On any given day at North Central College, students are sharing travel stories from D-Term, learning about new study abroad options to places like Jordan and Peru, practicing German at a language table, taking flamenco lessons and viewing a documentary film about India. They may encounter an English professor who grew up in Romania and a student organization comptroller from Haiti.
This lively and expanding global culture on campus could only happen with the commitment and enthusiasm of faculty, staff and students. Yet, the overall vision for “internationalizing” the campus resides in the Office of International Programs. Jack Shindler, director of international programs and professor of English, first developed a plan to internationalize the campus in 1989—long before the word was even popular—and has patiently worked to make it happen once he was appointed coordinator of international programs in 1993.
“I’ve always felt that it’s my duty to figure out how we can best transform our students, faculty and staff into global citizens,” says Shindler. “Everything we do is designed to help us all—as part of a nationwide effort in comprehensive internationalization—to infuse international and comparative perspectives across campus.”
Study abroad: Getting students to “just go away”
Kimberly Larsson doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer. Armed with 50 different program options across the world, sources of financial help and plenty of ways to satisfy academic credit, she tries to put study abroad within reach of every student who’s interested. “I tell students, you can do it, if there’s a will there’s a way,” says Larsson, assistant to the director of international programs.
Since 2003, the Office of International Programs has expanded study abroad programs from just 18 options to 50: three group programs, 16 exchanges and 25 direct enrollment opportunities, among other options. For 2011, there are eight new destinations in Peru, Mexico, Italy, Jordan, Germany, England, Beijing and Spain, and nearly 250 students will study abroad for fall term or enroll in an international D-Term study course.
The goal is to make study abroad affordable and accessible while ensuring that students satisfy their academic needs regardless of their majors. And the College in recent years made a financial commitment to keep the costs of all programs the same: tuition plus a $3,000 program fee so students are not hindered by cost.
“We’ve also tried to diversify our programs so students can go beyond traditional European cultures,” Larsson says. “We’re excited about the new program in Jordan, which allows students to pursue Arabic, and our first South American opportunity in Peru.”
Larsson uses study abroad ambassadors—recent student returnees—to visit classes and talk up the virtues of study abroad. “The best way to get students excited about study abroad is to listen to someone who’s been there.”
International recruiting: Telling the story thousands of miles from home
The challenge for Megan Otermat is to reassure parents in places like Malaysia, Thailand, China and Vietnam that their college-bound child will be safe, happy and academically challenged in Naperville, IL.
“It helps to meet me face to face so I can answer their questions—they feel better about sending their son or daughter thousands of miles away,” says Otermat, assistant director of international admission. “You can use social media just so much.”
Students and parents are looking for a well-respected institution in a safe, convenient location, which North Central offers, she says. “The most popular majors for international students are business and science-related majors, so information about Students In Free Enterprise and recent internships and awards is always well-received. Education is an investment, so outcomes are key. These parents are looking at options all over the world.”
Otermat schedules two major recruiting trips annually that span two to three weeks. This spring, she’ll start in Jakarta and stop in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok before ending up in Ho Chi Minh City, a new destination for recruiting.
The international student population has swelled to more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students, who then are mentored and counseled by Kelly Pilleux, international student advisor. She oversees the College’s very active International Club, which hosts events like Music Night, dinner at an Indian restaurant and a dance called “iball.” “It’s important they have a place where everyone feels like they belong,” she says.
Going global on campus
Each year, the Office of International Programs chooses a global concern and/or a particular region of the world to integrate a cluster of classes, travel seminars and cocurricular events. This academic year marks the final year of a focus on global environmental change with a particular focus on India.
“We always have courses related to the focus and we hold a summer session for faculty so they can integrate the focus into the curriculum,” says Shindler. “It’s my view that a good way to internationalize is to infuse what’s happening on campus with this global dimension.” Cocurricular events have included films, dance performances, lectures, field trips and art exhibits, all exploring a certain culture.
Shindler is looking forward to the next three-year focus on human rights, enhanced by a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence from Africa. “We’ll be exploring connections with our Leadership, Ethics and Values program and other campus resources,” he explains.
Students who participate in these events and want to formalize their interest in global studies can internationalize their degree in any major through the Global Perspectives Program. By meeting requirements in academics, study abroad, an internship and participation in campus events, they can earn an official transcript designation.
Short-term courses make big impact
Every winter the campus benefits from a heightened sense of international savvy from student-travelers who’ve returned from their D-Term courses abroad. In December 2010, more than 150 students traveled with North Central professors and staff to Rome, Northern Ireland, London and Germany. “It really changes your awareness of what’s important in other countries,” says RJ McNichols ’11, who visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of a course on politics and psychology.
Ten destinations have been established for 2011 and Shindler himself hopes to be part of the “When Ancient Meets Modern: India in the 21st century” course that’s also open to alumni and friends of the College.
And up next
Shindler is working to obtain grant money to resurrect summer K-12 teacher institutes to Asia and Central America, based on the success of past institutes to China and Japan under a Freeman Foundation Grant. Additional funding will help him achieve new goals in the ongoing process of campus internationalization.
“I really want to see the addition of Arabic to our language program, supported by a new program in North African and Middle Eastern Studies,” he says. “Given what’s happening in Egypt and Tunisia—the College happens to be establishing one of the few viable American-Tunisian university exchange programs-we need to turn our attention to this part of the world that we’ve neglected too long.”