Encouraging our students to be citizen diplomats

By Downing Thomas for the Iowa City Press-Citizen

International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, is recognized around the country this year during the week of November 17-21. The University of Iowa celebrates IEW as an annual opportunity to promote global awareness and engagement and to feature the international opportunities offered on our campus and in our community.

Today, as never before, education must be globally oriented to prepare Iowans and students from around the country and around the world to move confidently across borders, to interact effectively with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and to take pleasure in a life filled with inquiry and discovery.

IEW is neither red nor blue. Here in the Midwest, when we think of politicians who have served as advocates for international education and foreign language study, we immediately think of the late Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat from Illinois who hoped to make a global education part of the academic preparation of every American college student. Legislation to establish a program twice passed the House and had strong, bipartisan support. Sen. Dick Durbin, also of Illinois, has indicated that he plans to reintroduce the bill in the Senate.

But equally strong advocates can be found across the spectrum of political views. Consider former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, who speaks Chinese with his children and served as ambassador to China. Consider, too, Robert Gates, who was appointed secretary of defense by President George W. Bush. Gates has often argued that learning about other cultures, learning other languages, and developing international relationships will help avoid divisive conflicts.

Regardless of political orientation, citizen diplomats build bridges, develop fulfilling and life-long ties, and serve as ambassadors for Iowa and for the U.S. when they travel abroad.

The University of Iowa is sponsoring dozens of events in recognition of IEW. The highlight of the week is the International Impact Award that President Mason will present at 5 p.m. today at FilmScene to two exceptional individuals who have made significant contributions to promote global understanding. Journalist, author and activist Roger Thurow, a UI alumnus and the first awardee, wrote for the Wall Street Journal for many years and has made hunger and food inequalities his driving cause. Our second awardee, Dr. Selma Jeronimo, is a professor of biochemistry and medicine at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil, and has been a tireless champion for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

UI also celebrates our selection as a signature partner in the 100,000 Strong Foundation for 2014-15. The 100,000 Strong Initiative, the impetus for the 100,000 Strong Foundation’s formation, is a national effort designed to increase and diversify the number of American students studying abroad in China. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the initiative was announced by President Obama in 2009 and officially launched by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2010 with the goal of sending 100,000 U.S. students to China in four years. Obama announced last week that we have fulfilled this pledge.

Doing our part, the UI has appointed student ambassadors who will encourage their peers to study abroad in China, promote reciprocal exchanges and other programs we have in China, and help increase the number of American students studying Mandarin Chinese language and culture. Several of our student ambassadors are currently in Washington, D.C., as part of this initiative.

UI is committed to providing a global education to all our students, and IEW is one way we can mark our progress toward that goal. For more information, visit http://international.uiowa.edu/iew.

If you go

  • What: WorldCanvass discussion about the tenacious cycle of poverty, hunger and disease — and current efforts to break the cycle — with 2014 UI International Impact Award winners Roger Thurow and Selma Jeronimo. More information
  • When: 5 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Where: FilmScene, 118 E. College St. in Iowa City.

International Education Week

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