How an International Approach Can Help Your Degree [US News & World Reports]

by Diane Cole, U.S. News and World Report
Posted March 26, 2008

Graduate schools are going global—that is, if they haven’t done so already. These days, not only do students from around the world come to the United States for grad school (numbers have rebounded since 9/11). American students themselves are increasingly searching out research opportunities abroad—and using the experience to compete for jobs both in and out of academe. Maresi Nerad, director of the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education at the University of Washington, says it’s a two-way street: “Our social and environmental problems do not know national boundaries.” And more graduate programs reflect that.

Amandeep Sandhu, for instance, who is completing a Ph.D. in sociology with an emphasis on global studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is writing his dissertation on the impact on workers in India of outsourcing by U.S. companies. As part of his research, he observed workers at a call center in Bangalore and shared a house with them. Listening to the complaints of the desperate American callers who had maxed out on their credit and then seeing the effect on the stressed-out call-center workers gave Sandhu a double perspective on a social, cultural, and economic phenomenon that cuts across continents. “Exposure to globalization should not be abstract,” he says. “Going overseas and living and experiencing another culture makes it reality.”

Vive la différence. As at UCSB, graduate programs are increasingly offering majors or minors in global studies, sometimes within individual departments and often through interdisciplinary centers. They include schools both public and private: Rutgers, Arizona State, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Carolina, for instance, as well as Yale, Washington University, Northwestern, and others.

Twenty-nine percent of U.S. graduate schools have dual or joint degree programs with international universities; additionally, 24 percent plan to establish new programs over the next two years, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. To facilitate international collaboration, the council convened a conference last fall with representatives from the United States, Canada, Europe, China, and Australia. Such programs provide crucial preparation for a world that “requires new ways of sustaining international relationships,” says the council’s president, Debra Stewart.Given the interest, perhaps it’s no wonder that the Modern Language Association reports that the number of graduate students enrolled in language courses jumped from 36,715 in 2002 to 40,970 in 2006, with Arabic, Middle Eastern languages, and Asian languages showing the greatest increase. UCSB’s Sandhu, for instance, spent a year in Cairo learning Arabic. And because individual languages (including English) are spoken in many different countries, the MLA is also encouraging language departments to broaden their scope to incorporate cultural components that go beyond language instruction alone.

Although an awareness of global and international issues “was already there pre-9/11, that certainly encouraged interest” in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies as well as religion and politics, says Mark Juergensmeyer, director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies and professor of sociology and global studies at UCSB. At the same time, he says, “students travel and study abroad; they see themselves as living in a global environment; and they see themselves as global citizens, so this kind of graduate work makes sense to them.”

Indeed, “whether you’re in environmental science or political science or any other field, the feeling is that you have to be aware of the world,” says Gary Rhodes, director for the Center for Global Education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. LMU, for example, offers M.A. candidates in marital and family therapy a summer program in Mexico. Both U.S. and Mexican students participate. As well as earning credit in art therapy courses, they learn about each other’s language and culture.

On location. Even English departments and American studies programs have grown increasingly international in focus, and so have history, film, and media studies, says David Marshall, dean of humanities and fine arts at UCSB. In a multicultural country and world, all these fields benefit from international perspectives, he says. In fact, this approach comes naturally to the humanities, he believes, because so much of that discipline “is based on the study of different languages, literatures, and cultures.” In the social sciences, says UCSB Social Sciences Dean Melvin Oliver, there is a similar drive to understand how religious, ethnic, racial, political, and national identities transcend borders.

In addition to allowing candidates in individual disciplines to graduate with an emphasis in global studies, UCSB offers a two-year master’s that prepares students for careers in the global nonprofit or government sectors. When she receives her degree this spring, Flora Ferati, originally from Kosovo, will look for a position with an organization working toward conflict resolution and human-rights protection. Eddie Saade, also in his second year, is interested in bloggers in the Middle East.

The program, with students with differing concerns from all over the world, is itself a model for cooperation, he finds. “We all support rather than compete with or undercut each other. We ask questions, share information, and help each other,” he says. Could there be a better goal for global education?