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Remember lessons learned abroad

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, August 27, 2003

I write to you as assistant provost for International Studies, as a professor of French here at Notre Dame and as former director of the study abroad program in Angers, France. I appeal to all students with an important message about being a citizen in our present international situation.

As most of you know from your own experience, living abroad from day to day can be exciting, liberating and tiring. It is difficult to live in a state of suspended identity. It is difficult to learn, let alone master, another country’s complex and traditional rules of speech, conduct and manners. It is difficult to represent the United States in a world that has become increasingly polarized as of late-torn by competing political realities and an economy that is ever more dependent on international cooperation. It is difficult to be alone and far from home. Studying abroad forces you to react to cultural differences carefully and with cautious respect. It is a means to self-impose a certain kind of heightened awareness on your mind.

But what happens when you come home? I want to remind you of the responsibility you have to keep your eyes open to the international scene here in the United States. Our nation needs citizens who are aware of the complexities of international politics. We need a citizenry who makes the effort to understand other kinds of moral, social and economic realities. Our nation needs a citizenry who speaks more than one language, a people sensitive to difference and curious to learn how other people think. We need new leaders for the future, who will bring an active engagement in the world’s changing reality. Continue your foreign language studies. Keep informed about what is going on in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Seek out opportunities to meet and talk to people from cultures other than your own. Compare, reflect and let their words sink in. Don’t let what happened last year on this campus repeat itself.

What happened last year? We were some 43 Americans living in France, and despite all the ugly rhetoric of Anti-Americanism in France that was propagated by the American media, all of us who lived in Angers in 2002-03 felt an outstanding level of sympathy, friendship and support from our French hosts. On the other hand, one of our friends, a young French student, traveled from Angers to Notre Dame in January 2003 to do a linguistic internship as part of a new exchange agreement with the Universite Catholique de l’Ouest. But within weeks of her arrival on campus, she was verbally attacked by hostile Notre Dame students. Inflamed by their righteousness, these men threatened our friend, and made her fear for her safety on campus. Those of us in Angers were shocked, embarrassed and saddened to learn of this attack. It remains to be seen if any other French students will follow in her steps, given that bad experience.

Shame on you, the perpetrators of this attack, and on all those who witnessed it in silence. I exhort you all to end such boorish behavior on our campus, and in our country. Remember the lessons you learned while studying abroad. Offer our international guests a civil welcome, just as you were welcomed in their countries. You owe it to all of us, and to Notre Dame.

Julia DouthwaiteAssistant Provost for International StudiesNotre Dame French professorAug. 26, 2003