Peter Briggs is the founder of the ICSP and has served in the field of international education since 1974. He has worked at the University of Oregon and Michigan State University, and continues to do consulting in Oregon.
Idil Gumrik is an architecture student from Istanbul, Turkey. This year she graduates from UO and ICSP, and plans to move to New York to continue working in architecture. She hopes one day to pursue humanitarian architecture and form her own “Robin Hood” architecture firm.
They talk the foundations of ICSP, its impact on the community and the globalizing world, and the world-wide ICSP family.
IG: When did you come to the University of Oregon? How and why did ICSP start?
PB: I got to the University of Oregon in January 1981. When I came here, Oregon’s economy was in bad shape and the scholarships that had been available for international students were victims of budget cuts.
The first name of the program was not ICSP. It was called the Non-Resident Tuition Waiver Program. At that time, each public institution in Oregon was eligible to give in-state tuition as “residency by exception” to 5% of the total number of out of state students. That amounted to about 145 students at the University of Oregon in 1982, but UO was only using about 30. International students were not eligible to be considered for the residency by exception, but the context was favorable to explore creative ideas. The state budget was declining, UO’s enrollment was declining (there were only 13,000 students at UO), so to replace the scholarships that had been lost due to budget cuts, it was proposed to the Oregon State System of Higher Education (OSSHE) to include international students with the stipulation that there be an 80 hour per year service requirement.
It started as a financial aid program, but it had a service twist to it from the beginning.
I wasn’t in charge of the program originally, but it fell to me and I was in the right place at the right time. Working with OSSHE, I ended up writing the guidelines for the whole state system. In those first several years, we developed the UO traditions that have remained.
So it’s not just at UO, it’s also at all the state institutions in Oregon, and they all developed their own programs.
IG: How did you start to build all the networks and partnerships ICSP has now?
PB: We were confronted with the issue of how best to use each international student’s 80 hours to empower them as educators. We started by conducting a community needs analysis to explore potential partnerships. I was serving on a task force for Eugene 4-J School District to form what has now become the International High Schools and the three language immersion schools (French, Japanese, Spanish).
Kermit Horn was a program manager at the Lane Educational Service District (ESD) and was looking for ways to advance global studies at all the public schools in Lane County. Soon, it became a marriage made in heaven, because ICSP needed a partnership like that.
The program was new and needed promotion and marketing. The first year, the ESD printed this big poster with all the students’ pictures on it and sent it out to every school in Lane County. We hosted meetings and invited every teacher in Lane County to meetings. Things started slowly and I could not have foreseen the great success we later enjoyed. The first year we had only three teachers to this meeting when we wanted to introduce them to the ICSP participants. The second year, I think we had five teachers, so it was still not widely known. The third year showed the program had earned a good reputation and when we hosted the annual meeting, ninety teachers showed up. I was stunned and so proud of our work to build ICSP from nothing to something special.
It took several years to generate a reputation. It taught me patience. In the beginning, you expect everything to be perfect, and it wasn’t.
We started the training program and in the second year created a 2 credit class to help prepare the students for how to do intercultural presentations to audiences of students both young and old. The first year, I did the whole program by myself, and I was truly exhausted by the end of the year. We also started the coffee hour that year and my son was born in 1983. Looking back now, I honestly don’t know how I did it.
The second year, the director of the office saw what I was doing and I got funding for a GTF to help. We hired Jean Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education. She had many years of teaching experience and was fabulous. I learned so much from her. She and I became a really good team together.
There were a number of outstanding participants in those early years that really set the program’s reputation, but one that stands out was Morompi Ole-Ronkei. He is from the Masai tribe of Kenya and joined the program in 1985. This guy had a bundle of energy and a magnificent personality. He fills up any room he enters. He gave generously of his time and gave well beyond 80 hours a year of service. Within a few years, he had a huge following and everyone wanted him to come to their classes. A few years later, we applied for and received funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) to expand ICSP in a few areas. We hired him as the program’s GTF, so altogether, he was involved with ICSP for about ten years. Everybody knew him in town; when he got married in a small town just outside Eugene, about 400 people attended his wedding. He did a huge amount of good in this community. I want to emphasize that there were certainly many others who were central to the growth and success of ICSP, but his role stands out.
What we were trying to do was to create the culture. You’ve got to get people to believe in what you believe in, and just say
“Look! You can change the world. You can go out there.” These kids you present to, maybe they’ve never heard of your country before. If they heard about it, maybe they are going to make fun of it. But as an ICSP student, you have the opportunity to be an educator. You have to create that vision, that excitement.
IG: For my thesis, I’m looking at the treatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Then, I look at ICSP and how easy it is to get along with people from different cultures. I think it opens your mind, and stops you from having prejudices and judgements of other people.
