Letter to the editor: International Degree essential for adding to overall global experiences

Paul Primak

Annika Heramb’s guest viewpoint raises some excellent points about acquiring an international perspective and becoming a “global citizen.” While I find much to agree with in her viewpoint, I feel compelled to identify an overlooked point and add background that may not be obvious to some readers.

Ms. Heramb’s assertion that a student cannot be a global citizen merely by taking classes is absolutely correct. Her suggestions to become involved with international students, seek opportunities to read literature and see movies from other cultures, and participate in international student cultural events are all worthy endeavors. Her assertion that an extended international experience, living among locals, is essential to understanding another culture is also laudable.

The point missing in her perspective is that the International Degree provides the opportunity to synthesize an academic foundation, an experiential component, and a guided research thesis. This is the true beauty of the International Degree; the exploration of the international dimension of the student’s major, the experience of living in another culture, and the integration and application of those skills and experiences through a research thesis. Why the current administration at Oregon State University would seek to diminish or even eliminate this creative and rigorous model is beyond me and many others who have seen the incredible results this program produces. The minor investment it takes to support a part-time faculty thesis advisor yields significant dividends.

Learning abroad is a life changing experience, though not without its challenges. Therefore, preparation for living, studying, or interning abroad is necessary through language and culture courses, courses on intercultural communication and observation. Recent research also shows that an opportunity to reflect on the experience is also vital for maximum added value.

Internationalizing a university means different things to different people. It is not just how many international students are on the campus; it is not based just on the number of students who go abroad; and it is not just about the number of culturally-focused classes are available. It is each of those things though much, much more.

Internationalization is an institutional commitment to provide the resources and support that encourage students to gain an understanding of other cultures and to develop the skills and experiences that will make them functional and comfortable in today’s global society and marketplace. This is what the International Degree does in spades. Its proposed diminution or elimination removes a golden opportunity for OSU students and faculty. And while the International Degree is not the only path to gaining an international perspective, it sets the gold standard for integrating the academic, experiential and personal learning that is worth keeping and enhancing. The ID is an elegant path forward and OSU is fortunate to have it as a curricular option.

Paul Primak worked in international education for 34 years, 21 of those at OSU.