International Programs Statement of Principles

The Program in the Comparative History of Ideas is widely recognized and respected for its innovative and transformative international programs. We believe that a “foreign” experience should be a part of every liberal education, not as a means of escape or self-affirmation, but as a path toward critical realistic participation in a world that is both increasingly unified and persistently diverse. Our primary goal is to expose carefully cultivated communities of students and faculty to the complexity of the world through exposure to other cultures and through self reflection, recognizing that cultural horizons are historically constructed. As with our program on campus, CHID International Programs are guided by the following principles:

  1. The questions are the content. CHID international programs employ academic materials, excursions, and cultural encounters to inform participants about the society in which they are studying. Such activities on their own can present fixed, constructed and often self-referential perspectives on a particular issue, society or culture. To work against this tendency, CHID programs are driven by questions that stimulate both the critical engagement and heartfelt commitments of the students and faculty. When students address issues that they find meaningful, within the context of the society where they are studying, the students can better appreciate the limitations and possibilities of that context.

  2. Inter-disciplinarity is disciplined knowledge. In CHID we treat academic disciplines as rigorously focused methods and traditions of knowledge that provide necessary, but limited, mappings of the problems we address. We consider inter-disciplinarity as not just cooperation among professional experts, but as the incorporation of different, parallel and sometimes conflicting, ways of knowing within the individual inquirer. International programs provide an opportunity to employ ways of knowing that are based in the University of Washington disciplines, as well as those that are indigenous to the study-abroad site. Inter-disciplinarity is itself a way of knowing that leads to innovation and intellectual freedom.

  3. Students are the agents of their own education. Learning is not a simple consumption of established knowledge but a creative, self-transforming practice. We believe that students can be trusted with the responsibility to take ownership of their education. To this end, students on CHID International Programs are often encouraged to develop individual projects or find their own focus within the program’s goals. In spite of the need for careful structuring and planning on international programs, CHID programs are often improved by responding to the suggestions, interpersonal connections, or projects of students.

  4. Education is a dialogical process within a learning community. Students learn about themselves and the world they live in through reciprocal exchange and interactions with others. In discussion with fellow group members, students can work through academic problems, and can also process the often challenging situations that arise from living in a foreign setting.Engagement with members of the local community is a particularly rewarding component of some CHID International Programs, allowing our students to see how the topics discussed in class play out in people’s lived experiences. When our students collaborate with community members on projects that are meaningful to both parties, our students can learn while contributing to, rather than exploiting the local community.

  5. Experience is the best teacher. The process of deep theoretical analysis can be distancing, leaving students feeling detached, wondering how important theoretical concepts might be applicable to them in their lives. So, it is important to balance these academic procedures with personal experience and meaningful action. In the classroom, this can mean allowing students to go through processes of self-doubt and reflective criticism of their own cultural assumptions and inherited identities, or working through the confines of a group assignment. Outside the classroom, students should experience the ways that the theoretical concepts and histories that they have studied play out in people’s lives. Active participation in internships or engaged community learning projects are especially effective venues for experiential learning.

  6. Learning is not a discrete, linear experience. Our international programs yield ongoing aftereffects, both for our students and faculty, and for our hosts abroad. On site, we respond to objectives defined by our hosts, so that our collaborations are mutually beneficial, and, where appropriate, we set up ongoing relationships among actors abroad, at the University of Washington and in the Seattle community. At home, we work to provide opportunities for our students to continue developing the ideas that they generate while abroad, and to share their experiences with others in our community. Finally, by keeping our program costs as low as possible, by facilitating exchanges, and by sharing resources, we strive to make international education available to the widest possible range of people.

    We recognize that the privilege of moving across borders and acting in multiple contexts is not shared among all people, so we encourage a humble, respectful approach to the people we encounter on our travels. Our programs have the capacity, not only to produce reflective, engaged and informed students, but also to facilitate understanding among people worldwide.