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An international campus

February 2010
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The Energy Biosciences Institute

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Introducing Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau

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transcript Transcript of Bear in Mind for February 25, 2010: Intercultural Competency

Dan Mogulof: Greetings and welcome to this edition of "Bear in Mind", a regular series of conversations with UC Berkeley's chancellor, Robert Birgeneau. I'm Dan Mogulof, from the university's Office of Public Affairs, and today we'll be talking about an interesting and important trend – the growing number of students on campus who either come from abroad or have participated in study abroad programs.

This fall, just over 4,000 international students from more than 100 countries are studying here, and about 1,000 Berkeley students are expected to participate in the UC Education Abroad Program during this academic year. We'll be discussing the impact and import of these numbers with Chancellor Birgeneau, and four students with international backgrounds. Anabel Sanchez Talavera is an undergraduate from Peru. Beat Schwendimann is a Ph.D. candidate who hails from Switzerland. And, they'll be joined by two recent Study Abroad participants – Seema Rupani and Andy Sun.

Now Chancellor, before we talk to the students I know that this trend is something that you support and believe in, and if I'm not mistaken, in your own student years you had a formative experience in this regard. Tell us a little bit about that.

Chancellor Birgeneau: I actually had 2 significant experiences. First of all, I was a foreign student myself who came to the United States from Canada, which may seem not very far away but actually, especially the culture I grew up in, was very far away, couldn't have been further away. I lived at International House with students from Indonesia, from France, from England, from India, and that by itself was an exciting experience.

My second international experience was having been, to a certain extent, "Americanized" I then went off to England where I was a post-doc at Oxford and that was the middle of the Vietnam war. There I would say the immediate shock was turning on the television and watching French footage of what was going on in Vietnam and seeing the difference of what was allowed to be shown on American television and what was appearing on British television, which then you might even say immediately radicalized me in terms of my attitude towards the war. And both of those experiences were extremely informative.  Also Oxford was, frankly, just a very exciting place because Oxford at that time was a truly international university, and I was able to establish friendships with people from Peru…in fact, a good friend there that I ended up selling my car to was from Peru. And Australia, students from the United States of course and of course British students themselves, so all of that contributed in a really significant way to my own growth as a person and my own understanding of what education is and what education could be.

Dan Mogulof: So now as a chancellor how have you taken that experience and how has that experience informed your support and belief in the importance of , if you will, a globalization of the campus?

Chancellor Birgeneau: Well, we obviously live in a global universe, even much more so than when I was in school in the 60s, and it was the president of the University of Mexico actually said to me, in the context of Mexico, that he thought the single most important thing for a student in this century to learn was what he called "intercultural competence." He said that the successful people in the 21st century would be people who could move comfortably between one culture and another. So I think our students here at Berkeley should have that opportunity as well to gain intercultural competence. One way, obviously, is to go abroad as two of our students did and gain international experience very directly and bring it back with them. The second is for international students to come here as both undergraduates and graduates. It benefits them, but it also benefits every single other student that they talk to, and in the classes they can bring an international perspective – a South American, a European perspective in this case – so I think it's also extremely valuable for people born and brought up in California to have international students in the classroom with them.

Dan Mogulof: So let's actually talk to the students at this point. This is sort of the main event, and Anabel, I'm going to start with you. So tell me a little bit…you're from Peru. Tell me a little bit about why you came to Berkeley and how you feel your presence here contributes to both the culture of the campus, to the classroom situation…

Anabel Sanchez Talavera: I came here mainly because my major was biology, and I knew that UC Berkeley had a very good program in biology. That's why I came here.

Dan Mogulof: Do you bring a different perspective to your classes? Do you find yourself contributing in a unique fashion as a result of your origins?

Anabel Sanchez Talavera: Mainly I think it's just trying to break the stereotypes that people have about South America, which most of the time are ridiculous, and trying to speak out and say them aloud. I think that's very important.

Dan Mogulof: Beat, you're from Switzerland and I know that's a country that comes with its own set of stereotypes, so I'm interested a little bit about why you came here and what your experience has been on campus and what you think the presence of folks like you actually adds to the community, both culturally and educationally?

Beat Schwendimann: I'm here on a Fulbright scholarship. I chose Berkeley for a particular reason, because Berkeley is one of the most international universities and has a great reputation in education research. So I was very interested to learn about the culture in Berkeley in general and then also become part of the intellectual culture at the School of Education where I'm located.

One of the reasons why I was very interested to come to the U.S. is that Switzerland and the U.S. share a lot of similar problems. Both have a lot of international people come to the country as young students who need to be integrated into the existing culture. I was very interested to know how the U.S. deals with this because Switzerland has a very similar issue. For me it's very interesting to see how other cultures come up with solutions for similar problems.

Dan Mogulof: Seema, a little bit about your experience. You were on study abroad last spring…where were you, why did you go, what did you bring back?

