Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 25, 2000
Globalization spurs plans for additional overseas programs


The Overseas Studies Program, which has been sending undergraduates abroad for four decades, plans to open new campuses and attract more participants in response to a growing need for students to have firsthand international experience in an increasingly global economy.

"Thirty years ago, students went overseas to study because it was fun. Now it's a necessity. Everything is globalized," says earth sciences Professor Amos Nur, Overseas Studies' new program director.

The initiative will be supported by the general fund and through the $1 billion Campaign for Undergraduate Education at Stanford, or CUE, which President John Hennessy announced during his inauguration on Friday. The university also wants to set up an endowment with support from donors, many of whom are program alumni, to fund it permanently, Nur says.

Nur and Jacqueline Wender, the program's new executive director, have succeeded German studies Professor Russell Berman, who ran Overseas Studies for eight years. Berman stepped down at the end of August and is now associate dean of undergraduate studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

The program plans to open new campuses, take greater advantage of distance-learning capabilities, collaborate with other Stanford programs such as Sophomore College, expand use of traveling faculty, involve more graduate students and offer more opportunities for science and engineering majors. That group of students traditionally has found it difficult to go overseas because it was hard to break the sequence of course requirements and prerequisites. Fewer than 20 percent of engineering and science undergraduates take part in the program.

According to Wender, who is responsible for the program's overall management, about 28 percent of undergraduates go overseas, usually for one quarter. "We want to increase that to 35 to 38 percent," she says, and extend the time spent studying abroad.

Nur, a geophysicist, says his appointment reflects the university's commitment to attract more science and engineering students to the program. "Whereas OSP is formally an H&S [School of Humanities and Sciences] program, I am from the School of Earth Sciences," he says. "My appointment is intended to broaden the academic scope of OSP to include earth sciences -- a natural for global studies."

The university currently operates campuses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, Kyoto, Moscow, Oxford, Paris, Santiago in Chile and Puebla in Mexico.

Nur has submitted a proposal to Provost John Etchemendy to open a new campus in Jerusalem in October 2001 or January 2002. "Given the archeological, historical, cultural, religious and political importance of this city, a program here will provide an unparalleled opportunity for Stanford students and faculty alike to study and research issues firsthand," he states in the proposal. Classes would be held at the old campus of Hebrew University in West Jerusalem and students would live in Kibbutz Ramat Rachel south of the city. Nur adds that the program's opening date will be contingent on ensuring security for students and faculty. "We will postpone this opening until it is totally safe again in Israel and the Palestinian areas," he says. "This is especially important for our program because we plan to have classes taught by both Arab and Jewish teachers."

Opening a campus in Jerusalem is an obvious step for Nur, an Israeli native whose research includes seismic destruction of ancient civilizations in the region. He has taken students to the area and would like to see similar types of research and field trips added to the programs offered by Overseas Studies. Instruction in Jerusalem would be in English, with Hebrew and Arabic offered as electives. Courses might include topics in conflict resolution, the archeology of the Near East, marine archeology of the ancient world, Near Eastern history and prehistory, water resource issues and comparative religion, he says.

"The nice thing about this is that it's not a program that's narrowly focused on cultural and political [issues] but takes advantage of everything" the region offers, Wender explains.

Longstanding plans to open a campus in Beijing at Peking University will remain on hold until a criminal case against Hua Di, an associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, is resolved. Last April, the Beijing Higher People's Court overturned a 15-year prison sentence against Hua and returned the case to lower courts for a retrial. Hua had been accused of leaking state secrets, which he denies. "He's awaiting retrial," says Nur. "There's no way we can open a program until [the case] is resolved justly."

Other regions that Overseas Studies would like to consider for new campuses include India, South Africa and the Caribbean, the directors say. "There is faculty interest, but we don't know about student interest," says Wender.

The program also wants to rethink what makes up an overseas experience. "It's not just a 10-week course," says Wender. "It could be a field trip." Nur says it might be possible to do concentrations in courses, similar to what Sophomore College offers, or even to provide part of that college experience overseas. The program wants to teach basic science courses and to include additional science classes through distance learning. In Spring Quarter 1998, Engineering 40: Introductory Electronics, was offered in Berlin and Kyoto via Stanford Online through the Stanford Center for Professional Development, explains Assistant Director Pam McNaughton. Web-based courses taking place simultaneously in several campuses to study comparative subjects such as religion, which the Stanford Learning Lab has facilitated since 1998, also could be expanded.

Nur wants to extend the program to include more graduate students, who already work as teaching assistants in Kyoto. Offering greater possibilities for onsite research abroad is a way to involve them, he says.

Nur also wants to take greater advantage of university faculty when they travel abroad and ask them to teach a class at a nearby campus. "We have a sense that we don't do everything we could to take advantage of the faculty's contacts overseas," adds Wender. The Berlin campus already is doing this. Next spring, Associate Professor of Music Stephen Hinton will teach Music 112M: Thomas Mann's Novel Doktor Faustus, with a professor from the Free University of Berlin.

All these changes, the directors say, will result in a student body better prepared for life after graduation. "Enormous decisions on the fate of the world have to be made with very little knowledge" about other countries, says Nur. "I would love for Stanford students to have an insight on the rest of the world, which is most of the world."

Wender adds that living in another person's environment is an important component of a full educational experience. "If you can learn to speak someone else's language, you begin to have another window on the world," she says.