Strong Connections to International Engagement


July 31, 2012

The Dialogue of Civilizations program first began in 1994 with Professor Denis Sullivan leading a group of 10 students to Egypt.  The program was founded to provide Northeastern students the opportunity to engage in global interactions with key political, diplomatic and economic leaders in other countries, and with their peers around the world.  Since that time the program has expanded to over 40 countries and regions around the world. The Department of Political Science, its faculty, and its students have remained heavily involved in continuing original programs and expanding to new areas.

Professor Denis Sullivan in Egypt- Where the Dialogues Program Began

With the help of university and alumni contributions these trips have been offered at costs similar to if students were studying on-campus in Boston.  Opportunities have developed through these trips that have enabled students in the spirit of experiential education to find international co-ops, engage in service learning and social entrepreneurship, and go on to pursue careers and research of global importance.  Also, the Dialogues program has developed relationships which have led to high-level dignitaries visiting and speaking at Northeastern, as well as students from other countries visiting here, and, in at least one case, a “Reverse Dialogue”.

This summer faculty in the Department led trips to nation of the former Yugoslavia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, and Switzerland.  The following are some notes about each dialogue.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia- “Post Conflict Reconciliation, State Building, and Foreign Policy in the Balkans”

Northeastern Students meeting Bosnian President, Bakir Izetbegvic

Led by Professor Denis Sullivan, Dr. William Lovely III, and Mladen Mrdalj, this dialogue began in Sarajevo, one of the cities most deeply affected by the Balkan wars of the 1990’s.  As Professor Sullivan noted, “Sarajevo is one of the world’s best examples of a ‘Resilient City.’ It was a city under siege and under constant attack from 1992-1995, during which over 100,000 people were killed, including over 1,300 children. Today, it has regained much of its elegance and now is trying to return to its unique character of a multi-faith, multi-ethnic community.”

As part of this dialogue, students met with leaders from the Jewish, Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim communities. They also met political leaders, including the foreign policy advisor to the Muslim President of Bosnia-Herzegovina and members of Parliament who are tasked with writing a new constitution.  One of the most emotionally difficult visits was to the cemetery near Srebrenica, the site of the July 1995 massacre, and indeed genocide, where over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

After Bosnia-Herzegovina, the students and their leaders headed East to Belgrade, where they got to meet several more political leaders and non-governmental representatives.  The highlight of the Serbia portion of the Dialogue was a three-day training in nonviolent social change from the Belgrade-based Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).  Northeastern University has Coop students working for CANVAS, and it is an organization the Department will continue to work with, both in Serbia as well as in Boston.

For more on the events, people, places, and ideas worked on in the Balkans Dialogue, visit Professor Sullivan’s blog, which also covers his Dialogues in Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.

Brazil- “Rio de Janeiro the Marvelous City Reinvented”

The Brazilia

Fernando de Mello Barreto, Consul General of Brazil, spoke to students before their departure.

2012 is the third year that Professor Thomas Vicino and Professor Simone Elias, Portuguese Language Coordinator, led a program to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Professor Vicino calls Brazil “a land of contrasts.” He goes on to explain, “It is home to one of the world’s largest multiethnic societies, one of the world’s largest democracies, sustainable ecosystems and a nation whose urban growth outpaces most others in the world.” He says that Brazil provides an excellent laboratory to study these issues.

This year students participating in this dialogue were able to begin their engagement with the Brazilian culture and people even before leaving Boston. On April 26, they were able to meet and speak with Fer­nando de Mello Bar­reto, Consul Gen­eral of Brazil in Boston. Mr. Barreto spoke to the students about Brazil’s role as an emerging economy and their recent developments in renewable energy. He also spoke about what he most enjoyed about Brazilian culture and the mounting excitement about the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016.

Upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro, students were able to see first-hand the characteristics that define the city. They engaged in a dialogue with students, families, business leaders, and policymakers, who spoke about recent demographic shifts, economic transitions, political change, and landscape transformations. Students had the opportunity to interact with and exchange ideas with people from many diverse backgrounds and gained exposure to a wide spectrum of Brazilian society and Brazil’s place in the global community by meeting with Petrobras, the nation’s public multinational energy corporation as well as BNDS, the nation’s World Development Bank. The World Cup and Olympic committees met with the group to discuss issues of urban development and planning.

The Dialogue culminated with a service-learning project in the favela community of Santa Marta, which gave students an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with residents and work on social development projects in Brazil’s most vulnerable communities.

