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A new approach to international experiences for students

Mohamed El-Aasser, Vice President for International Affairs

Over the past two years since the Office of International Affairs was created, we have worked closely with faculty, students, alumni and others to bring Lehigh to the world, and bring the world back to Lehigh.

We set out to create more opportunities for our students to study and work abroad, for our faculty to collaborate with their counterparts overseas, and for students from other countries to come to Lehigh.

One of the best examples of this approach is a program that was just completed over the summer in Indonesia. Partnering with the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia and the University of Michigan, we created an innovative international experience for students and faculty from all three universities.

This “theme-based” approach involved two Lehigh students, two Michigan students, and four students from Universitas Gadjah Mada, as well a faculty member from each institution. As a group, they traveled together to Indonesia, Detroit, and Lehigh over three weeks to explore the complex topic of democracy and religious pluralism in Indonesia and the United States.

They attended seminars and conferences, debated among themselves over meals and in their dorm rooms at night, visited mosques, Buddhist shrines and churches, and learned about the underground railroad that led slaves to freedom, among other activities.

Virtually everything they did revolved around the theme of how religious pluralism and freedom interact in a democratic society.

For a full account of their experiences, read Inside the Indonesia pilot program by Jack Lule, director of the Globalization and Social Change Initiative and the Joseph B. McFadden Distinguished Professor of Journalism, and the two Lehigh students who went on the trip.

The thing we’re especially excited about here is that the Indonesia program serves as a model for a new approach to study abroad, a theme-based approach that can be applied to locations around the globe, from other Southeast Asia countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, China and India to Africa.

It’s important to note that we’re not talking about tourism in another country for our students. The key to this approach, and to everything the Office of International Affairs does, is faculty engagement. As Jack Lule did in the Indonesia program, our faculty—partnering with faculty in other parts of the world—will lead the theme-based activities and discussions. They advise students, they make connections, and they create opportunities.

For example, as a result of connections that Jack Lule made last summer, the Indonesian ambassador to the United States has agreed to come to Lehigh this fall to give a public lecture. Also, the rector of Universitas Gadjah Mada is scheduled to come here to meet with faculty to discuss future collaborations.

As we look to expand these opportunities to more students in more regions of the world, we will continue to draw on the wealth of knowledge and experience that our faculty possess. We also will be seeking alumni who can help us make connections overseas to establish exciting new partnerships.

I would ask each of you to consider joining us in this exciting work of bringing Lehigh to the world, and bringing the world back to Lehigh.

Mohamed El-Aasser
Vice President for International Affairs

Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2011

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