Seema Rupani: I did study abroad in South Africa, in Cape Town, and I actually chose that country because my mom is South African, but I didn't have much of a connection with the country growing up in America. I'd only been there a couple times to visit family and I didn't feel like I actually got to explore the country on my own, so I decided to take advantage of the study abroad program and go there. Also, because I'm studying international sustainability, and conservation, and global poverty, I felt like I really needed to get some in-the-field experience that I couldn't get inside the classroom.

Dan Mogulof: And so aside from the educational benefits of being abroad, what did you bring back with you? How were your perspectives changed in the way you interact both in class and out of the class?

Seema Rupani: I definitely think that I realized my ability as well as my responsibility to keep a global international perspective in any work that I do here, in any activism that I'm doing locally. And the comments that I've made in class have been…because I'm studying international sustainable development and because I was actually able to go to South Africa and work in the field, and do internships, and be in a country that's in that transition to sustainable development, it was nice to be able to come back and give insightful comments in my classes about my experience abroad and how that relates to our perspective of sustainable development.

Dan Mogulof: Andy, I think you were in Hong Kong, right? Tell us a little bit about why you went there, what you brought back, what it's meant to you?

Andy Sun: Sure. I was born in Shanghai and grew up in Boston and came to California when I was around 7 years old, so I've had a relatively good amount of international experience before I studied abroad, but never had I gone abroad under an academic setting. As an undergrad in the Haas School of Business, I was given an opportunity under the Global Management concentration to really take advantage of the study abroad requirement and go to Hong Kong.

I chose Hong Kong because at Haas we're sitting in classes and all we hear about is Asia and the burgeoning economy and how the future lies within China and Asia. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to go Hong Kong and experience that first hand, and the collaborative culture at the university and the ability to work with people all around the world in group projects under academic setting was really an invaluable experience.

Dan Mogulof: I'm interested from any of you…the chancellor brought up at the beginning this idea of intercultural competency. What does that mean to you and how have your experiences as either study abroad participants or people who've come from abroad – what does that mean to you and how important do you guys think that is in terms of your ability to succeed and thrive in the world when you leave the campus?

Andy Sun: I think it's mostly about being respectful of other cultures and I think it's something very, very, very hard to achieve. There's lots of issues that you have to take into account, like privilege, where you come from, your background, like if you go to a country where it's poor then you have to deal with that privilege that you have. I think it's very hard to obtain that through IAP, but I think it's something that really helps, trying to figure out other cultures and being respectful and open minded.

Dan Mogulof: Beat, did you want to say something?

Beat Schwendimann: Yes. That's actually very similar to my experience. Before coming to Berkeley I spent 6 months in India working for a school development project in a rural part of India. That was one of my life-changing experiences, because I really was thrown into this very different culture.

To me, intercultural competency means two things. It means learning to respect the other culture, in a nonjudgmental way, as well as still retaining your own identity and see how ideas you have could maybe help their ideas, and their ideas could work in your culture, while being sensitive that solutions are often culture-dependent. Often you can learn a lot from each other.

Dan Mogulof: Chancellor, I know you're more than just an administrator, you're also a professor here and you're still teaching. From your perspective, as a professor, how does that add to the class or lab situation, even in the sciences, when you have students from different geographical backgrounds?

Chancellor Birgeneau: In my lab I have an American graduate student from Maryland. I have a post-doc from Romania. I have two students, one actually from Beijing but another from a rural and very poor area of China … their differences are as big as the differences with the Romanian, which is by itself quite interesting. Then I have another student from Britain. Interesting, watching the interactions between them, you know we're doing quite basic research in physics and they tend to bring different perspective and different cultural approaches about how you do research, which I think makes my research group much stronger than it would be otherwise. Plus it's just simply enjoyable. We can discuss any subject and I get a European perspective, I get a British perspective, I get an Asian perspective, I get an American perspective and I still have enough Canadian in me that I bring a Canadian perspective as well. It provides a rich environment. Plus I always have a number of undergraduate students in my lab. For some reason it's transfer students who are often international and who seem to prefer to work in my lab. So my laboratory is almost entirely international.

Dan Mogulof: Seema, I'm curious. You had some familial ties to South Africa so I'm sure on a personal level it was a profound experience, and also educationally. What about when you came back? Did your perspective change? Did the way you interact with people, the type of contributions you made in the class, what was the impact when you came back? What did you notice?

Seema Rupani: Well, one thing that I've been thinking about is I think the study abroad program is extremely valuable and I also think it's important to have an international student presence on campus, but the 1960 Master Plan did outline the role of the UC, the CSU, the JCs to ensure every Californian had a seat in higher education, an affordable seat in higher education, and while I think that having an international student presence on campus is really important, UC Berkeley has the highest proportion of non-California students on campus. It's 22%, our freshman class,  22% of them are non-California residents and that's about double the proportion of last year. I think that's leading to diminished access for students from California. So I do think that's something that we need to think about.

Dan Mogulof: Chancellor, I think those are interesting comments.

