As a European-born historian teaching in the U.S., I am often asked why Americans in general and American students in particular have such little interest in the world at large. Now that’s a much more complicated issue than it sounds. In fact, I don’t think it is fair to reiterate simple stereotypes. Many American-born students, for example, wish to go abroad, would like to improve their foreign language skills, and would be happy to have tenured professors who teach regular courses on, let’s say, Slavic, Arabic and German literatures, the history of international relations or the demography of Africa. What is often lacking, however, is adequate learning and institutional infrastructure, especially in programs that begin at the freshman level and run through to doctoral seminars—programs that require stays abroad, integrate foreign language requirements, link study and early research, and provide continuous mentorship.
Moreover, we need coherent and integrative tracks and “menus” that allow students to choose international and global issues as elements of their academic training—ultimately certifying their efforts to acquire “global competence” and allowing them to think of themselves as “global citizens.” Creating such programs and increasing the number of faculty able and willing to organize and teach them are major tasks for UB.
Indeed, two of our biggest challenges are to create “reciprocity” and to begin to internationalize UB “at home.” Yes, the high figure of international enrollment at UB is a reason to be proud, but insufficient reason for complacency. Attracting international enrollment will only translate into our becoming a truly international university (and one grounded in a specific regional context) if we support this enrollment by developing internal programs and curricular components that address international issues and transcend vernacular and nation-based approaches. In particular, improving the range and depth of our foreign language instruction and creating a firm and much broader institutional basis for this purpose must be a primary goal.
These are not easy tasks, but they are worth being pursued with vigor and enthusiasm. In the process, we may learn a lot from competing institutions and from other universities that have begun much earlier to embrace internationalization as an educational, curricular and intellectual challenge.
Professor of history at UB since 2002, Andreas Daum is an expert in modern European and transatlantic history, and has also researched the history of science popularization since the Enlightenment. In the fall of 2007, Cambridge University Press will publish the English translation of his latest monograph, Kennedy in Berlin, which deals with the performative nature of the cold war. At UB, Andreas Daum teaches a wide range of courses, from freshman World Civilization to research seminars. He is a member of the International Strategy Task Force, established by Provost Satish K. Tripathi to develop a vision for internationalizing the university.