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Winter 2002

A world without borders
By David J. Sammons, Associate Dean and Director

"Travel is fatal to prejudices, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of (human beings) and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
Mark Twain

I expect that few of us will ever forget where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. As it turns out, a colleague and I were in Ethiopia on Purdue Agriculture business preparing to assist with a workshop on Global Information Systems applications to natural resource management in east Africa.

As sketchy reports about the unfolding tragedies in New York City and Washington, D.C., began to filter in from CNN, I thought about our extended Purdue family scattered around the world. I wondered about the safety of our study abroad students. I tried to remember if many faculty were working internationally that day, where they were and how vulnerable they might be to unknown dangers. I worried about the impact of the tragedy on our ability to sustain Purdue Agriculture's international activities. . Would students and their parents walk away from our overseas programs? Would our faculty hesitate to continue their efforts with global collaborators? Would safety and security concerns overwhelm all else? Would we simply have to suspend our global efforts--at least for a while?

Let me share with you some of what actually happened in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11.

  • None of our students studying abroad chose to come home. Our staff continues to communicate regularly with all of these students and with their parents.
  • Our exchange students from overseas were invited to the home of an IPIA staff member on the evening of Sept. 11 where they were able to discuss events, share their fears and concerns, and express their resolve to remain at Purdue.
  • A group of our students scheduled to leave for Europe barely a week after the attacks departed without a single individual choosing to drop out of the program.
  • Scientists scheduled for travel to Africa and the Middle East postponed their trips but, in most cases, have since rescheduled or found alternative ways to accomplish program goals.
  • A training program at Purdue for six Jordanian water resource specialists planned prior to the events of Sept. 11 was held as scheduled in mid-October.

In sum, our international programs continue but in a new environment in which we are more cautious. We will not take unacceptable risks (we never did), but we will continue to move forward with our program efforts because that is the responsible thing for us to do. As some in the public spotlight have asserted, the events of Sept. 11 suggest that now, more than ever, we need an international presence for Purdue Agriculture. Our unique capacities in education, research, and outreach--the core missions--can make the world a better place for all.

An unusual map of the world that holds a lesson for all of us is located on the wall opposite the entrance to the IPIA office. The map is a composite of satellite images and shows the world in beautiful detail. Geographic features can easily be identified: polar ice caps, deserts, oceans, forested regions, mountain ranges, and major rivers and lakes. However, the map is missing one major attribute that most include--there are no borders.

I consciously chose this map for our office because I think that borders, whether literal or figurative, frequently do more harm than good. Borders tend to separate people, to keep nations apart and to cause individuals and groups to think in terms of "us and them."

Many kinds of borders exist besides those lines that are missing from the map in IPIA. For example, many of us might view politics, skin color, culture, religion, economics and language as "borders"--factors that tend to contribute to a pervasive sense of separation and division--when, in fact, awareness continues to grow that we share one earth in this age of globalization.

Increasingly, I have come to believe that a principal task for those of us who are educators is to prepare learners for a world without borders. The tragedy of Sept. 11 underscored how connected we are to people around the world: although our nation was attacked, citizens from more than 80 nations were listed among the casualties.

As a globally prominent institution, Purdue cannot avoid an international presence--nor would we dare to do so. Travel (both for faculty and students) that leads to human interaction that transcends borders is "fatal to prejudices," as Mark Twain has pointed out so well. Moreover, it is an important way that we as an institution can do what we do best in an era of globalization.

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