Chancellor Birgeneau: No, I think that these are important comments and these are obviously competing values. Actually the number of out-of-state and international students is 11%, although it's much larger in the incoming class, so overall in the undergraduate student body it's 11%. And we actually, for the last fall, have been overenrolled in terms of the number of Californians, so we've been above the threshold so the increase in the out-of-state and international students has been entirely by over-enrollment so there have been no Californians replaced. I couldn't agree with you more that we have to meet our commitment to California and our commitment to incorporating all of the populations of California.

One of the interesting aspects actually this year is that we've increased, by over enrollment, the number of out-of-state and international students, we actually have the largest number of  low-income California students by a lot at Berkeley this year than in our entire history. Partly because of the increased resources, we actually able to accommodate more low-income people than we ever have been able to before. We've actually increased the economic diversity as opposed to decreasing it on the campus.

The other thing is that the increased fees from out-of-state and international students has enabled us to invest significantly more money in outreach in order to increase, to access populations that are currently underrepresented at the university. So although there are competitions as you just said, we're actually doing our best to turn it into a win-win situation, which so far is actually working.

Dan Mogulof: So it's interesting, just as a side note, that 60% of the students who participate in the study abroad program are PELL grant recipients, so we're finding a lot of students who come from financially challenged families who are taking advantage of that opportunity, and it's neither here nor there whether you fall into that category but it's clearly something that's being embraced by a lot of students to expand their horizons. So on the subject of intercultural competency, I'm wondering when you came back, how you found your own perspectives changed in the manner in which you interact with your fellow students or professors?

Andy Sun: I'd like to take intercultural competency to another level, a higher level actually. I see it as cross-cultural comfort, not only are you competent but you're comfortable and you're enthusiastic to embrace new situations, new cultures and experience new things. So when I came back I had a whole new perspective on business in Asia and I was able to contribute positively to my classes at Haas, make insightful comments and work on collaborative projects that really harnessed what I learned in Hong Kong, so I thought that was particularly valuable, that experience I received in an academic setting.

Dan Mogulof: Beat, I know you're interested…you're a Ph.D. candidate, right? And interested in being an educator. How has this experience of crossed cultures, of having come from Switzerland to the United States to study at Berkeley, how do you think that's going to influence you as an educator having perhaps a more nuanced appreciation of cultural differences, the way students learn, the way students interact?

Beat Schwendimann: To me, learning about education has a lot of different levels, both professionally and personally. On a personal level, I learn a lot about education systems just by talking to other international students and to American students, talking about their educational experiences.

I live at the International House which is as international as it gets, and so I talk a lot to other students about their educational experiences. In different countries they have different approaches to how to educate people. Like in Asia, they have a very competitive culture, where students compete with each other and try to finish as quickly as possible. In other cultures, like in the U.S. for example, people have a lot of alternative ways. They go sometimes into a job and then go back to academia later so you get a lot of older students, whereas Asia, the student population is generally younger. And Europe has an extreme diversity of different education systems. Every country has a very different system. For me, it's interesting to compare them with each other.

Dan Mogulof: Last question that I'd like both of you to answer, for students who might be considering or just becoming aware of study abroad, what do you say to them? What's the advice that you would give to people who are thinking about that possibility sometime during their academic career?

Beat Schwendimann: I definitely encourage them to study abroad, as long as they can, until we run out of money for study abroad programs.

Dan Mogulof: Andy, what do you think?

Andy Sun: I would say that it's one of the best decisions I made in my life. I've acquired such a large network of international students that I've met abroad. I can close my eyes and put my finger on a map and chances are I would know someone, or I would have a friend who I met in Hong Kong who lives there. I've already had a lot of international friends come and visit me because so expanding your network is a great thing.

Dan Mogulof: Chancellor, a closing thought from you please, just about what you've seen of the benefits, where you think we're heading, and what do you think this level of international representation on campus is really resulting in.

Chancellor Birgeneau: I think these examples going both ways, I think that it's really important to have perspectives from different directions. My vignette is on health care. I went crazy during the health care debate when I had to listen to these condemnations of universal health care. In my life I've lived in Denmark, in England, in Canada and the United States. Three out of those four countries have got social safety nets and have got healthcare systems that work tremendously well. I think that even at my level, just being able to share that perspective with other people, there are different approaches to things, for example healthcare I think is critically important.

I think in terms of, for example, debates about the Middle East, I think those debates on campus would be advantaged if we had more students from Iraq, from Iran, from Saudi Arabia, from Pakistan – people who actually grew up in those cultures, right? I think it would be a much more informed discussion so my own view is I would like to see our graduate and undergraduate student bodies have broader international representation. Everyone would profit from that. At the same time, I also agree with Seema, obviously, which is that we have to meet our obligations to the people of California and to represent the diversity in California – racial, ethnic, religious and economic.

Dan Mogulof: I want to thank you all for coming, for participating, for sharing some wisdom, and sharing some experiences. Thanks everybody for joining us today and we'll see you next time on the next edition of "Bear in Mind."

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