Intellectual Expansion through International Learning

By Penn, Everette B. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, May 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Intellectual Expansion through International Learning


Penn, Everette B., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


I can remember seeing a large paper map of the world in grade school. It showed the United States as a large body of land that seemed to overshadow the entire world. The proud letters U-N-I-T-E-D S-T-A-T-E-S crossed the Appalachian Mountains and stretched to the Rocky Mountains and the California coastline. I had always known there were places such as Mexico, Canada and Europe, but the rest of the world was to me just masses of different colors and odd-sounding names spread around the map.

Africa, for example, was simply a faraway place constantly subjected to wars, famines, disasters and corrupt leadership. I thought then that the world was divided into two types of people: those I knew who lived in two-story houses, celebrated Christmas, wore pants and shirts and ate hamburgers and French fries; and those "other people" who lived

"over there."

It is this social divide that provided the impetus for the Fulbright Scholars program, which was founded in 1946 to build international cooperation and understanding. The program sends about 800 American scholars abroad annually to research and lecture throughout the world. It was as a member of this program that I served as a lecturer in the College of Law at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, during the spring semester of 2005.

During my unofficial ambassadorship to Egypt, I lived among and learned from Arabs, Christians, Egyptians and Muslims as I taught American Criminal Justice. The experience was very enriching for me, since students challenged our nation's criminal justice system practices and issues of race, equality, democracy, imperialism and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

My learning continued outside of the classroom, as I conversed with taxi drivers, shop owners, professionals and everyday Egyptians--all of whom desired dialogue after learning I was an American. I was something of a novelty in Egypt, since many had never talked with an American, much less an African-American. My interactions moved listening to learning and learning to understanding!

I am able to infuse my Fulbright experience into the classroom, campus and community on an almost daily basis. I have organized a course called "Egypt in Transition" which will consist of a 12-day international learning component in Egypt. …

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