Faculty Perspective: Thomas Lairson

December 01, 2008

Professor of Political Science Thomas Lairson is currently in Shanghai along with Rollins students. He is teaching a course on "Politics in China" at Rollins Shanghai Center.

Lairson was the director of the International Center at Rollins, administered the President's Internationalization Grants, and helped facilitate faculty development seminars and learning centers in Shanghai and Costa Rica.

Thomas Lairson leads students on a tour of Shanghai
View the rest of Thomas Lairson's photos from Shanghai

Rollins has been engaged in working to raise the profile of internationalization for nearly a decade. A significant focus of our effort has been on expanding faculty capabilities through new international experiences. This has greatly increased the opportunities for faculty and students to travel abroad together. The President's Internationalization Grant allows each faculty member to have an international experience every three years and has expanded resources to support faculty-led study abroad courses. In addition, Rollins aims to create learning centers in several locations to facilitate these faculty-student international activities. The first area of focus was in Shanghai. A second focus is in Costa Rica.

It is always worth remembering that the goal of our efforts is the education of students. And nothing beats education about a foreign country like being there. The historical, factual and analytical elements of a course about China - that might be less than exciting in Winter Park - come to life for students when in China. The effects of Western imperialism are apparent just by taking a walk through the French concession in Shanghai; the income gaps between cities and the countryside take on a tangible quality with a train ride from Shanghai to Xi'An; and the complexities of Chinese business operations become practical realities with a visit to a steel plant and a transnational firm.

Chinese culture is constantly on display through formal and informal and planned and unplanned interactions with Chinese and expatriates working in China. The classroom becomes an extension of daily life and the potential for learning is expanded dramatically. Good courses can become great ones when students have no choice but to be immersed in the subject matter. The benefits of a short international trip grow exponentially when time is increased to a semester.

What is difficult for one institution becomes possible when partnering with others. Rollins has been very fortunate to have Miami of Ohio as its partner in Shanghai and I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with Professors David Yen and Yihong Pan to make our first effort here a success. All of our students and our faculty are better for having been here, living and learning together in China.

Internationalization changes perspective for students and for faculty. It expands the range of options that you see for the world and it can lead to a rethinking of many of the assumptions you take for granted. In a world of rapid and extensive globalization, these new perspectives can be imminently practical. We are now frequently brought together with people who do not share our views but we increasingly need to solve problems together. Internationalization can create a mindset that facilitates positive results from these encounters. And it can serve as a real and tangible basis for lifelong learning.

By Thomas D. Lairson

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