WE DOUBT THAT THE Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan and its capital city, Bishkek, come readily to mind when educators consider learning opportunities for their students and faculty that stretch the boundaries of conventional international education. This fact notwithstanding, we decided to focus in this month's column on a particular educational institution that, for all its uniqueness, is representative of the broad range of programs available to students and faculty in the less traditional regions of the world. The senior Greene author serves as a trustee of the American University of Central Asia and thus has a pretty fair idea of the programs and the people that make this developing institution of higher education a marvelous learning environment both for the peoples of its region and for Americans who want an out-of-the-box international experience.
FRESH WINDOW OF LEARNING
In our dialogue with ever growing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students regarding their desire to experience a world beyond their immediate college or university, we find many of them aware of the expanding nontraditional (by Westerners' perspective) countries and cultures that are of future importance economically and politically as, in the terminology of Thomas Friedman, the world becomes increasingly flat. Rather than study Romance languages or the art and culture of the traditionally popular European countries, many thoughtful and adventurous individuals are seeking an experience in emerging nations and non-Western cultures. Such opportunities are broadening the base of the types of students who wish to pursue an international experience, particularly those with an interest in Asian studies, international relations, business and economics, and teaching. At present, only some 200,000 American college students choose to study abroad--not an impressive figure given the overall student population of more than 16 million. The American University of Central Asia serves as one model of what can be a fresh window of learning for your students and faculty. Let us use this young and growing institution as a model for thinking creatively about international programs that could be developed for your community.
AUCA is an independent, undergraduate college created on the model of the classic American liberal arts curriculum with generous support from individual donors in the United States and several of the Central Asian nations, the Open Society Institute, and the State Department. The establishment of this kind of an educational institution of higher learning in the midst of a geographically vast, sparsely populated region that is thousands of miles from its intellectual antecedents in Europe and North America may at first glance appear to be a fool's errand on the part of a small band of educators and internationalists. However, as one studies the history of the region, keeping in mind the shrinking of our international social, political, and economic boundaries, one sees that the development of such a college is anything but quixotic.
With a population that is 75 percent Muslim and 20 percent Russian Orthodox, Kyrgyzstan's neighbors include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. The present enrollment of some 1,300 students represents 25 different nations, while the 130 faculty members represent 14 countries. Among the languages taught are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Kyrgyz, Russian, and Turkish. One small educational community could not possibly reflect any greater ethnic and cultural diversity. With emerging economies based on great natural resources in the region, a tradition of political tolerance, an ancient history of trade and commerce along the fabled Silk Road, and an important political and economic role in the region that has developed over time, the small nation of Kyrgyzstan is a marvelous site for a college that stands for a high standard of intellectual development, open dialogue, and democratic values. …