The International Center held its grand opening ceremony last Friday (April 21) in the same multipurpose room where 2½ months ago the Office of Global Affairs held a forum on President Donald Trump’s first set of executive orders on immigration.
“We had a standing-room-only crowd or more than 250 students and scholars and others asking questions and airing their very real concerns over the then-sudden restrictions on immigration and travel,” Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter told the audience that had gathered for the International Center’s grand opening.
“This is another reason why this International Center is so important — so our growing numbers of internationally engaged students and scholars and faculty can come together under an ‘international banner,’ one that we’re really so proud to be flying here at UC Davis.”
The keynote speaker, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, whose district includes UC Davis, followed up on Hexter’s remarks. “The way in which our government … is treating immigrants, treating visitors to our country, deserves all of our attention, and it deserves our pushback.
“There is no way this great nation will be great in the future if it divorces itself from the world and … instead of welcoming the world, pushes it out. We will not succeed.
“And so, this building, those who work here, and the goal of this work, need to be constantly on our mind, in our heart and always in our advocacy,” said Garamendi, who began his career in public service as a Peace Corps volunteer more than five decades ago; he and his wife, Patti, volunteered together in Ethiopia, 1966-68.
‘We will prosper spiritually, intellectually’
“We cannot be an inward nation,” Rep. Garamendi said. “We must welcome the entire world and all its curiosity and all its beauty and all its languages and all its cultures.”
He pointed to Friday’s program-opening performance by the student dance troupe AfroVibes as an example, “bringing to us the beauty of the world, bringing it to our doorstep, bringing it to our campus.”
As international students and scholars come to UC Davis, as they find a welcoming atmosphere, Garamendi said, they also find colleagues, other students, professors and researchers “who want to know them and want to draw from their intellectual capacity, the wisdom that they have brought with them.”
In turn, he said, “We will prosper, perhaps financially, but far, far more important, we will prosper spiritually, we will prosper intellectually and we will become a far better society.”
Garamendi said of international students: “As they work with us together, as they meld into our community, they bring their energy (and) they bring the most important thing of all, and that is their hope, for themselves and for the communities from which they have come.”
He congratulated Hexter and all those involved in making the International Center a reality. “Something very important is happening here today,” he said. “It’s an opening, a celebration, it’s a door to our future that all of you have unlocked, and in doing so, you have brought the promise of a good future.”
Grand opening with a grand open house
A grand open house — taking in all of the three-story building — followed the ceremony. A crowd of more than 350 ventured in and out of classrooms, study lounges and offices (including Study Abroad), participating in hands-on activities (origami, for example), meeting international students, and learning about the varied programs run by Global Affairs and UC Davis Extension’s Center for International Education.
Dean Paul M. McNeil of UC Davis Extension recalled his remarks at the International Center’s groundbreaking nearly two years ago: “I said, ‘The world is getting smaller.’ I misspoke. As a colleague of mine pointed out, the world isn’t getting smaller. It’s getting closer.
“While some people are still coming to terms with this, the reality is that now, more than ever before, our futures are interconnected. The more we strive to appreciate our differences, to learn from one another, and to work collaboratively, the brighter our future will be. That is what the International Center represents: an opportunity for diverse people, cultures and ideas to come together.”
For more than 30 years, he said, UC Davis Extension’s Center for International Education has served students, scholars and researchers from more than 120 countries, providing transformative academic and cultural experiences. But, without the new International Center, “we had quite frankly hit the ceiling in terms of our international growth and programming.” The new building is a game-changer, he said, providing the space, technology and atmosphere to be a genuine hub of international collaboration.
The program also included a student speaker, Xinyi “Daisy” He, a third-year student from China who attended three years of high school in the United States before coming to UC Davis. “But so far UC Davis is the only place in America that I can call home,” said He, who is majoring in psychology and economics, and serves as a student assistant to the chancellor.
“It was not until I came to UC Davis that I began to gain a better understanding of who I really was,” she said. “I learned to not only be just Chinese or American, but rather to absorb the essentials of the two cultures and form them into my own unique identity. I’ve enjoyed my time in Davis because I not only have found friends with mutual understanding and common interests, but also a sense of belonging as well, which is why I call this university home.
“And now, I’m really excited that we have an International Center at UC Davis. To me as a Chinese international student, this center is not just a place dedicated to serve students, but it also feels like we now have a physical home on campus, where we can find support, friendship and ultimately, a sense of belonging.”
‘Inspiring, understanding, engaging’
Joanna Regulska, vice provost and associate chancellor for Global Affairs, echoed Garamendi and McNeil in their remarks about UC Davis’ welcoming a world that is growing closer. “Indeed, Global Affairs is trying to interconnect all of us, by inspiring, by understanding, by engaging, and I think this is sort of becoming our motto,” she said.
She acknowledged 20 years of work by UC Davis to strengthen its international profile and said the International Center provides the physical presence that will encourage the development of an expanded international agenda, including:
- Global Education for All, one of the campus’s “Big Ideas” for the next comprehensive fundraising campaign — To give all students (undergraduate, transfer, graduate and professional school) an international experience by the time they graduate.
- Global Centers — Five faculty committees are exploring this proposal to increase UC Davis’ presence overseas.
“These new initiatives will seek to expand upon the impact that UC Davis is making towards solving global problems, educating an interculturally competent citizenry and engaging in world-class research.”
Indeed, Hexter said the International Center “stands as a monument to our vision of who we are and where we are going as a university.”
“We are a globally oriented university in everything we do — our curriculum, our research, our public service and our clinical outreach,” Hexter said. “And we are on an upward trajectory of becoming one of the world’s most global universities” — having recently been ranked by Times Higher Education as the fourth most international public university in the nation.
Hexter said international students comprise about 15 percent of the student body, or 5,500 students in undergraduate, graduate and professional school programs. That compares with 1999’s enrollment of fewer than 900 international students.
“Nine-hundred to 5,500,” he said. “And we owe it to all of our students to become a university that looks like the world we live in — and the world our students will live and work in after they graduate and leave our campus.”