from the Executive Director
As we end one academic year and stand poised to begin another, I am inspired by the fact that the coming fall 2009 semester marks the 30th anniversary of study abroad at James Madison University. During the fall of 1979, Ralph Cohen, then professor of English, and 28 eager students boarded a British Airways flight, landed in London, and launched the university community into the journey of long-term study abroad. The Semester in London program gave us a permanent presence in the Bloomsbury district of London, where we still maintain a residence hall today. We dug into London with gusto, discovering Shakespeare, art history, political science, music and even a pub or two. But London was just the beginning. The Semester in Florence program began in the spring of 1986 followed quickly by Semester in Salamanca in the fall of 1987. Our fourth undergraduate semester program – Semester in Antwerp – began in the fall of 2002. All four programs are dynamic and innovative with curricula that span many disciplines from modern film to marketing, from culinary arts to the history of the sciences. In addition, each program provides the opportunity for faculty members and their families to accompany our students, thus engaging in one of the richest faculty development opportunities available at JMU. Across all the semester programs, nearly 5,000 students and 120 faculty have been able to live and learn in these four destinations.
Inspired by Ralph and other early pioneers, faculty began developing shorter, summer programs including the history and culture of Ghana, biology in the Galapagos Islands, health and diet in Honduras, and the Rome student teacher practicum. Today we operate roughly 45 summer programs across 75 or so countries. As another bend in the road, in the last three years JMU has developed two master’s degrees abroad, the European Union Policy Studies program in Florence and the Sustainable Environmental Resources Management program in Malta. In total, more than 6,600 JMU students have had the chance to live, study, volunteer and intern abroad with JMU semester and summer programs, direct enrollment in foreign universities and external study abroad organizations.
But, certainly, study abroad is only one facet of the journey. JMU is honored to host on our campus international students and scholars, who provide perspectives, cultures and beliefs that mirror and differ from our own, but who always enrich our community. They, of course, are the ones who are “abroad” in the United States, travelers themselves to a distant land. We are very pleased they chose James Madison University as their home, even if for a short while.
In the final analysis, of course, the destination matters little. It is the act of the journey, the seeking, that leads to learning and, ultimately, transformation. The Office of International Programs is proud of the many students, faculty and staff who embark on international endeavors. And we always welcome others to join the quest. Set forth with us on the journey of international education and do as Mark Twain exhorted: “…throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Executive Director, Office of International Programs