Time and again on our brief but extremely busy sojourn through Spain and France, members of IU’s delegation, led by President Michael McRobbie, were exposed to the extraordinary power of IU’s longstanding engagement in two of the most historically important, economically dynamic and culturally vibrant countries in all of Europe.
Our trip, organized by IU’s Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, was highlighted by visits — first in marvelous Madrid and then in charming Aix-en-Provence, France — to two of IU’s longest and most successful study abroad efforts. In both cities we experienced, first-hand, the transformative and often life-changing impact that living and learning in a foreign country can have on our students.
We also delved deep into the types of programs and partnerships that make possible overseas opportunities for IU students and faculty, produce research collaborations that address the most important issues facing our planet and prepare future generations of graduates to thrive in today’s increasingly international marketplace.
Along the way, we shared with our hosts, longtime partners and potential collaborators major new developments at IU, such as the university’s ever-expanding global gateway network, including the new IU Europe Gateway, which is facilitating many of the student, faculty and staff activities, including academic conferences, workshops and other events, taking place across this region of the world. We also invited participation in IU’s bicentennial celebration, which will begin during the 2019-20 academic year.
Nearly all of the events and activities in which delegation members proudly took part over the last week or so demonstrated the depth, breadth and quality of IU’s steadfast European connections. They included:
- A celebration of the golden anniversary of IU’s Madrid — or WIP — Program and recognition of the Universidades Reunidas, a consortium of U.S. universities that has enabled thousands of students to study abroad in Spain’s capital and largest city. About 100 past and present Madrid Program participants, representing IU and its partner institutions, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin, gathered in Madrid for the event and eagerly shared stories — spanning five decades — of how the culturally immersive and academically rigorous program prepared them to be true “global citizens.”
- Meetings with officials, including Rector Carlos Andradas Heranz, IU’s newest recipient of the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion for exceptional international service, at the Complutense University of Madrid, perennial host site for IU’s Madrid Program. While there, Heranz, President McRobbie and their respective colleagues discussed expanding upon IU’s fruitful collaboration with UCM. They also toured the historic UCM campus and several buildings that, if they could speak, would tell enough incredible stories to fill up this blog site. Those sites included the Facultad de Filosofía, where the Madrid Program offices were once located, and which served as headquarters for the legendary International Brigade during the bloody Spanish Civil War.
- An enlivening croissants-and-coffee chat with the current cohort of IU students who are concluding a year studying abroad in France as part of IU’s Aix-en-Provence Program. Through the more than half-century-old program, which IU has helped manage since 1997, IU’s students from a diverse range of majors immerse themselves in, among other areas, French language, civilization, culture and history, while also navigating the day-to-day challenges that come with living in a land where they’re forced to quickly adapt to a new language, culture and customs.
- Meetings in Aix-en-Provence and in scenic Marseille with top administrators and faculty to explore new faculty and student exchanges with Aix-Marseille Université, the country’s largest university with around 70,000 students and one of the best universities in the region. Both IU and AMU share a strong commitment to greater global engagement overseas, as well as neatly aligned academic strengths in the arts, languages, humanities, social sciences, economics, management, medicine and more. While at AMU, McRobbie and IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret renewed an agreement between AMU and the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis that has facilitated student exchanges between the two schools since 2002.
- A gathering in Paris of IU’s European alumni, including the leaders of three separate alumni chapters on the continent, who, collectively, are a shining reflection of how alive and well l’esprit de IU is in France and all across Europe.
- Meetings at University Paris II Panthéon-Assas, France’s first and most prestigious law university, to explore ways to expand upon a fruitful relationship that, in recent years, has generated numerous exchanges of law students and faculty between the two universities.
- A dizzying tour of Paris’ legendary Louvre Museum — home to such masterworks as the “Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper” and “Raft of the Medusa.” The tour helped to highlight a couple of interesting art and design links between IU and the Louvre and signaled the possibility of some future joint opportunities between the university, including its acclaimed Eskenazi Museum of Art, and the world’s largest and most visited museum.
Before departing Paris, there was one more bit of business to attend to — a meeting on the campus of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie with senior leaders of UPMC, France’s top science and medical education university, and Paris Sorbonne Université, the country’s largest institution dedicated to the study of literature, languages, civilizations, arts and humanities, and the social sciences. Next January, the two leading institutions will merge to form Sorbonne University, a new, comprehensive global university located in the heart of the historic Latin quarter of Paris, that is expected to rival some of the best in the world.
To this end, the new Sorbonne will include 58,000 students and 7,700 faculty researchers, working across a vast array of academic disciplines, including the humanities, engineering, energy, the environment and the life and health sciences. It will also exist on the strongest of teaching and research foundations, including two recent Nobel Prize winners in physics, three recipients of Fields Medals (also known as the mathematician’s Nobel) and faculty who make up more than one quarter of the members of France’s national science and medicine academy. Additionally, the university is connected to a broad network of several of France’s top national institutes representing such interests as scientific research, health and medicine, technology, business, education and the performing arts.
Over the course of a couple of hours, IU and Sorbonne officials explored opportunities for potential collaboration around common interests — including increasing the amount of bilateral exchanges of students and faculty; reshaping academic programs to meet students’ emerging interests and ever-evolving educational needs (interestingly, both IU and Sorbonne have adopted a similar approach toward teaching media communications in all of its present and diverse forms); and fostering interdisciplinary research that addresses major issues of sustainable development, such as health, communications, biodiversity, environmental change, water and renewable energy.
The meeting was a most fitting end to a productive, enlightening, rewarding and frequently inspiring trip.
Admittedly, it’s going to be extremely difficult to say goodbye to our spectacular surroundings, the incredible art, trendy fashions and mouthwatering food, the kind hospitality we received everywhere we went, and the friends — new and old — that we encountered all throughout our travels.
To those students we met in Aix-en-Provence who didn’t seem super excited to be packing up to leave for home earlier this week, I completely get it.
To the alumni and former directors of IU’s Madrid Program who are quick to call Madrid their home away from home, I also get it.
I’m pleased to report that IU’s connections in France and Spain — fueled by the university’s longstanding commitment to internationalization, including increasing our students’ global literacy — are strong and only getting stronger. Indeed, all signs point to even greater engagement that will spark new opportunities for students and scholars all across this great continent in the years ahead.
Au revoir, and thank you for reading!