PB: Absolutely. I think it’s still one of the missing pieces in America. The foundation of ICSP is putting the world’s diversity in front of an American audience, so they can humanize you as a Turkish person. Sadly, American ignorance of the rest of the world is famous. So, let’s figure out a strategy to overcome this and positive interactions with international students became our tool to change people’s attitudes. Americans are very powerful people in the world, and we make a lot of noise, but we are also insular and this program is extraordinarily important.
I do think that humanizing the world is what really ICSP does.
IG: How did you get involved in international education?
PB: I was a history major in the University of Washington and planned to go to law school. I studied in Southern France in my junior year. I wasn’t very good at French, so I really respect people who learn more than one language. The year after I completed my undergraduate studies, I got hired to help teach English as a second language at Seattle University. I was just blown away by how ignorant I was. I was humiliated in a really good way. I was a good student but I realized I didn’t know anything about the rest of the world. The students I had in this first English class were from all over the world, and the impact they had on me cannot be described. I loved the work (it did not seem like work to me!) and it was truly transformational. I was lucky that I got thrown into this situation. Every day for me was a new adventure. I was later hired as the student advisor and stayed at Seattle University for three years.
I loved it, but my enthusiasm turned to burn out. The time came to make a change. I wanted to see more of the world, so I quit the job, bought a Volkswagen van and drove to Mexico.
As fate would have it, I met my wife on that trip. We met on a beach in the Yucatan Peninsula. She got in my car in June 1978 and we’ve been together ever since.
When it came time to get back to reality, I got lucky again. I was offered a job at the Institute of International Education in San Francisco. I was a grants administrator for the Fulbright Program for two years. Fulbright is a great program, but all I was doing was pushing papers and I hated it. It taught me was how much I wanted to work with people.
UO had an opening for an Assistant Director in the Office of International Services and I was fortunate enough to get the job. So we moved to Eugene and I started at the UO in January 1981. There was lots to be done. As one example, the President of the International Student Association (it was then known as the Foreign Student Organization) had never been to the office and I found that shocking. I sensed that there was a lot of relationship building that needed to be done – I was like a kid in a candy store.
IG: What is the power of ICSP in the community?
PB: Before starting ICSP I learned a lot from the Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, and I applied intercultural training it to the program to really get at our higher aims. We were thinking, “Ok, we have one hour in someone’s classroom, how can we get kids to think internationally?” Not just telling them the capital, the longest river – that would put anyone to sleep. We want to get them excited and thinking critically on a higher level, not just interacting superficially.
Jean Campbell’s doctoral research explored what do people remember six months to a year after an ICSP presentation? They did not remember much of the facts – not the capital or the longest river. What is so interesting is that they remember that they like you. If they like you, they have a good association with your country. That became part of the training:
Don’t focus too much on facts; they can be found anywhere. What’s important is the human connection with the audience.
IG: What are some of your most memorable moments with ICSP?
PB: Individual people. I can’t separate the success of ICSP from the amount of time people gave to something I believed in. I created the idea but they executed it – at times I had no idea what I was doing! At the end of the first year the ICSP students gathered by the pioneer statue, outside the Architecture Building. They knew they were the pioneer group. They took a group picture and gave it to me at the end of the year party and said,
“We’re the pioneers.”
Of course there were difficult moments. We had one middle school teacher who had disruptive kids in his class, but he was not in the room to help the ICSP presenter. After that we had a lot of debriefing and set up guidelines that there should always be someone in the room with the students.
The friendships stand out too. I remain in contact with many former participants and many are in touch with each other. One example that comes to mind is Naghmeh Moshtael who came to Oregon from the Cameroon. She is now a doctor and public health leader in the city of Portland. She was in ICSP for all of her undergraduate experience. She was also the co-president of the Foreign Student Organization (FSO) and a really great leader. She was friends with the other co-president Tembi Myeni from South Africa. Naghmeh and her husband and daughter went to visit Tembi there –
It’s the organic nature of relationships – we have ICSPers connected to each other all over the world.
And it really changed some people’s lives. The public speaking element is so valuable. One student left ICSP to compete against 2,000 other people for a job in Kenya, and she got it because of the ICSP public speaking experience.
We really had a team. You can’t really work in life without relationships. Leaving ICSP was hard. I cried. I was proud of what we created.
I would always hear stories about people in audiences remembering ICSPers years later. They would come up to them in the street, or they would graduate high school and see the ICSPer at UO, and remember their anecdotes from years before and say “I want to study abroad because of you.” So sometimes you leave the classroom, you have no idea if anybody would remember you. But they do, and you can really change their lives.
