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It’s All About People
Speech to the Dolibois European Center, 2009

mardi 31 mai 2011, par Thierry Leterre

My very first speech at Miami, as I was applying for the position of Dean of Miami University in Europe.

Thank you Dean Stiller,

Thank you for your words, thank you for your warm and friendly hospitality. I am very grateful for the attention I received as a guest, and I feel it is a testimony to what this community is, and if I may say so, should stay committed to be.

I would like to extend this thankful note to the whole Dolibois community. It would be hard to visit here even for a short time without perceiving how students, faculty and staff gather in a particularly dynamic collectivity. There is something special here.

And this makes my task tonight somewhat challenging. When I thought about what I would like to tell you about international relations and academic affairs, I had the distinct impression that whatever I was to tell you, well, you already knew better.

I was here in my reflection, when I stopped and thought that it was precisely I wanted to share with you tonight. A simple truth, a very simple, but, I believe a very powerful principle : it’s all about people.

Other ideas obviously crossed my mind : internationalization of curricula, student qualification and career orientations, multicultural experience, program enhancement, academic competition… and much more are the words we use to explain what our work is about when we want to underline how important an international experience is. These are important words, and these are critical goals.

Many visitors have come here to share their vision of what the internationalization of academic curricula is about and what the role of an institution like the Dolibois Center plays and should continue to play. I fear that I would not have much more to offer by saying how important an international experience is how it is part and parcel of curriculum enhancement.

But we all know that the most important truth, when repeated over and over again becomes the surest source of boredom. Repetition turns words of commitment into buzz words and the best principles into mantras.

Thinking of it, I felt very much at risk of inflicting a most boring round of mantras tonight. I especially felt so when I consider this audience tonight. We are in an American university at the heart of Europe, in a country connected to Belgium, France, Germany, a place inherently multicultural, where myriads of languages and traditions have gathered and often conflicted over the centuries.

The faculty, both Ohio and European faculty members, are a body of academics dedicated to teaching across borders, across continents—and the students are obviously dedicated to learning and studying across and beyond borders and continents.

Without this dedication, there is no Dolibois Center ; there is no true international experience. And this dedication is all about people.

This is why, before principles, buzz words, or grand ideas about internationalization, when I was thinking of what I wanted to share with you tonight, I thought about people, friends and acquaintances, who have been through this international experience.

Sometimes, they got into it the hard way : I think of my friend form Texas, coming to the University of Tour, in France, and being told that the university would not help her find accommodation. She ended up in a Youth hostel, where she would work, in a marginally legal situation, in exchange for a room. Her interlocutor was concerned about what the system allowed or not. Not about the person, the young American landing thousands miles away from home.

I thought of this young Tunisian student arriving a the Saint Quentin campus of the University of Versailles, completely lost because he was in reality he was aiming at the University of Amiens, a hundred miles North from Versailles, but had been wrongly directed to our University. I was then the Vice-President in charge of International Relations at the University of Versailles. Talking to him, I thought about the experience of my American friend and decided that I could easily make the difference. I checked that he had proper accommodation for the night, called his actual university to let them know he would arrive late, though he had no responsibility in this delay, making sure that this event would not temper with his academic records. Thinking about the person, turned what could have been an ordeal into a delay with only very light slightly unpleasing consequences.

An international experience means that we have to explore outside of our comfort zone. It does not mean that we should get lost in an experience we have no way to decipher.

To this extent, we are a lucky generation. For most people before us, exploring the world meant either exile or tourism—the deepest hardship or the most superficial acquaintance. Thinking of exile, I still think of people, and more precisely to one of my masters in political science, who had to live his home country, Germany, to France in the torments of the nineteen thirties. The young German became a young Frenchman, but had to face persecution again and life threatening situation when the Nazis invaded and occupied France.

If we have the privilege to belong to generations that have not known exile, I think it is also a great chance for us to able to be something else than mere tourists in the world. And once again, not being a tourist means is all about people.

Of course, we are here to visit monuments, to see places, to admire museums. You will do so even more efficiently if you plan ahead carefully, wisely. But it is also essential to take a good look at your immediate surroundings. You will be back to Europe. All the famous places you long to see, you will see them. But you may never have a second chance to live in a foreign country, to be part of a community which is not yours, and to interact on a daily basis, for daily routines, with people from a different culture.

Being more than a tourist means that being abroad is not only about places and things. It’s about people. Do not be worried of misunderstanding, on the contrary, look for the difference, experience the difference, even if you will end up eating and drinking in restaurants what you have not ordered, or what you would rather have not ordered. Going to the supermarket is as significant an experience as going to the museums, albeit of a different sort.

The most important is the humane dimension.

This is the principle on which I base my understanding of the future of the future of MUDEC. As you know, we have a very important move ahead of us, when we join in a few years, the University of Luxembourg. I would like this program to become more and more a joint program for both institutions. Because it is an exceptional program, I am confident we will proud to share it with the University of Luxembourg. This will increase considerably the visibility of Miami University in Europe, and offer more opportunities to Miami alumni and graduates, in Europe, for sure, but also in the US.

This is how it will become a new form of experience for people—Miami’s people—students, staff, faculty—Luxembourg people, and also international students, an important public for the program we can offer.

I certainly would like Miami University students to expand their European experience at the University of Luxembourg, but I certainly would love too for students from the University of Luxembourg to have a Miami experience. I certainly would like to see Miami students taking classes at the University of Luxembourg, but we should consider offering the Dolibois program, because it is a great one, a program you can legitimately be proud of, to Luxembourgish students, and also to Erasmus students. It is a new sort of integration I am talking about here : the integration by offering something different, something new. This is how we will think “out of the box” but also “out of the bubble” that we create if we just stay together, a great American program isolated from its environment.

I hope I will have the opportunity to meet you again in Ohio, and why not ? for your graduation, and—whoever the next Dean of the Dolibois European Center will be, keep this in mind for future reference—as future generous donors to the MUDEC program. Indeed, because it is all about people, it is all about you.