On graduation weekend last May, I enjoyed an end-of-the-year formal ball. Stars and crescent moons adorned the walls, and the room was ablaze with the colors of the Turkish flag. Streamers proclaimed greetings in Turkish, while servers passed around trays loaded with traditional Turkish appetizers and pastries. This was not the A’jia Hotel in Istanbul or the Dedeman in Ankara—we were at the Holiday Inn in Binghamton, New York, mingling with more than 120 Turkish students graduating from Binghamton University’s dual-diploma program.
This annual formal ball celebrates both the achievements of our Turkish students as well as the success of our dual-diploma program. Now in its sixth year, the program is just one of the creative initiatives that Binghamton University has developed as part of our comprehensive internationalization efforts, which are a high priority in our strategic planning. We have developed ways to internationalize the entire campus—from academic programs and research activities, to student services, community outreach, and even our food services. Our goal is to provide opportunities for international contact in all aspects of student experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.
The dual-diploma program with Turkish universities provides many opportunities for interactions between Turkish and American students. The Turkish students are on our campus in alternate years and become involved in the entire range of campus activities—from academic, cultural, and social organizations, to intercollegiate athletics and intramural programs, to research activities. Others participate in our musical and theater productions. For example, last year one of our Turkish students traveled to Chile to play a lead role in our theater department’s production of The Threepenny Opera, performed at Duoc Universidad Católica in Santiago as part of an ongoing partnership between the theater departments at the two universities. Student involvement in campus activities also is encouraged by our active Turkish Cultural Association, which also includes many Turkish-American students.
One of the hallmarks of Binghamton’s approach to internationalization is that it builds upon many of the existing international links that the university and our faculty have with institutions and colleagues in other nations, and these linkages played a crucial role in the development of the Turkish dual-diploma program. In 2000, leaders at the State University of New York (SUNY) entered into discussions with Kemal Gürüz, then-president of the Turkish Council of Higher Education, who was working to create new educational opportunities for students, both within Turkey and in other nations. Binghamton was positioned to take a lead role in these endeavors because our faculty had numerous longstanding relationships with Turkish universities. These ties, some of which had existed for more than three decades, involved faculty from a range of disciplines—business, political science, history, engineering, and other fields.
A Model for Internationalization
Overall, the dual-diploma program has been very successful, both for the students and for Binghamton. Of course, there have been some challenges, as the campus and students work to reconcile the different educational cultures and social expectations that can make the transition to American college life difficult. For example, Turkish students sometimes find the academic work at Binghamton challenging, particularly when coupled with language and cultural differences. At the same time, the university has found that coordinating the program can be difficult and requires significant ongoing administrative and pedagogical efforts. We continually assess and modify the program when needed to ensure that both student and institutional needs are being met.
Because the dual-diploma program with Turkey has been successful, we have used it as a model for other programs in Russia, Mexico, Jordan, and India. More than 250 students have graduated from this unique program and have gone on to pursue graduate education at many of the best universities in the United States and Turkey. Employers on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the achievements of our students and the educational value of the program. The presence of this large group of international students strengthens the university and adds immensely to the cultural and intellectual climate of the campus. Equally important, the program has helped raise Binghamton’s international profile, opening doors for other international partnerships and linkages.
In many ways, the annual graduation ball is a good metaphor for the entire program. Establishing international programs such as the dual-diploma program is a complicated dance involving many partners, both at the institutions as well as in the respective states and nations. As in a dance, at times it can seem like you are taking two steps forward and one step back. But it is both exhilarating and rewarding when the partners are perfectly synchronized, moving together to provide unique opportunities and experiences for students and sharing institutional expertise and knowledge.
Lois B. DeFleur is president of Binghamton University.