Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Goes into International Studies

So my university has decided to create an International Studies major to reflect the growing need for specialists who are aware of other cultures and can interact with them productively. The major offers a very wide selection of courses from all kinds of departments: Anthropology, History, Geography, British Literature (that one is really big), and even Music. Only one department is conspicuously absent from the list. Namely, the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. Which is also the department where most of the faculty are international. Where languages such as Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Yoruba and Arabic are taught. Where a variety of courses on the literature and culture of places other than Great Britain is offered. 

I guess the general idea is that you can become a specialist in International Studies as a result of sitting in a classroom with a bunch of your fellow Americans and hearing your American professor discuss British Literature before 1789 (which is one of the courses featured prominently on the major.) Learning the languages, the literature and the culture of other countries and continents, however, does not bring you any closer to majoring in International Studies.

Somebody asked me recently on this blog what I mean when I say that the US is becoming more parochial by the second. This is the push towards parochialism in action, my friends.


Pen said...

I didn't really believe it when my friend told me he was going to major in international studies without studying any more language than he had already taken (he's a junior in high school, by the way). This confirms it, though. It's horrifying that people think they can gain a greater understanding of a culture without the use of the appropriate language. It's like studying history without any knowledge of the specific beliefs and customs of the people affected: there's always something missing that prevents total comprehension.

Clarissa said...

We are having an administrator over at our department on Friday to explain their thinking on this subject. We'll see how that goes.

Leah Jane said...

This is frightening to me, as someone who is going into International Law after I get my undergrad degree. How many of my compatriots in law school will be unable to speak a language other than English or French? I can speak English and Japanese, and I'm valiantly struggling to obtain fluency in Hebrew, French, Norwegian, and Russian.
When I learn these languages, I not only learn things like grammar and vocabulary, but I also get an insight into the culture that English can't convey. How big will the bridge between so-called international relations experts and the citizens of the countries they serve grow if they can't tap into that?

Spanish prof said...

And then you have the opposite: Spanish majors that complain they have to take too many "content" courses in Spanish, when they just want to be able to speak it.
Both trends are horrifying.

Anonymous said...

Is your university serious?!

When I had an international studies major a long time ago, I had to have at least TWO years worth of a language, in addition to taking international history courses, economics, and politics courses (I tested out of one year, so I took two semesters worth of French-- which focused on literature as well. Probably should have taken another language in addition. Oh hindsight.) I read several hundred pages of dense jargony text a week for one class (in English) and novels (in French) by the time I graduated. I was a thoroughly average student at best.

They cannot omit languages. Their graduates will be laughed at in graduate programs across the nation if they don't have at least one language.

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous...
To give you some context, my alma mater's international studies major at the time was incredibly Eurocentric and great power oriented at the time (little in the way of international history, like one prof each for Latin American history, Asian history, and no languages beyond French, German and Spanish-- it was a small university). But honestly, no language requirement?! We needed at least a year to even graduate with any degree in any field at all.

And Spanish Prof-- what fool decides to major in a language and then complain they have to read or understand the context of language or people who speak it or read literature? It's not all declensions and phrases.

I'll be in the corner, boggling.

Clarissa said...

I have a feeling from what I see in several threads that a group of very intelligent new readers has joined the blog while I slept. I wonder where they come from.