Carol T. Christ, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Spring 2005
From at least the early 1920s, when William Allan Neilson was president of the college, Smith has valued the contribution that international experience makes to liberal education. Smith established the country's second junior year abroad program, in Paris, in 1925; programs in Italy and Spain followed shortly thereafter. The traffic did not go in only one direction. Scottish himself, with a German wife, Neilson was a leader in the 1930s in bringing European refugee scholars to the United States, many of whom taught at Smith.
Last fall, I had several occasions to experience firsthand Smith's international relationships. In September, I went to Paris to join in the eightieth anniversary celebration of our junior year abroad program there; while in Europe, I also visited with our alumnae in Geneva and in London. In November, I traveled to Asia, with stops in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul. My trip to Asia had three purposes: to visit with our alumnae communities in each of those cities, to cultivate relationships with secondary schools from which we recruit students, and to explore further opportunities for Smith students to study in Asian universities.
Both trips were vivid experiences. In Paris, I grew to appreciate even more deeply the profound impact that our JYA program has had upon the lives of our alumnae. Many of our expatriate alumnae living in Paris first came there for their junior year. Four members of the class of 1938 held a mini-reunion there, in ebullient celebration of the life-changing experience they had shared almost seventy years ago. New York Times columnist and cookbook writer Florence Gertner Fabricant '58 told all of us about the power of witnessing a demonstration in support of the 1956 Hungarian uprising in which thousands spontaneously joined in singing the Marseillaise.
My meetings in Asia had the wonderful effect of bringing alumnae together in ways they had rarely gathered before. As Asia's cultural, political, and economic influence continues to shape our world culture, the college is looking at ways that this region can play an even larger part among the opportunities we offer for international study. In this, and in the work of recruiting students from Asia, we are aided by Smith alumnae leaders, women playing powerful roles in shaping the region's economies, governments, and educational systems.
The faculty is now engaged in an intense discussion of what it means to be a world college, as Smith aspires to be. How are we preparing our students to live in a world whose global connections and relationships are increasingly immediate and critical? There are many points on which we already agree: the importance for our students to study other cultures, the value of study abroad, the contribution that international students and faculty make to Smith.
In early December, I hosted a dinner for a group of international students at Smith who have been supported by an extraordinarily generous gift of the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation that has provided scholarships for women from developing countries to study science and engineering. From their stories, it became clear that these remarkable young women, from Burma, Rumania, Tibet, Ghana, and Vietnam, among other countries, are poised for leadership in a world in which science and technology are profoundly international enterprises.
In 1949, shortly after the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at Smith about the need for international study. "How well prepared are we," she asked, "to live in a world that has constantly grown smaller and where we must rub shoulders with people of different cultures, of completely different customs and habits and religions, who live under different legal systems, whose languages are different?" The challenge is even more urgent in 2005 than in 1949.
As I write this, the world community is struggling to respond to one of the most profound humanitarian crises of our time. Providing aid, relief, and redevelopment to the people of South and Southeast Asia in the wake of the tsunami devastation will test much more than our generosity. As a college, a world college, we must redouble our efforts to prepare our students to live in a smaller world, one that depends on and celebrates interaction with people of different cultures. We must provide our students the opportunity to understand not only our differences but the humanity that binds us together.