A Renewed Interest: The Sep. 11 Terrorist Attacks Have Piqued an Interest among College Students and Faculty about Other Nations and Cultures. (Special Report: International Education)

By Lum, Lydia | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Renewed Interest: The Sep. 11 Terrorist Attacks Have Piqued an Interest among College Students and Faculty about Other Nations and Cultures. (Special Report: International Education)


Lum, Lydia, Black Issues in Higher Education


Perhaps surprisingly, eight months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, college students nationally seem more interested than ever in overseas study. At colleges large and small, public and private, educators eagerly welcome the heightened interest. Many had feared collapse of study abroad programs as images of hijacked airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon played constantly on TV. Educators braced themselves for students already overseas clamoring to come home, as well as students here withdrawing their applications or not bothering to apply. And in fact, some educators saw a small drop in U.S. students going abroad for the current spring semester.

However, those involved in international education now say they are swamped with applications and inquiries for study abroad programs for this summer and fall semester. Nationally, statistics won't be available until the fall, but "at worst, we're holding steady, and at best, we're rising," says Dr. Victor Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.

Why? Doesn't the specter of uncertainty, that life can end amid hatred and instantaneous violence, deter students from venturing past this nation's borders?

Johnson and others say no. In fact, the terrorist attacks have, if anything, sparked an intellectual curiosity among college students about other nations and cultures, other people and their beliefs.

"Students wonder what is the perception of us abroad," says Connie Perdreau, former NAFSA president and director of the Office of Education Abroad at Ohio University. "They wonder how they can learn more about global politics. They want to know why we were attacked on Sept. 11. And in some cases they wonder, where is Afghanistan?" At Perdreau's school, 463 students are now overseas, marking a 39 percent jump from a year ago. And higher education institutions around Ohio have seen similar increases, Perdreau says.

That has been echoed around the country, says Hey-Kyung Koh, program officer of the higher education resource group of the Institute of International Education (IIE). "The events of Sept. 11 were certainly horrible events, but those events actually piqued interest among college students, and in that way, had a positive effect among students," says Koh, editor of the IIE Open Doors report, a statistical analysis of the field. "Whey now know they cannot live in an isolated world."

This fall at Michigan State University, for instance, officials expect to at least match, and possibly top, the 2,000 students studying abroad during the 2000-2001 academic year, says Kathleen Fairfax, director of MSU's Office of Study Abroad. MSU is considered one of the leaders nationally among large, public institutions sending students to foreign countries. "We now send four times what we did a decade ago," she says.

Meanwhile, at Iowa's private Grinnell College, near Des Moines, a record 250 applications already have been approved for students to go abroad this fall, says Richard Bright, director of Off-Campus Study. Grinnell enrolls about 1,300 students. At least half of its sophomores study overseas. "I think students see home as not necessarily the safest place to be," Bright says. "They're not so anxious to stick close to home."

Furthermore, faculty seem just as eager to travel abroad, experts say. For instance, 11 faculty members attended a seminar in southern India earlier this semester, despite publicity over the slaying of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, says Karen Jenkins, president of Brethren Colleges Abroad, a secular provider of international education programs and activities. That reassures educators because a lack of faculty support could surely sound a death knell for these programs.

"There has been a renewed commitment by faculty stressing the importance of global education," Jenkins says. …

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