For more information on the three years of dialogues to Brazil please visit the program’s website.

Indonesia, Bali – “Poverty, Development and Immigration in Bali”

A frantic itin­erary and a litany of seem­ingly insur­mount­able lan­guage bar­riers made travel and study in Bali appear nearly impos­sible. But thanks espe­cially to the wel­coming embrace of the Bali­nese people, more than two dozen North­eastern stu­dents, led by Professor Denise Horn on a Dialogue to the Indonesian island, expe­ri­enced the impor­tant role social entre­pre­neur­ship and the arts play in bridging mas­sive cul­tural divides and building strong futures.

Stu­dents con­ducted field research with Bali natives, took daily classes, and trav­eled with Professor Horn to meet with gov­ern­ment offi­cials, museum cura­tors, leaders of non­govern­mental orga­ni­za­tions and a healer, whose work hap­pened to be fea­tured in the pop­ular memoir Eat Pray Love.  Stu­dents also spent time every day with mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, who were eager to share their per­sonal expe­ri­ences with the North­eastern group.

Students doing fieldwork with local organization in Bali, Indonesia

“There may be no sky­scrapers, wide roads and high-​​ranking jobs, but the Bali­nese people are happy with what they have,” said Mar­garita Limcaoco, a student on the Dialogue.  Bali­nese people, she added, live in a “rich community-​​based cul­ture where everyone wants to show you how to dance, what to wear, what to eat, how to say some­thing in Bahasa and who to talk to.”

Half the time, stu­dents, worked on cre­ating busi­ness plans that could be adopted by the com­mu­nity to improve areas such as tourism, sus­tain­ability and edu­ca­tion. That focus fits into Professor Horn’s own research, studying the impact of social busi­nesses on democ­racy and civic engagement.

“The stu­dents had to go out into the com­mu­nity, do field research, find out what the prob­lems were and then find a solu­tion that was inno­v­a­tive and would be sus­tain­able,” Professor Horn said. “They had to iden­tify some­thing that would work with these com­mu­ni­ties, not just push some­thing that might work back at home.”

For more information on the Bali Dialogue and additional student accounts please see this recent story in Northeastern University News.

Japan – “Culture, Society, and Politics”

NU and Meiji University students and faculty at Lake Yamanaka, near Mt. Fuji

The Dialogue of Civilization on Japanese Culture, Society, and Politics has origins in a decades-long friendship between the late Bruce Wallin and Kosaku Dairokuno, now the Dean of the School of Political Science and Economics at Meiji University, one of Japan’s leading private universities. That relationship, put on hiatus following the tragic earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, was renewed this past May when Professor Christopher Bosso, assisted by Corey Maillette (BA 2009, MPA 2011), led 14 NU students back to Tokyo for four weeks at Meiji U.

A typical day included a lecture by a Meiji U. faculty member, a follow-up discussion comparing Japan and the United States, and a visit to a cultural site or government office in and around Tokyo. Highlights of the Dialogue included an intensive weekend retreat with Meiji students in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, a trip by the famed “bullet train” to the Japanese cultural capital, Kyoto, and — for Professor Bosso at least — the opportunity to take in a sumo tournament.

Students came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of the politics of and current policy challenges facing Japan. Equally important, they came away having made friends with Meiji U. students, many who will be coming to Boston for a “Reverse Dialogue” on the Northeastern campus in August.

Geneva, Switzerland- “Disarmament Diplomacy, Humanitarian Action, and International Security”

The Geneva Dialogue was started in 2007 by Professor Denise Garcia with the aim of exposing

NU Students Pose at the International Headquarters of the Red Cross

students to the practice and real life of diplomacy and negotiation.  Students in this dialogue are able to experience first-hand, world politics at the highest level in action in the capital of humanitarian diplomacy, Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva is where two-thirds of all United Nations activities take place. The Dialogue also aims to provide students with opportunities and possibilities of interacting and networking for future professional possibilities. Since the beginning of the Dialogue, connections were made with the International Co-op program and students have pursued work with the United Nations and Non-governmental organizations at the forefront of global engagement and advocacy.

The focus of the Geneva dialogue is on pressing international security issues, such as disarmament, arms control, international humanitarian law, and human rights law. On a typical day, students engaged with the local community of international diplomats, locally-posted United Nations personnel, researchers, and other negotiators, academics, and non-governmental organizations, as well as advocacy groups.

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