IG: The longer you stay on ICSP, the more you realize, there’s more to appreciate than just the financial aid.
PB: Absolutely. Again, it made me an educator and it certainly gave me confidence. ICSP is somewhat famous, because I wrote about it a little bit. Then, I ended up becoming involved with the largest organization dealing with international education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators. I have played a number of leadership roles with NAFSA and was Vice President in 1993. I have been able to influence others who want to emulate what we’ve built with ICSP in Oregon. I am pleased to say that now other universities are thinking further than just having international students on campus, but about engaging them as educators.
And ICSP does empower international students. As another example, at the time of the famine in Ethiopia we had two Ethiopian ICSP students, and we did a massive fundraiser where everyone cooked a meal; I think we raised six or seven thousand dollars towards famine relief. I always asked students “What do you guys wanna do?” That way students own the program and it brings in their enthusiasm. My management style was to give a lot of the ownership of the program to the student participants. Mostly it worked.
And of course, we wanted to create a family. International students face a lot of unique issues. The mental health issues of students who are abroad is a big deal. In the developmental years between 18 and 23, and you are trying to kind of figure life out. So many people go back, and they love their family, but they can’t relate to them. We wanted ICSP to help students discover where they fit and where they feel at peace with themselves.
I think once you’re connected to the world, you have a different way of seeing the world, you have a global perspective based on your friends from Vietnam, your friends from Russia… and that’s what ICSP is about. You have unique set of experiences by your friendship with these other people.
We created a tradition and culture, in which people love each other, trusted each other, and they could have some difficult discussions with each other about Islam, about women’s roles, about so many different things that are challenges in the world.
IG: It’s not an easy thing to create a tradition like that.
PB: You’re right – and I disappointed that I wasn’t able to do it after I left UO to become Director of OISS at Michigan State University. I tried and it shows that what we started back in the early 80’s would be difficult to start here today because the circumstances are so different. MSU has this huge volunteer program, much bigger than it is at UO. The criticism with ICSP was that giving in-state tuition or scholarships for service would take away the volunteer spirit. At MSU, we had 150 students for free going out to the schools and the community, but without the same frequency. They were just going as volunteers. So it was difficult. I was shocked how I couldn’t bring it because I knew how to do it and I had done it before, but there are also so many other things to do as a director.
To this day, ICSP is the model for the whole country. In all the things I did professionally, I rank it right up there with some of the other things I’m proud of. And I’m proud of all of you for keeping the tradition.
IG: Maybe ICSP is also very well suited for Eugene.
PB: That’s true – Eugene is an extraordinary community. It’s a small college town, but it’s really light years ahead of other college towns in many ways. There are a lot of alternative schools and also a lot of people who may have never traveled abroad, so ICSP is a chance to internationalize the entire community.
I remember once a student from Kenya visited a school in Springfield, and these third grade kids asked him what they could do to help. He said the girls’ school in his village didn’t have any soccer balls, so the kids in that third grade class sent 20 soccer balls to a partner school in Kenya, and from there the two schools wrote letters back and forth – that Masai Tribe-Springfield, OR relationship continued for a long time. At one point there was even a teleconference.
And ICSP can help with the more difficult side of things too. It starts a conversation. Sometimes with students from all over the world, there are issues with law enforcement, driving – communication issues can be complicated in those cases.
The important thing is to have a conversation about it, and you need programs like ICSP to do that.
IG: Did you ever have a chance to go to your students’ countries, to visit them?
PB: Yes. In 1997, I became UO’s first Director of International Recruitment. In that role I traveled widely and thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many of my former students in their home countries. Students and people I met in ICSP were my mentors in every market and they started helping me network in that way. They were valuable to help me put together the alumni clubs overseas.
I was just in Kenya this past year for volunteer work with a former Duck. I got invited to work on this project through Mike Boit– he did his doctorate at UO and won a Bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics. There used to be a program called “The Return of Talent” where the US State department would give money to help people from developing countries in the US to go back to their countries and use what they learned. I wrote a grant to help him do that, and we stayed in touch, and he flew me and my wife to Kenya last year.
When I was there I also met one of the former students, who was on ICSP from 1991 to 1994. After she left UO, she did a law degree at Cornell and a PhD at Stanford. Now, she is a big time business player in Kenya.
I’ve now traveled to well over 40 countries. What a privilege it has been to do this work and know so many people from so many places
It’s the relationships you make. People do remember. And you’re always touched by the people you know. I’m so proud of ICSPers and what they’ve done, the roles they have and who they are. If I had some role and support them along the way, I did a good thing.
Written by Idil Gumrick
Edited and condensed by Sophie Patterson, ICSP Coordinator