By Sharon Adasme
Sixteen years ago, the American Council on Education published “Beyond September 11: A Comprehensive National Policy on International Education,” outlining the growing need for international and foreign involvement and study, heightening citizen knowledge, and forming plans and strategies to help accomplish set goals. It highlights the need to have “global competence” then and especially now.
“Like the challenge of Sputnik in 1957, the attacks of September 11 have brought America’s international preparedness to a crossroads. The global transformations of the last decade have created an unparalleled need in the United States for expanded international knowledge and skills. But the nation is unready. And our future success or failure in international endeavors will rely almost entirely on the global competence of our people.”
As the pendulum of foreign engagement swings back, the United States presidential administration looks in a different direction. However, Muscatine’s Stanley Foundation CEO Keith Porter, as well as foreign language teachers and international advocates work to foster deeper multicultural understanding. At a time when terrorist attacks rule the news and foreign language/study abroad programs dwindle, Muscatine has many advocates pushing for international involvement.
‘Walking into a headwind’
Claude ‘Max’ Stanley, the late founder of the Stanley Foundation in Muscatine, believed that “the world’s problems could only be solved by working together,” Porter said. “The U.S. can set the tone. Sometimes we are a real leader. But there are times when the U.S. is not as engaged. That doesn’t change the fact that you need to be multilateral.”
Porter laments rhetoric of the Trump administration that he said feels like a low point in U.S. foreign involvement. “But,” said Porter, “if the U.S. isn’t engaged, it’s like walking into a headwind — it’s harder, but it’s possible.”
For example, the United States in 2015, along with 195 countries, signed the Paris Agreement, a global climate change initiative to “promote international cooperation to keep global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius pre-industrial era,” said Porter. “It’s easier to do the work when the executive branch is working alongside us.”
Two years later, the Trump administration withdrew.
The good news, said Porter, is that being multilateral provides support and assistance outside of the United States’ executive administration. Representatives from California gathered in Bonn, Germany, Nov. 6-17, 2017, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Other nations bond together also to help change the world for the better, whether the executive branch reflects that or not.
The United States hasn’t always been so withdrawn in foreign affairs. The U.S formed the United Nations Oct. 24, 1945. “The U.S. saw huge value in global stability. The U.N. headquarters is in New York. It’s sad and surprising to see the U.S. walking away from an international system we created,” Porter said.
Deb Paulsen works within that created system. She teaches French at Muscatine High School, and feels the benefits and struggles of foreign language and travel. She said that foreign language and study abroad is always important. “Different is not good or bad. Don’t make that judgment call. Learn to appreciate it. Practice comes from perspective.”
She worries fewer students will get that practice.
“It’s not easy to find teachers these days,” she said. With a loss of foreign language teachers, it complicates the foreign education system. Then fewer classes remain to teach, with not enough funds.
She said students need exposure to foreign languages and cultures.
“Culture allows learning the language to open up different ways to think.” Paulsen said it is easier to explain the intricacies of a different culture when personal experiences can be shared. Textbooks can help this as well, giving insight to various countries. That can help students learn the language when they understand the culture behind it.
To strengthen and solidify what students were learning in class, Paulsen began taking groups of students to France every other spring break. “These trips are good because it involves a home stay,” she said. She wanted students to see the French “life from the inside out.” She would lead the group, and stay in four to five different French homes, then tour Paris. “I became the tour guide,” she said.
Regrettably, she said this will be her final trip of that sort.
“To be honest, I’m getting older. I’m the only French teacher,” she said. She also can’t ignore terrorist threats. “I don’t want to take them into danger.”
“The danger took the fun out.”
Consequently, students are losing their, “chance for a different perspective. It helps you appreciate the good things you have. We’re not ethnocentric. Others just need to look around.”
Paulsen has traveled to many countries in Europe and speaks fluent French and German. She also studied Latin for language theory in linguistics classes. She said, “Travel and language helps get different views of the world. We’re not the best, not the worst. We’re not wrong, not right. We’re just different. You can appreciate the perspective, then choose to agree or not.”
Paulsen is not alone in feeling like she is fighting against that headwind.
“The number of language enrollments in higher education in the U.S. declined by more than 111,000 spots between 2009 and 2013—the first drop since 1995,” according to a story in The Atlantic about the Modern Language Association’s 2013 study, “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education.”
The story concludes that only 7 percent of college students in America are enrolled in a language course.
‘Looking past what’s outside your window’
Muscatine Community College President Naomi DeWinter’s international engagement began in early childhood. When she was six, her father took the family to Germany. He would be teaching art at a military base to children of those stationed in Germany. DeWinter’s father thought it would be good if one of his kids learned German.
DeWinter was the youngest of five. She was selected to go to the German elementary school across the street.
Looking back, DeWinter said her father had created a social experiment to see how long it would take a non-native to speak German like a native. She said it took her until seventh or eighth grade to, “really have a command of the language.” DeWinter only spoke German at school or with her school friends. At home, it was back to English and her mother’s native language, Japanese.
“Dad was always adventurous,” said DeWinter. He was always getting lost, and needing to ask people for directions. DeWinter’s new language skills were critical, “because I was the only one who spoke German,” she said.
DeWinter said traveling outside the United States, “really influenced what I thought I wanted to be, in diplomatic relations.” She finished the 13 years of German school and graduated from high school at age 19. She wanted to play tennis for a university, but German colleges have no sports, so she decided to come back to the United States.
“It took a while to transition back to here,” she said. “I’m an American, but I didn’t feel like I belonged.” DeWinter’s parents stayed in Germany. She said she would “go home to Germany for Christmas and summers.” She would tell her tennis friends at school about her experiences, trying to give them a small taste of internationalism and world travel. Sharing the German culture and language through personal stories was one way DeWinter felt she could spread the love she had for learning languages and exploring the world.
