Illinois State University boasts nearly 50 summer or semester-long study abroad programs that are open to students across different majors. Faculty exchange programs are also available between Illinois State and universities in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Peru, Turkey and Thailand. Those study abroad programs and faculty exchanges, coordinated by the Office of International Studies and Programs (OISP), are an integral part of the University’s long-standing commitment to international education.
International education programs are maintained through formal agreements to exchange both students and faculty, pursue collaborative research and facilitate other mutually beneficial projects between universities. OISP’s Unit for International Linkages (UIL) is working to promote Illinois State’s reputation throughout the world and expand the number of available exchange program options. The unit also organizes a popular international seminar series which offers a discussion forum on global issues to the campus and local community.
The Unit for International Linkages was established in 2005 and is directed by Politics and Government Professor T.Y. Wang, in collaboration with Associate Professor of History Issam Nassar. Since its inception, UIL has established and strengthened ties with universities in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and South America. Those ties have resulted in the establishment of new faculty and student exchange programs that have greatly enhanced international education opportunities at Illinois State and partner institutions in other nations.
“The benefits of study abroad extend beyond building students’ resumes,” said Wang. “It can expand their horizons because exchanges contribute to broadening the world understanding of those in the host cultures and those who come to visit. Likewise, faculty and staff who participate in international exchanges enjoy professional development experiences as they interact with international professionals in their fields who offer different viewpoints.”
UIL is currently working on partnerships with two European universities. During May 2010, Wang and Rajeev Goel, a professor in the Department of Economics, visited the University of Passau in Germany. The two met with economics faculty members and university administrators as part of a site visit for an exchange program. The University of Passau is considered to be one of the best universities in Germany for the study of economics, law, and international cultural and business studies. A formal exchange agreement has been signed by both universities.
Wang also accompanied School of Information Technology (ITK) Director Joaquin Vila and ITK Professor Tibor Gyires on an official visit to Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Hungary in June 2010. The delegation met with ELTE administrators to discuss internship opportunities for Illinois State students with companies in Budapest. ELTE, one of the oldest universities in Hungary, was established in 1635 and currently enrolls around 32,000 students. A memorandum of understanding was signed by administrators from both universities and a proposed internship agreement is currently in the signing process.
In order to expand educational exchange opportunities with schools in the Middle East, Nassar visited Birzeit University in the West Bank this past December. The visit continued the discussion of a proposed exchange program that was initiated in 2007. An agreement is currently under negotiation. Birzeit University is the first institution of higher education to be established in the Palestinian territories and offers a wide array of undergraduate and graduate programs.
Officials from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) in Thailand and Chungbuk National University in South Korea visited Illinois State during 2010 to tour the campus and meet with faculty members and University administrators. Proposed programs with those schools are currently under review. Work by UIL in recent years has also helped to facilitate academic exchange programs with Beijing Normal University, Tongji University in Shanghai and Universidad Nacional Tecnológica del Cono Sur de Lima and Universidad del Pacifico in Peru.
The Unit for International Linkages also helps to connect international students and visiting scholars with the campus and surrounding community through a variety of academic and intercultural programming. The unit’s most publicly visible work is the popular International Studies Seminar Series, a weekly speakers program that offers information on global politics, culture, arts and education. During the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters, Illinois State faculty members and visiting scholars spoke on a wide variety of topics including the current issues in Iraq, U.S.-China relations, Cold War cinema in Germany, violence in Mexico, Islamic law in Egypt, battlefield experiences in Afghanistan and current political developments in Thailand. The seminars, co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, attract an average of 30-50 students, faculty and community members each week.
“The objective of the International Seminar Series is to provide a forum to the campus community on international issues and concerns,” Wang said. “To attract an audience with diverse interests, the program intentionally invites speakers with various backgrounds, including actors, artists, journalists, historians, political scientists, sociologists, and U.S. military personnel. The high attendance rate each week demonstrates the success of the program.”