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Provoking a new world view

Global Citizenship students pose for a group portrait in Chile.

The students are ushered into the dining area of a small home. In the corner is a puppy, contained in his crate.

Their host encourages the students to make themselves comfortable while he prepares dinner, then leads the puppy into the kitchen with him. Later, he will reappear, bearing a large serving dish piled high with roasted meat still attached to racks of ribs. His apron is covered in blood.

"Come, sit and eat," he implores warmly. "I will be insulted if you don't."

The students eye each other warily before their discomfort is ended by the sharp blast of an alarm, which signals their progression to the next venue.

Fortunately for the mortified students, the awkward social scene was merely an exercise designed by the directors of Lehigh's Global Citizenship program to prepare students for international travel and cross-cultural exchanges. Student actors played the roles of foreign citizens, immigration officials, soldiers, and even suicide bombers to immerse the students into unfamiliar and extraordinarily stressful, albeit unlikely, situations.

"It was designed to be perhaps a shocking and eye-opening experience," admits Magdalena Grudzinski-Hall, program development officer for the Global Citizenship program. "We want the students to realize that traveling abroad, experiencing different cultures, and interacting with individuals not living in the United States will inevitably provoke them to view the world around them through different eyes."

The four-year, university-wide program that debuted in 2004 is just one in a series of initiatives implemented by Lehigh over the past few years to expand its global reach and prepare its students for the expansive, cross-cultural opportunities they're likely to encounter in the future.

In the past, being considered a "global university" meant hosting exchange students on Lehigh's Bethlehem campus, or supporting the increasingly common study-abroad experience late in a student's undergraduate career.

Now, administrators and professors point out, Lehigh students can avail themselves of travel opportunities as early as their first university year, participate in a Martindale Scholars program that affords one-on-one access to the most powerful leaders in the world, intern with major international consulting firms during a summer in Prague, take advantage of Lehigh's rare non-governmental organization (NGO) status with the United Nations to interact with foreign leaders and dignitaries (see sidebar on p.30), and gain insight into global solutions for worldwide problems through cross-disciplinary programs that expand and inform the concept of evolving into a global citizen.

"That doesn't just refer to someone who is comfortable traveling around the world, or someone who is knowledgeable about non-U.S. cultures and languages," says Hannah Stewart-Gambino, political science professor and director of Lehigh's Global Citizenship program.

"Lehigh developed and implemented a Global Citizenship program that was founded on the belief that students need to examine their roles as citizens in today's rapidly changing world. From the beginning, the program's primary emphasis was on giving students the perspective necessary to develop their own agency as responsible actors in the world, not just as observers or consumers of the trends of globalization."

Lehigh's Global Citizenship program, which is open to students from any discipline, enables students to begin their university career with a writing-intensive, experiential first year that combines classroom reflection with an inter-semester trip to another country with a Lehigh faculty expert, Stewart-Gambino says.

The inaugural class visited Hong Kong and Chile during the holiday break in the middle of the '04/'05 academic year. This December and January, students traveled to Shanghai and Prague.

"Through these experiences," Stewart-Gambino says, "we've found that students learn, as early as their first year on campus, that literally engaging in another culture and viscerally experiencing the differences lights that spark of curiosity and discovery, and encourages them to think more deliberately about their role in the world."

Brad White '08, in Hong Kong.

She offers the examples of two first-year Global Citizenship students: Brad White, a business major who made a pivotal decision about his academic career after his trip to Hong Kong; and Meredith Aach, who is exploring international intern possibilities after her trip to Chile.

"Before I came to Lehigh," says Aach, "I had no idea what I wanted to do in the future. But after going to Chile during the winter break, I knew that I wanted to work internationally. Listening to the struggles so many have to endure has made me want to work in the area of human development, which is why I'm trying to pursue a double major in international relations and anthropology."

Convinced that she's discovered a higher purpose in life, Aach says that she's realized that "making tons of money and working for a huge corporation was not on the list of priorities for the future," and adds that her Global Citizenship experience "really was an eye-opener to the world beyond our borders."

For White, his trip to Hong Kong helped solidify a career goal to live and work in Asia in the field of international trade.

"The trip and this whole program changed me as a person," White says. "I find that I'm looking at issues from a different perspective, and thinking about how the world is affected. I'm questioning opinions and statements that I hear on TV more than ever before. I'm able to think and make decisions not simply based on my culture and its needs, but the needs and impacts of my decision on the rest of the world."

Aach and White's evolution, and that of their fellow Global Citizenship classmates, comes as no surprise to Stewart-Gambino.

"These experiences do change people," Stewart-Gambino says. "As they examine their stance in relation to the differences, they find themselves on a deeper, richer path through their college years and beyond."

It is a concept that is not foreign to generations of students at Lehigh, who have long enjoyed international travel and academic opportunities, such as the Martindale Scholars program.

Since 1980, that program has enabled a select group of juniors and seniors to explore business and economic issues in foreign countries over the course of an intensive, 10-day trip. Students meet and interview business and government leaders and other policymakers in countries such as France, Italy, Germany, England, the Czech Republic, Chile, Austria, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, and Ireland.

Upon their return, the students spend their senior year researching and writing about business or economic issues related to the country, with the final pieces being published annually in Perspectives on Business and Economics. The undergraduate journal -- believed to be one of the few in the country -- is distributed to more than 1,500 decision makers throughout the world.

"The Martindale program is one of our polished gems," says Gregory Farrington, Lehigh president. "If the Martindale program didn't exist, we'd have to work very hard to create it."

Other globally oriented Lehigh programs include the Tauck Scholarship program, which offers business students international intern opportunities, and the College of Business and Economics (CBE) Lehigh in Prague program, which has been providing unparalleled academic and cultural experiences for more than a hundred undergraduate students each summer since 1994.

"The students who take this program come away with a much deeper understanding of international business concepts and a greater understanding of cultural differences as well," says Art King, professor of economics and director of the Lehigh in Prague program. "It really is an expansive learning experience on many different levels."

For the past nine years, Lehigh has also sponsored the summer Global Village program, which brings nearly 100 inerns from around the world to Lehigh to train for international careers in business and industry and interact with Lehigh students. Since 1997, the program conducted by the CBE's Iacocca Institute has been attended by almost 750 students from 95 countries.

By working together, the students are forced to confront their different cultural attitudes toward work, says Dick Brandt, director of the Iacocca Institute. From these experiences, they learn to navigate cross-cultural differences and overcome difficulties that arise from working in an international market.

"We want students to really, sincerely experience getting work done with people who are different from themselves," Brandt says. "They get along famously in the classroom and social programs, but when they work, they work in the way their culture dictates."

Such experiences not only contribute to a changing culture at the university, but attract a more sophisticated, internationally conscious student, says Mary Nicholas, professor and chair of the department of modern languages.

"Students often arrive here wanting to study their third and fourth languages," she says. "In terms of both language skills and that sense of personal curiosity, we're seeing students better prepared than ever before."

Nicholas notes that "teaching these kids about the world, exposing them to different cultures, broadening their perspectives beyond the narrow, the superficial, or the jingoistic worldview might be like dropping a grain of sand in the ocean in the respect that it's barely perceptible.

"But," she adds, "it just might be the grain of sand that's needed to start them on a completely different journey in life."

For more on the Lehigh/U.N. Partnership, read A seat at the U.N.

--Linda Harbrecht

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Winter 2006

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2006

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