Everywhere you look around campus, JMU is continually improving and expanding, but the school isn’t just focusing on bettering the educational programs on Harrisonburg’s soil. JMU's doing its part across oceans as well.
Kosovo, a newly recognized European state in Southeastern Europe, declared its independence in 2008 from Serbia and is now one of the newest democracies in the world. Before it became a recognized European state, it was a communist region.
“Kosovo has only got about two million people, predominantly Muslim nation, but one which has really tried to protect the rights of minorities and integrate into the rest of Europe,” President Jonathan Alger said when he met with The Breeze.
Since it has only been nine years since Kosovo declared its independence, not many universities have made connections with the country. As one of the first American universities to do so, JMU has taken initiative to build these needed relationships.
“My belief is that you need to develop connections and trust first, and then you can explore opportunities,” Michael Stoloff, interim associate dean of JMU’s graduate school,said. “So far, JMU has developed the personal connections and the trust that is needed to move forward.”
On Sept. 15, 2016, President Alger signed the Memorandum of Understanding to pair JMU's educational programs with Kosovo alongside Dr. Arsim Bajrami, the nation’s minister of education science and technology.
“They are well-educated, and want to develop a system of education that will well serve all of their people, from kindergarten through the graduate and professional levels,” Stoloff said.
This memorandum will help JMU and Kosovo students mutually learn more about one another by providing opportunities to share academic programs with Kosovo, including the chance for students to study abroad at JMU.
“As in any international education endeavor, the most significant benefit will be cross-cultural learning,” Dr. Vesna Hart, a project officer for the international network of universities, said in an email. “In working with students, faculty, and administrators from Kosovo additional dimensions are present: 1) learning about efforts to re-build a society following a violent conflict, and 2) witnessing development of the youngest democracy in Europe.”
Since JMU students are fortunate enough to go to school in a country with numerous higher-education opportunities, this cross-cultural interaction can help JMU students get an inside look on what it’d be like to have to build an education system.
“As Americans, I think we take a lot for granted,” Stoloff said. “It is hard to imagine needing to build everything you need to operate a modern western-style country.”
For Kosovo, the connection to JMU can give them the tools and ideas needed to develop its higher education systems, so it can further its growth as a state.
“JMU also wants to welcome more students from Kosovo who would return back to Kosovo with advanced degrees as change agents in their society,” Hart said.
According to Stoloff, students have already begun to reap the benefits of their connections with Kosovo.
“Four students from our European Union Policy Studies master’s program have completed summer internships in Kosovo,” Stoloff said. “They have worked with the US Embassy in Kosovo as well as with the Kosovo Prime Minister’s office.”
Other projects with Kosovo that are in the works include more internships for students abroad, more locations for JMU students to study abroad and a program about global partnership at JMU’s campus in Florence that will bring together graduate students from JMU, Kosovo and Croatia.
The JMU community will gain a lot of experiences and knowledge from its interaction with Kosovo, but more importantly, this is just one way to make a difference in education internationally.
“When you think about community engagement, you like to say it’s at all levels,” JMU President Jonathan Alger said. “It’s not just locally, it’s not just statewide, not just nationally but internationally as well.”
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