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McAleeses Discuss Education Abroad

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013

Updated: Friday, November 15, 2013 12:11

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Tiffany Law / Heights Staff

On Monday evening, students, faculty, and members of the local community had an opportunity to hear about international education from Mary and Martin McAleese, former president of Ireland and university chancellor of Dublin City University, respectively. 

To start off the dialogue, Mary talked about international education in the context of her own experience as a fellow at the University. “On a personal level, it is a wonderful experience to be here in America—inserted deeply into another culture,” she said. “It’s a going away without the comforts of home.”

She also talked about this in terms of her home country, which has a culture of hospitality and is thus a very popular place for American students to study abroad. Ireland also benefits from its membership in the European Union.

Martin also commented on what international education means to him. “When I think about international education, I think about the internationalization of college campuses and the globalization of the mindset of students,” he said. “These kinds of things are essential.”

Martin talked about the world’s relation to education in particular, claiming that education is about preparing students to make a decent contribution and that, increasingly, this contribution is in a global marketplace. In particular, he stressed creativity, imagination, and innovation as the keys to doing good in the world and being lifelong learners.

Globalization could ameliorate the problems of the world today, Mary said. “I think that globally, the kind of problems we face have to do with fear and ignorance,” she said. “There is a danger that the more parochially and locally we think, the more we lose sight of how other people think.”

She discussed how this relates to the Northern Ireland peace process, which involved American lawmakers such as Bill Clinton and Tip O’Neill coming over to mediate and help resolve conflict between loyalists and nationalists. This led to a robust and functional peace process, according to Mary. 

Martin added that he believes international education can play a role in challenging stereotypes. “When we began to make the effort to work with the man across the street, we were able to engage them more fully,” he said. “I think we do challenge stereotypes and bring back challenges from abroad.”

Mary also mentioned how the Irish have long been a migratory people, even before the potato famine of the 1840s. Today in America, about 25 percent of citizens are of some Irish descent.

“Looking back to the famine, it’s hard to even imagine the despair that these people were in,” Martin said. “It was kind of a lost generation, but now we have second and third generations of these people who became a tremendous asset.” 

Mary discussed why she decided to study canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome. She had originally wanted to study English, but would only have been able to do so in Ottawa or Washington, so instead she choose to take up studies in Italy in order to be closer to home. She also addressed the importance of learning Italian there, a language that she could have in common with her peers at the university.

Martin stressed the importance of change. “I’m a firm believer that we should keep changing,” he said. “No matter what we’re doing in life, it can become monotonous and repetitive if we don’t change.”

At the same time, Mary said that one does not have to leave their country to develop a new mindset. “Basic fundamental pedagogy encourages students to be good thinkers,” she said. “We must create the space for a more probative form of education.”

She focused on teaching as more important than research in the university setting. She explained that teaching and learning are the lifeblood of education and that she would like this to return to Irish higher education. 

She also emphasized, in response to a question from Bill Warren, graduate student at the School of Theology and Ministry, that cost is a large concern in higher education nowadays, especially in America. 

As a possible solution, she offered up the hope that perhaps innovations in technology will democratize education certification and allow more students to gain useful skills. 

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