A Cultural University
Don Allan Mitchell is an assistant professor of English at Delta State University. The article below was an opinion column originally edited by Jordan Thomas and published in the Cleveland Current and the Delta Business Journal.
Recently at Delta State, we said farewell to our friends from the Global UGRAD program: Sirojiddin, Ecaterina, Susanna, David, and Akzer. The U.S. State Department sponsors global UGRAD in Cleveland, Mississippi and similar college towns like Kearney, Nebraska and Troy, Alabama.
The highly selective exchange invites university students from the former Eurasian states of the Soviet Union, as well as the Far East, to spend a year in residence at U.S. colleges, where they serve as ambassadors for their home countries and learn about American history, culture, and government.
Dr. Gokhan Karahan, Robin Boyles, and Petya Petrova worked hard to bring this program to Cleveland. I, for one, have learned a lot from these five students. In addition to English, thanks to the former USSR, they all speak Russian fluently, even though not a single one of them is Russian. But before I sing the praises of these five students, let me wax academic.
Some taxpayers may wonder why the State Department would fund programs like Global UGRAD, but these international diplomatic efforts provide the best of what U.S. higher education offers as a marketplace of ideas—from models of economic development to examples of peaceful religious coexistence and conflict resolution.
But American colleges learn from these programs as well. In an essay for the National Review, Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart wrote of a useful paradigm for understanding Western civilization called “Athens and Jerusalem.” Hart refers to Athens as a philosophic and scientific view of the world and Jerusalem as a spiritual and scriptural one. Western civilization represents a fusion between Athens and Jerusalem, and this interaction is a foundation of Western higher education.
However, the global nature of America’s world affairs now depends more on understanding and cooperating with places like Mecca and Beijing. More importantly for the U.S., a Central Asian country like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan can serve as a bridge to places like Beijing and Mecca, and also places like Karachi and Cairo.
The benefit for our students is easy to ascertain. Delta State steeps our students in the traditions of Athens and Jerusalem. But students who do not understand places like Mecca and Beijing, or Tashkent, Almaty, Chisinau, and Yerevan, will be left behind in our new global reality. The first step to understanding these places is meeting people from these places.
All five of these delightful young people were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were no statues of Lenin in their childhood parks. They really don’t remember the Bad Old Days of The Cold War, and they hold America in high esteem.
In fact, because of America’s dominance of the media and the worldwide web, these students know more about current American pop culture then I do. However, for America’s future as a world power, Hollywood diplomacy is not enough. Washington diplomacy is not enough. Cleveland, Mississippi, Kearney, Nebraska, Troy, Alabama, and small town American diplomacy is needed, now more than ever.
DSU has applied for more Global UGRAD students for next year. To our five pioneers, know that you always have a home in the Delta. To future UGRAD students, we look forward to welcoming you with open arms. DBJ
The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Eurasia and Central Asia is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and is implemented by IREX.