The Necessity of Global Perspective
Higher education leaders need to prepare the current generation of college students to thrive in today’s global economy. In order to thrive, these students need to gain a global perspective by making personal connections with students and faculty across national lines.
The current generation of American college students grew up playing with Japanese Pokemon Cards in elementary school; watching Japanese films like “Spirited Away” in middle school; playing video games developed in Japan in high school; and sampling sushi rolls in their cafeterias. But very few have made a substantial personal connection with a Japanese peer.
The trends are concerning: Just 6,000 Americans studied in Japan in 2011-12, the year before President Obama and Prime Minister Abe committed to doubling that number by 2020. Meanwhile, the number of Japanese students studying on American college campuses dropped by half between 1997 and 2012, to just 20,000.
At the University of Virginia, we currently have only five Japanese undergraduates studying toward a B.A. degree (compared with 370 Chinese students and 47 Korean nationals). In a typical year, only one or two Japanese undergraduates come to UVa for a semester or year.
This means our students are missing out on the experience of making personal connections with Japanese students, and vice versa. There is no substitute for genuine personal connections. Once those connections are made, students can sustain them through social media. But meaningful relationships require extended in-person contact in classrooms and in extra-curricular activities.
For students, there is no substitute for living abroad. Living in a foreign setting, students are forced to grapple with the complexities of other cultures — how the customary ways of living and thinking, which they take for granted at home, are very different in other nations.
Gaining a global perspective on the diversity of human experience is vital in the 21st century, when international business, migration, and travel are requiring young people to live and work with people from a variety of different backgrounds.
UVa Efforts to Grow Study Abroad
For the past 15 years, UVa has been working to grow the number of students who spend substantial time overseas through study-abroad. In 2013-14, about 2,000 of our students studied abroad — out of an undergraduate student population of 15,000.
We created “January term” and “May term” study-abroad opportunities in non-traditional destinations, including India and China, and we are now establishing fall and spring programs there. We’ve also developed summer programs in rural South Africa.
As a result of these and other efforts, this year UVa received a 2015 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. We are one of only five institutions in the U.S. to win the award this year.
Our efforts to boost the number of students traveling to Japan have focused on a consortium program with top American universities in Kyoto, and exchange agreements with several universities, including Waseda and Sophia.
We hope to integrate study-abroad in Japan and other nations into UVa’s curriculum more explicitly, including at the “general education” level. CULCON member and UVa Professor Len Schoppa has developed a plan to do this with a cohort of 20 students, starting next fall.
In their first semester, these students will take a course that will compare U.S. society with Japanese society, Spanish society, and others. Then they will spend the fall term of their second year living in Japan or Spain.
For these students, this will be an excellent first step in their journey to becoming true global citizens, and we hope to create similar programs that will equip students with a global perspective.
Let me close by encouraging all of you to encourage students in Japan to come to UVa and to other universities in the U.S. We welcome them, and our American students can benefit greatly from connecting with them on a personal level and learning from them.