A Model of International Collaboration in the Fulbright Spirit
Written by Anne Schiller, VP for Global Strategies, George Mason University (Fulbright IEA 2010)
The goals of the Fulbright program are at once ambitiously expansive and strategically targeted: international understanding, peaceful cross-border engagement, the realization of authentic bi-nationalism. Part of Senator Fulbright’s wisdom was his awareness that achievement of these goals requires practical cooperation, working directly and in tandem with partners abroad to advance initiatives of mutual benefit.
Thanks to Senator Fulbright’s vision and the efforts of colleagues inspired by him, more than a quarter million students, teachers and researchers have benefitted from the opportunity to live, learn and share their knowledge in another country. With a proud history of more than 60 years of successfully fostering cross-cultural understanding and advancing international education, the Fulbright program in Korea has allowed many of us to enjoy remarkable opportunities to connect with counterparts abroad as we strive jointly to realize the goals set by Senator Fulbright.
One of my own formative Fulbright experiences occurred in 2010, when I was invited to participate in the Fulbright International Education Administrators (IEA) Program. It was a privilege to be able to join co-participants for an exceptional two-week learning experience that took us to many cities including Ulsan, Daegu, Busan and Seoul. The IEA Program brought me into contact with peers in Korea and provided a much deeper level of understanding of education in Korea. I began to see how Korea has developed one of the most highly respected educational systems in the world.
In 2003, the designation of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ), one of Korea’s eight free economic zones, sparked Korea’s ambitious plans for a new hub for research, business and higher education. The IFEZ Authority, in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Education, continues to work with international partners to chart the course for this new hub, called New Songdo City. New Songdo is located on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land close to the Incheon International Airport. It is often referred to as an aerotropolis and acknowledged as a model for the future. New Songdo’s focal point is a campus of universities that are comprehensive, academically competitive and resolutely international. Incheon Global Campus (IGC), over time, will become known as a lively site of intellectual life for strong students, dedicated faculty and outstanding programs.
As a Senior International Officer, I was accustomed to negotiating educational agreements with Korean universities and well aware of Korean parents’ and planners’ commitment to helping students be successful in a globalizing world. My participation in the Fulbright IEA Program was especially fortuitous as, at the time, my university was considering an invitation to open a campus in New Songdo. In conversations with Korean educators, I was struck by the fact that so many of their institutions were also considering locating or relocating a part of their academic programs, in particular those with an international or English component, to the new Incheon Global Campus. I returned from my Fulbright experience with a better-informed view on opportunities in Korea. I am thrilled that George Mason University is now positioned to launch its New Songdo campus in March 2014.
It is heartening that the spirit of international cooperation at the core of Fulbright philosophy is exemplified in many ways at the Incheon Global Campus. As of this writing, four foreign universities already comprise the IGC Universities Group: George Mason University, State University of New York-Korea, University of Utah and Ghent University (Belgium). The Saint Petersburg (Russia) Conservatory of Music recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement to explore joining the campus, too. The four institutions currently committed to Songdo have formed a consortium that collaborates in many aspects of operations for the IGC and each university has taken voluntary leadership in an area of mutual interest and importance, including library needs, installation of appropriate classroom technology and planning for language support programs. The Alliance Universities Group works closely with the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority and the IGC Foundation to support one another and students by bringing their knowledge of best practices in the U.S. and Korea to the table in a spirit of bi-national colleagueship.
The student experience, too, is resolutely international: students from Korea and around the world study and learn alongside one another. Many of the universities that make up the global campus send their Korea-based students to the United States or Europe for one year of their education. U.S.-based students also come to Songdo to take elective courses or specialized programs. Incheon Global Campus and New Songdo City are also sites where faculty can enhance their international portfolios and collaborate with international colleagues on teaching and research. As David Haines, a 2004 Fulbright Korea alumnus who will be teaching at Incheon Global Campus in 2014 noted, “My time as a Fulbrighter in Korea was an exhilarating engagement with an intensely traditional yet vibrantly modern East Asian nation.” That exhilaration is what educators hope that students and international faculty in Songdo will also experience, regardless of institutional affiliation or nationality. Karen Rosenblum, a 2006 Fulbright Korea alumna who will also teach in Songdo in 2014 has commented, “In my case, the Fulbright program achieved its aim: to expand the view of a scholar who would otherwise have been U.S.-based and to give students outside the U.S. access to an ‘insider’s’ view of the country. There is probably no more positive an entry point to a culture than its students.”
Fulbright programs cultivate cultural ambassadorship, global vision, academic and artistic excellence, and passion. These are certainly characteristics and skills that every international educator hopes to instill in every learner. Korea’s exciting international development project, New Songdo City and its global university, have created new opportunities for cross-cultural colleagueship and international cooperation, thereby advancing international higher education in ways that resonate strongly with the Fulbright philosophy.