September 23, 2004

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This visit to Egypt adds to my reservations regarding the accuracy of the comment that the world changed on Sept. 11th. The world is pretty much the same.
Watching the sun set on the other side of the Nile, I replay the day's visit to the Ministry of Education's National Centre for Examinations and Educational Evaluation.

To reduce costs, the centre is located in a bedroom community of Cairo consisting of many thousand apartment buildings and a few large government offices on a desert plateau some distance from the greenery supported by Egypt's famous river.

The centre director's (a PhD graduate of the University of Moscow from the days when the shifting sands of international relations replaced western education with opportunities in the USSR) delight that SFU has expertise in the work of Vygotsky was still in my mind but the pervasive recollection of the day was of my Egyptian colleagues' complaints about the humidity as we drove through the desert.

Apparently when it is dry the heat is more bearable. Clearly, I was lacking local knowledge regarding weather and its measurement.

This visit to Egypt adds to my reservations regarding the accuracy of the comment that the world changed on Sept. 11th. The world is pretty much the same - we are only more aware of the world outside of North America and the differences that exist there. Indeed, a newly appointed Canadian ambassador recently told me that he was not planning to promote Canadian values in the immediate future because of the low esteem enjoyed by western values in the Asian country of his appointment.

Local knowledge, ranging from an understanding of the implications of humidity on heat tolerance to more precise opinions regarding value systems and culturally mediated social stratification, including gender bias, is one of the benefits that we can expect from an international education and the internationalization of education in Canada.

Internationalization of higher education in Canada has become an imperative as global forces reduce the size of the world and increase the need for culturally informed graduates. The universality of knowledge in the information age, the competitive nature of world trade and the increasing rate of cultural exchange dictate that the international dimension of higher education must keep pace with changes occurring globally.

Internationalization is therefore essential for the university to fulfill its mandate to create and share knowledge, and to provide a learning environment that prepares students, faculty, and staff to function effectively in an increasingly integrated, global environment.

Globalization is creating a new context for Canadian culture and identity and hence requires that we all be equipped with appropriate tools for working within this context. Further, the same processes are leading to strengthened shared values as well as values in conflict. Western values are at times and in various places, in conflict with other major value systems and intercultural exchange at the level of higher education will continue to be an important channel for dialogue between cultures and around cultural values.

Just down the road from my hotel is the American University in Cairo. The first SFU exchange students to that institution will be arriving shortly to take advantage of an institutional relationship made possible through the persistence of a colleague in seeking it and the very strong academic reputation that SFU holds in the area of Middle Eastern studies.

We are the second of only two universities in Canada to be granted this sought-after privilege providing higher education access to non-Arabic speakers in an Arabic-speaking environment.

Our students will thus have the opportunity to discuss values and value systems in the same restaurant where Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature debated social/political issues with the leading edge thinkers of the country's political movements. The interplay of ambience, culture, language, ideas and food cannot be replicated in a classroom on Burnaby Mountain.

Not too far away geographically, but quite far culturally and ethnically from Cairo, SFU is moving toward the development of yet another of our award-winning field schools in cooperation with the University of Isfahan in Iran. Access to the remarkable antiquities of Persian culture in the world's single remaining theocracy (after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan) can be coupled with language acquisition and analysis of significant social issues in an environment where personal freedom and expression are confused with mandated religiosity.

It is unlikely that the tensions emerging from this fusion could be understood in any other way but live experience. Emergent understanding will be strengthened on a daily basis as students move from classes to residence to experiencing the accumulation of physical and ideological constructs associated with 5,000 years of history and regional cultural dynamics.

English continues to gain ground as the common currency of languages globally but the demographic power of China and India suggest that for the highly mobile, skills in Mandarin and Urdu will be valuable assets.

Though any language can be studied at a distance from areas where it is commonly used, the power of in situ study, at least partially because of the added value of cultural context and opportunity for real world practice, is significant. Learning culture from language and vice versa is best done on-site.

With this approach in mind, a unique experiment in offshore degree delivery by SFU in China will provide the opportunity for both Canadian and Chinese students to become mutually fluent in language and culture through a cohort-based program where students will study together for two years in China and two years at SFU in Canada. Mandatory courses taught in Mandarin such as Mao's thoughts and Deng Xiaoping's theory will deepen the cultural dimension of degree programs in disciplines that might otherwise be thought of as culture-free. All going well, the first students will enroll in this program in September 2005.

Developing global citizens through higher education experience requires real-time global experience. Our graduates who have participated in international activities will have enriched academic, language and cultural skills that would not be possible from studying at SFU in Canada.

Adding this kind of value to a degree program will often add to the cost of participation. Similarly, if we hope to ensure broad international understanding across our campuses we need to promote and support staff and faculty participation in international activity.

Our institution has accordingly developed a number of programs to provide financial support for students and staff to minimize financial barriers that will be particularly important as we move toward the development of programs with mandatory international experience requirements.

SFU students can benefit from our institution's generous financial support for student mobility including exchanges, field schools and salary-free international cooperative education work placements which, in addition to bringing international students to study at SFU in Canada, form the core of our internationalization initiative.

Travel support funds for staff to design and participate in international activities that are relevant to their work and internationalization of the campus are also available.

A new program to provide financial support for the development and delivery of international field schools is being launched to increase the breadth of SFU field schools available to SFU students and students from other post-secondary institutions who qualify for admission.

Simon Fraser University has defined a clear statement of priorities, goals and strategies to guide the development of its international activities at the institutional level. SFU is a leader in adding value and extracurricular content to traditional academic curricula through experiential international activity with a focus on student mobility. Mobility is one element in an array that will broaden and deepen an international dimension at SFU.

Nello Angerilli is the executive director of SFU International. He recently spent two weeks in Cairo and el Minya, Egypt on a second joint mission of the World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency.

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