A guest submission from President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D.
It is exciting to see Franklin & Marshall rank among the leaders in a recent list of U.S. institutions with the most international students. In an era in which globalization defines virtually every field of endeavor—from finance to climate change, from public health to national security—it is essential for all of our students, wherever they are from, to learn in a college community inflected with a global sensibility.
Last week, I had a great dinner with ten students from six countries at our John Joseph International Center, and I’m very pleased that 12 percent of our first-year class hail from some 25 countries, with more than 40 countries represented in our student body overall. It’s powerful that F&M is introducing so many students from around the world to the liberal arts, a uniquely American approach designed to educate the citizens of a great democracy.
One of our recent graduates, Lin (Vanessa) Nie ’10, co-authored a book to share her college experiences with young people in her home country—China—and highlight the rewards of studying in the liberal arts tradition. She writes eloquently about the creativity and self-reliance she gained at F&M that help her seek, create and apply knowledge in new ways. That Vanessa obtained an intellectually liberating education here is good for her, good for all her fellow students who learned from her, and good for the country of China in its evolution towards a society that embraces free inquiry and expression.
In my ten years of teaching, I’ve benefitted profoundly from having globally diverse classrooms. I recall teaching a course on the literature of immigrants and being dazzled by the ability of immigrant and first-generation undergraduates to shed light on texts like Anzia Yezierska’s classic novel, Bread Givers, about the acculturation of eastern European Jews in early 20th-century America. And it has always been powerful in my human rights classes to hear extraordinary students from places like Syria, Burma, Latvia and Guatemala share reflections on their countries’ histories and offer perspectives on human rights in the United States. We who teach grow ourselves from encountering the identities and cultures of our students—and in that growth we renew our commitments to scholarship and to teaching.
When you take into account the high proportion of F&M students who study abroad—half on average—the mix of ideas, perspectives and experiences becomes even more powerful. That’s why we created a new web resource, F&M Everywhere, to help students take full advantage of the vast array of opportunities to study and conduct research internationally as part of their F&M education.
Our globalizing world presents new opportunities and tensions, connections and threats. As we all try to navigate a world that is becoming smaller and flatter every day, our best bet for the future is educating young people to help our society meet the pressing challenges that lie ahead. This is the liberal arts at its best—there’s no better investment in our future.