Today, she said she and her husband, Steve, “share a desire for travel, looking past what is outside your window.” Their travels have included Japan, Germany, Israel, and Canada. Steve “speaks a little bit of Spanish, but I can’t verify that,” she said, laughing.
DeWinter said, “I love languages. Just trying to learn with or from someone from a different country is a beautiful thing.”
DeWinter introduced a six week, no-credit class in Chinese.
“It was a dud.” She said it never took, but she hopes to try again.
She and her family have hosted the Chinese orchestra members who have come the last two years in February to perform. She said the Chinese orchestra requests home stays, just like Paulsen with her French students, to see what American life is like from the inside out.
“It gives them, I think, a window to an American life to show both sides. We’re actually the same. All raising families, navigating the world.”
Porter, of the Stanley “I love languages. Just trying to learn with or from someone from a different country is a beautiful thing.” “I love languages. Just trying to learn with or from someone from a different country is a beautiful thing.” Foundation, also has traveled and navigated around the world, and loves to share those experiences with others.
“I love the place I’m from. Travelling gives me new appreciation for the blessings in my life. It reminds me that everyone has a place they’re from and love,” he said.
Traveling and studying abroad, “deepens the understanding of connections we have in the world. It deepens our appreciation of common interests in humanity,” he said.
Sister City International board member and president of the Muscatine Sister City club, John Dabeet had some fond recollections of his travels abroad. “You know, when you travel, you learn more about yourself and your country. Every country adds to you – a citizen diplomat. We’re all people, all human beings. Sometimes we lack that understanding.”
Additionally, Mike Ruby, Rotary International District 6000 governor, said, “We have hosted in our home dozens of people from different cultures including an exchange student from Thailand for a semester. Some of our guests could not speak a word of English, so we communicated through apps on our phones. But the universal language that everyone can understand are smiles, handshakes, hugs, and an invitation to sit down and enjoy a meal together.” Ruby said these experiences, “have broadened my life considerably and made me a much better, more understanding world citizen.”
One of Porter’s favorite quotes is by Liz Shropshire, whose Shropshire Foundation launched a Kosovo-Muscatine music exchange program in 2004. She said, “The biggest lie in the world is that there is an ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The truth is there is only ‘us.’”
From global to individual
Researcher Mark H. Salisbury found that a single class or overseas experience is insufficient. He has written over 20 materials covering topics of international study, study abroad programs, as well as diversity, educational experiences, and intercultural effectiveness of post-secondary education institutions. He also received the Harold Josephson Award for Professional Promise in International Education by the Association of International Education Administration.
Salisbury titled his doctoral dissertation, “The Effect of Study Abroad on Intercultural Competence Among Undergraduate College Students.”
“My original interest in examining study abroad came from listening to the rhetoric used by study abroad folks and then comparing it with the actual practices and learning outcomes of study abroad.”
He said those two things didn’t mesh. His research on study abroad programs and outcomes focuses “first on the learning that we want to occur in students before we start developing all sorts of fancy programs and experiences that we think students should do because they sound cool.”
Now, Salisbury is Assistant Dean and Director of Institutional Research and Assessment at Augustana College. “In my experience, students will get involved in internationally related issues to the degree that they see those issues affecting them at home.”
Porter said, “You may not care about Syrian refugees. But the problems are not just for the neighboring countries, but for the world.
“It can seriously destabilize the affected government,” he said. From one small country, the population in surrounding nations grows too much for the people to handle. That leaves big world implications.
“People who can’t get that much empathy need to at least have their own interests at heart,” said Porter.
“Part of what we have to do is convince people that global cooperation is good for them,” said Porter. For example, he mentioned the international postal system. A group of people had to figure out the cost of letters and packages as they cross international borders, who receives the money from those fees and how the system can smoothly run so someone in Boone, Iowa, can send a letter to Toulouse, France, and know that somehow it will get there.
“They all abide because they want this work,” Porter said. “Someone had to run the system to make that all work.”
Postal services, international telecommunications, trade, airports, etc., all work together with various international entities to help make life better for global citizens. Study abroad programs begin the process, but it’s not enough.
Salisbury said, “Ultimately, I think study abroad can be a useful learning experience but only if it is combined with other experiences before and after studying abroad. Otherwise, it tends to end up being a single experience that can fade into the background over time without a long term impact.”
How to get involved
Many organizations and clubs exist to assist further foreign engagement or international understanding. Rotary, Kiwanis, Sister Cities are all organizations geared for helping the world come together in a more intimate and personal way. Besides just giving financial assistance to any of these clubs/organizations, those wishing to get involved can go to the meetings, participate in events or service activities presented in the area, take a foreign exchange student home, or apply to become a foreign exchange participant. There are many ways to help and get involved.
For those with the desire and means, the foreign language classes EICC will offer during the spring semester of 2018 are elementary French I and II, German I and II, and multiple elementary Spanish I and II courses online, with Spanish I and II offered on campus at MCC. Intermediate Spanish I and II classes will be offered online as well on campus at Scott Community College. Programs such as Rosetta Stone or Duolingo can be beneficial for those without the means to enroll in college classes. Even learning a second language can give some insight into the struggles of language barrier that some bring to the United States.
Muscatine Rotary Club
President: Erika Cox
Meetings: Mondays at noon at the Rendezvous, 3127 Lucas St., Muscatine, IA 52761
Muscatine Sister Cities
President: John Dabeet
Muscatine Kiwanis Club
President: Clair Penner
Meetings: Tuesdays at noon at the First Presbyterian Church, 401 Iowa Ave, Muscatine, IA 52761