One of the greatest privileges of being the president of San Diego State is the opportunity to spend time with our students – to hear their dreams, to admire their aspirations, to consider their challenges. Of course, I sometimes joke that at a university with well over 30,000 students, an individual student has to do something that is either very good or very bad to end up in my office. Equally valuable are informal interactions – the chance meetings on campus or around town – when I get to hear from students about their experiences, both good and bad, at the university.
To this end, we started a tradition called “Pizza with the President.” It is an opportunity for a group of students to sit down with me and Jeri at our house and tell us about the excitement and challenges of their lives. Whether it is the opportunity to share their views or the free pizza, these events are always well-attended and informative.
Recently, we had an opportunity to sit down with a number of our international students for “Pizza with the President.” The international character of economic, political, and social systems is the dominant force of our century and our international efforts, from study abroad to Fulbright scholars to cross-cultural research to enrollment of international students, are central to our efforts to prepare students for the global society they will inherit. Thanks to the gracious efforts of Gigie and Larry Price from the International Student Center, we were joined by undergraduate and graduate students from China, Finland, France, Iran, Latvia, Paraguay, South Korea, Spain, Venezuela, and Vietnam. This breadth of cultural backgrounds was, in itself, breathtaking.
The courage and ambition of our students in embracing a global vision, an interconnected world, was immediately apparent. Many were not yet 22 and had already traveled the globe. One young woman from Vietnam had already lived in Michigan, South Carolina, Seattle and San Diego, as well as her homeland. As a product of the 20th century, I had never been on an airplane nor traveled more than 150 miles from my birthplace at that age. All the students embraced multi-lingualism, and many were trilingual.
We had an opportunity to share cross-cultural perspectives and to reflect on our own cultural practices and assumptions. These discussions ranged from the specific, such as how a person’s age increases in South Korea on the New Year and not on their birthday, to the general (e.g., students from China, South Korea and Vietnam view our educational practices as relaxed, while students from Paraguay and Venezuela view them as too pressured). We gained insights from each other and about ourselves and that, in the final analysis, is part of the extraordinary power of international programs and one very important reason why they are central to San Diego State University.