Guest Blog: Dr. Laura Thomason on International Education Week

International Education Week 2015: Access for All by Dr. Laura E. Thomason, Interim Director of International Programs

When President Blake agreed that I should guest-post on his blog for International Education Week, none of us anticipated the horrific events in Paris on November 13. As a lifelong Francophile who has been privileged to visit Paris several times and lead study abroad groups there the past three years, I feel affected both personally and professionally by this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers remain with my friends and colleagues in that great city.

Today, we may feel uncertain about the significance of the November 13 attacks and their meaning for international education. Hopefully we can be reminded of the ways in which internationalization creates a more positive and peaceful world, characterized by the search for mutual understanding and the free exchange of ideas. As a university, Middle Georgia State is ideally positioned to participate in those activities. International education expert John K. Hudzik explains, “The business of universities is ideas: the creation of ideas through research and the dissemination of ideas through education and application. Increasingly, the business of universities is as much across as it is within borders, and not just in the free flow of ideas but in the global flow of students and scholars who generate them.” That flow of ideas and people seems more important and valuable than ever. A recent and surprising survey of study abroad returnees found that studying abroad decreases xenophobia but also increases patriotism, producing what the study’s author called “‘enlightened nationalism”—a sharper sense of national difference, and pride in that difference, tempered by tolerance and the realization that such differences need not be threatening. Understanding difference without fearing it is a powerful application of the critical thinking skills that MGA aims to foster in all of our students.

MGA has a history of outstanding individual efforts in international education, with Fulbright recipients and study abroad trip leaders among our faculty, and increasing numbers of international students and study abroad participants among our student body. Now, we have an opportunity to consolidate those individual efforts into a comprehensive plan and thereby join a growing national trend toward internationalization. In the coming weeks and months we expect to announce expanding opportunities for MGA students to study abroad, starting with a new agreement with the System Council on International Education’s Asia Council. This agreement, signed last week, will allow MGA students to participate on University System of Georgia-led study trips to Zhengzhou, China and to Osaka, Japan without requiring transient enrollment or transfer of credits. Our agreement with University of Northampton in the U.K. is also ongoing as we work to build short- and long-term exchange opportunities for both students and faculty. Our goal is to provide the “Access for All” that this International Education Week celebrates: each student and faculty member should have access to an international experience, whether on our campuses, online, or overseas.

Therefore, despite the uncertainties of the present moment, I am happy and proud to join in celebrating International Education Week. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this week is “an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education is part of our efforts to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.” Our globalized world is growing in complexity and challenges, as we have just been reminded. While our hearts go out to the people of Paris, let us at MGA continue to build access to international programs so that we can build not only a better local community but also a better world.