faculty, and it has become one of the largest such programs in the country,” says Prieto.
“The GU has become a place where international students can feel at home. Its language exchange program provides a great alternative for students to gain experience using an international language outside the classroom, in a more relaxed setting.”
Spanning the world with creative programming
Hunter echoed Nicholas’s comments.
“I used to be able to look at the crowd at our events and recognize everyone in the room,” says Hunter. “Now, that’s almost never true. We are drawing a wider range of students into the international experience every year.”
GU sponsors about 70 programs each year. These range from a lecture via Skype by a former Lehigh graduate student and Libyan rebel Issa Hakim to “A Dinner for Two in Somalia” to “Around the World in 90 Minutes.”
The GU also hosts “Culture Nights” for Yemen, Kazakhstan, Armenia and other countries with relatively small numbers of students attending Lehigh.
About 90 percent of GU’s members were international students in 1997. Today, its membership is almost equally divided between American and international students.
A growing global presence for GU alums
Hunter credits the internationalization efforts at Lehigh for GU’s transformation.
“There’s a palpable difference in the aspirations of the students,” he says. “Years ago it was uncommon to have students want to live or work abroad. Now there’s a regular flow of students who do. They become active GU members, building their intercultural communication skills in preparation for global careers.”
GU alumni work as professionals around the world in finance, fashion and consulting, and in nonprofit organizations.
Ann Girdano ’12, GU’s current president, says the common thread that unites GU members is a commitment to building bridges between organizations and bringing the international experience to Lehigh.
“GU alumni live all over the world, and we knew that when we started planning for the reunion,” she says. “When we started hearing back from them, though, we were blown away to hear about the places they are and the things they’ve accomplished. It is truly a remarkable group.”
GU has provided a powerful complement to her Lehigh education, says Girdano, a supply chain management major. She hopes the organization will help Lehigh continue to be a center of international learning.
“The world is a global community now, and GU aims to bring the world to campus. The internationalization of the Lehigh campus is an exciting process and we are excited to be a key partner in accomplishing this goal.”
Photo by Li Wang