The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 17, 2011

Trip to help develop global citizens

MANKATO — Chris Corley is now just hours away from stepping into one of this planet’s most violent, and perhaps misunderstood, human conflicts.

The Minnesota State history instructor and Honors Program director is one of 10 higher education faculty nationwide selected for the Palestinian American Research Center’s 12-day seminar on Palestine.

On Thursday he will fly into the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. When he lands, a day of rest will precede discussions with dozens of Palestinian higher education counterparts, lengthy visits to five academic institutions in the West Bank and tours of refugee camps and ancient cities.

But Corley said he also will be landing in the middle of an intense political conflict that is only gaining intensity as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to address the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Netanyahu’s address will come little more than a week after Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters clashed on Sunday, leaving at least 12 dead on the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948, a day that Palestinians refer to as “Catastrophe Day.”

“It will be fascinating to be right there and see the reaction,” Corley said. “As an academic, my job is to understand other perspectives. ... You want to meet people, hear what they’re saying, understand the world through their eyes. Nothing beats that interaction.”

Corley applied for the trip in February for a few reasons: to advance his own knowledge as an academic, to gain insight into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for use in university courses and to develop global relationships.

In his role as director of the Honors Program, Corley said that developing students into global citizens is a primary objective. Visiting the West Bank opens opportunities for future visits and classroom interaction as well as creates access to a conflict, he said, that is largely perceived in America through a limited lens.

“I don’t think we hear enough of what it’s like to live in that area,” he said.

Executive Director Penelope Mitchell said that limited lens is precisely why the PARC was founded in 1998 and began the seminar to the West Bank in 2010.

“It has been our observation,” Mitchell wrote in an email, “that given the importance of having an informed citizenry about Palestine, not enough U.S. faculty members have ever had an opportunity to meet other Palestinian scholars, let alone travel to the region.”

Corley, however, is not the first MSU faculty to visit the West Bank. He follows Lee Tesdell, an MSU technical writing instructor and Fulbright scholar who returned in 2009 from Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Maria-Claudia Tomany, MSU’s assistant vice president for international education, said such international partnerships are growing in number and represent a conscious decision by MSU officials to broaden those opportunities.

This week, for example, a contingent from the HAN University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands is visiting MSU to glean insight on how to integrate research into teaching. Students from universities in South Korea and Iraq, to name a few, have regular exchanges with MSU.

In the other direction, Tomany said programs are already in place that allow students to visit, study or conduct internships in nearly every continent in the world and MSU offers at least 15 faculty-led tours of locations abroad.

She said the university also is trying to foster a “community of scholars” that cares about issues of international interest, hence recent roundtable discussions on the revolution in Egypt and the earthquake disaster in Japan.

“It’s a very intense experience and, for many, a life-changing experience,” Tomany said of learning about other cultures firsthand. “It’s very important our university offers opportunities on and off campus to have experiences with other cultures.”

Upon returning, Corley said he wants to begin developing concrete ideas for how students can benefit from the relationships he builds. In the fall, he’ll begin by teaching a course about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He’s also hoping to find a counterpart in the West Bank who could run a parallel course and allow students to engage each other online.

In addition, Corley is hoping to share his experiences with church groups, civic organizations, non-profits and schools.

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