"Never before have individual histories (because of their necessary relations with space, image and consumption) been so deeply entangled with general history." —Marc Augé (2010, 119)
"To see beyond, to see what might be, moves the seer to action. Imagination unloosed has a spreading effect; there is an excitement of possibility." —Patricia F. Carini (2010, 107)
Augé's trope of entanglement aptly describes our historical moment, where our daily personal and professional lives are deeply entangled with the lives of others. We are bombarded by information, with nearly instant access to stories and images and events from around the globe, relayed by satellites or transmitted by digital technologies. And we ourselves are often on the move—in transit, out of place—as students abroad, as tourists, as immigrants, as refugees and asylum seekers, as soldiers, and as global professionals.
There is so much to know (lesson of things)—so much to make sense of (lesson of grammar).
As a rhetoric scholar, I see this broadly as the challenge of "reading the world": reading places, texts, problems, images, events, others, and claims, not just as comprehension, but as understanding, as securing and expanding a sense of self and world, as imagination unloosed.
The challenge facing higher education is to teach toward a global imagination, and to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and disposition to become socially and professionally responsible leaders and professionals in an ever-increasingly globally interconnected world. Ambitious goals for our students include:
|global analytic—deepening the often (perhaps inevitably) interdisciplinary ability to see patterns and find connections among seeming disparate events, ideas, concepts, histories, and geographies;|
|global socialities—seeking out the opportunity and the pleasure (as well as the struggle) of collaborating with—in lots of ways—through social media, international initiatives and projects, global activism, art, friendships, and shared commitments;|
|global desire—nurturing the habit of paying attention and feeling connected to what is happening in this large, complicated, and definitely entangled world—and finding ways to act in it.|
As Stephen Kuusisto, the director of the Renée Crown Honors Program at Syracuse University, wrote in a recent newsletter:
We are living in the most remarkable period of intellectual discovery in history. We now have the opportunity to rid the Earth of malaria. We have the means to bring clean water to the poorest regions of the world. The advent of post-molecular medicine means that the cure for genetically caused blindness is at hand. We can imagine forms of entrepreneurship that are centered on sustainability. Our cultural imaginations are opened by the global village and the digital revolution. (2012)
Study abroad has always been about field study, the importance of going to other parts of the world and experiencing other languages, cultures, histories. A student might go to Florence to become fluent in Italian, to study the great masterpieces of the Renaissance, to become immersed in Italian food and culture. Syracuse University was one of the first, sending students there by boat in 1959 to study language and culture. Some of those students decided to live in Italy, as a result of that experience and that love of Italy.
Those are still important goals and outcomes, but they are now recast within the frame of global interconnectivity. We all now live and work within a complex, highly interactive, and technologically mediated transnational world, and many students will (continue to) have globally mobile lives. Many students studying abroad are themselves international. Many are connected globally, through Korean hip hop or Japanese anime or global social activism. Through study abroad we are furthering those connections by deepening their desire and ability to navigate new landscapes and languages, to make friends, to get to know a place, to travel on their own, to pursue professional goals in other national contexts through internships and projects and entrepreneurial activities. We are addressing urgent global issues from regional and activist perspectives.
In Florence, for example, Syracuse University Abroad has created a cluster of courses and experiential learning opportunities that are focused on sustainability education, inviting students to imagine the world and their relationship to it differently by learning to improve human well-being while preserving the life support systems of the planet. Students work in our edible gardens and use what is grown there to teach Italian language and Tuscan cooking to members of the immigrant communities in Florence. They participate in a 10-day traveling seminar on sustainable urbanism called Eco-City Europe: New Lifestyles for Old Cities.
And we have a program in Central Europe, which focuses on the culture and politics of reconciliation. Students live in Wroclaw, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany), and travel to Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Auschwitz, Krakow, Warsaw, Sejny, and Vilnius—rapidly transforming urban laboratories for understanding the history, processes, and struggles of reconciliation. They visit the Borderland Foundation in Sejny, for example, which works to research, revive, and nurture the cultural diversity of the Eastern borderlands of Poland that was nearly destroyed by two world wars. It now serves as a model for cross-cultural dialogue in regions of ethnic tension worldwide. Students produce an action research blog throughout the semester, aimed at transforming knowledge into social action (http://urbanlabsce.eu/).
Our students, in the course of their professional careers, will be called upon to create and sustain ethical and productive relationships across lines of difference, often in situations where complex histories and identities cannot be ignored, where there are deep differences, stubborn and seemingly intractable problems, as well as other ways of being and of being in community. Even if they never leave the United States, these students will have to understand international viewpoints and values, recognize and appreciate cultural difference, and work well with people from different countries and cultures. Study abroad furthers their capacities as global professionals. It is incumbent upon us, as educators, to give students the tools and opportunities they will need to succeed in this global world.
The transnational engagement projects described in this issue's case studies demonstrate how to further students' global analyticity, sociality, and desire through community-based design projects. It's still important to do field study—in Brazil; in Ghana; in Harlan, Kentucky; and in the Hongkou district of Shanghai. It's also important to have a project to do there that requires authentic interaction with the communities in those sites, that amplifies the knowledge and ingenuity of those communities, and that challenges given professional paradigms and practices. And it's very important to arrive there not as finished experts, but as curious professionals open to having their appreciation of place jumpstarted, their sense of possibility expanded, and their imagination unloosed.
Augé, Marc. 2010. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. London: Verso.
Carini, Patricia F. 2010. "History, Vision, Struggle," in Jenny's Story: Taking the Long View of the Child, by Patricia F. Carini and Margaret Himley with Carol Christine, Cecilia Espinoza, and Julia Fournier. New York: Teacher's College Press.
Kuusisto, Stephen. 2012. The Capstone. Syracuse, NY: Renée Crown University Honors Program Newsletter, Syracuse University.