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Penn History

A Brief History of Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania Conclusion: The Foreign Student Experience at Penn: From the Looking Glass to the Present

This exhibit was created by Alison D. Graham, a University Archives Research Fellow during the summer of 2007

In 1961, John F. Melby, then the Director of the Office for Foreign Students published a report titled Looking Glass for Americans: A Study of Foreign Students at the University of Pennsylvania. In the conclusion of his report, he looked towards the attitudes of the Pennsylvania campus and of the United States on, what was virtually, the question of global engagement. Melby stated,

[w]e believe, from our experience, that the diversities of man are only a veneer. One must know a great deal about that veneer in order to penetrate it without arousing hostility, misunderstanding or resistance… [w]e in no sense underestimate the importance of knowledge and understanding of the veneer; we are impressed that underneath it the frustrations, needs, hopes, desires, and satisfactions of all men are much the same. A great deal of discussion is taking place these days about the proper role of the University in world affairs… Is the American university doing what it should in these areas?

This brief history of global engagement at the University of Pennsylvania teaches at least one huge lesson: that Penn can now answer Melby’s question. This report has examined the histories of International House, the Office of International Programs, Penn’s international relationships and its involvement in world crises. In all examples, the Penn community has persevered to one common goal: to establish the campus as an international haven and in so doing have made Penn’s impact on the world incontrovertible. The history is one of survival: International House survived the Great Depression and gigantic financial difficulties to become a hallmark of the Penn community, even if it is not officially a part of the campus. The Office for Foreign Students, though for quite some time understaffed for the task it had been assigned, maintained good standards of service and was led by committed directors with incredible skills. Penn’s international relations, regardless of source, have forged a unique place in the world for Penn to become renowned as the American university it is. As for its involvement in the international crises of the 20th century, Penn did not falter once. Rather, its record of involvement in times of conflict is astounding, and the memorials across campus are dedicated to those Penn community members who devoted their service not only to their country, but to their world. In every aspect of global engagement, the University of Pennsylvania has succeeded, and will continue to do so in the future.