Globalization has come to Clinton, Miss. Nowhere is that more evident than on the campus of Mississippi College. The influx of foreign students into small town Clinton has been noticeable. It has transformed this small, Southern town into a cosmopolitan area. For our traditional students, it’s been a lesson in the changing world.
The American university system is still viewed with awe by the rest of the world. Students of every color, religion and ethnicity flock to our schools for an education. As countries like China and India experience growth and improvements in their standards of living, more and more families are able to afford to send their children to us. College campuses across Mississippi are experiencing the same phenomenon.
The goal for some students is to develop a skill that will allow them to stay in the land of plenty. For some, the goal is to improve their English skills, because, even in their native countries, this is the key to success. And for others, the goal is to learn about an economic system that holds the promise of opportunity.
As a professor at Mississippi College, my challenge is to broaden our America-centric method of teaching finance to a classroom representing five or six different countries. How do I explain mortgage-backed securities to students from Nepal who have no concept of a mortgage? How do I explain the influence of our political system on monetary and fiscal policy to Chinese students who don’t understand why government directives are not immediately issued and followed lockstep? More importantly, how do I explain to our American students that the world has shifted beneath their feet?
The financial crisis of 2008 was an event that highlighted the globalization of our financial markets. In our classrooms, we spent a lot of time talking about the seeds of the crisis and the effects on financial markets, and we also talked about the global effects.
The Chinese students told of factories closing. The Indian students spoke of call centers shuttering. Students from countries with little to no developed financial systems spoke of declines in foreign aid. Regardless of their nationality, no one was unscathed by this event.
Then, there was the discussion about what the government should or could do. Foreign students expected a response from government, while my American students decried such actions. The Chinese students couldn’t understand why the Americans wanted tax breaks. After all, the savings rate among Chinese is around 25 percent. The Indian students were totally baffled by our legislative process. Doesn’t the ruling party just tell everyone else what to do? My student from a former Soviet country (don’t ask me to spell it) railed against finance as a non-productive industry — farmers and manufacturers, that’s where value lies! And my students from Nepal just smiled politely but had puzzled expressions on their faces.
In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed many changes, but the pace of the change appears to be quickening. The most recent crisis reminded me of the smallness of our world and of the connectedness of each and every human being. As the dust settles, I can see that America still leads the way, but things are changing.
Before I draw my last breath, our lead may be shared by China and India. And there may be other countries poised to break out of the economic pack. Developing countries have studied our economy and our markets. They have learned from the good and bad. They have adapted our model to fit their cultures and their goals. And they are charging ahead at full speed.
At this point, my greatest concern is for our American students. As I try to get them to listen to those new voices on our campus, do they understand that this is not just another foreign student? This is their future competition!
The playing field is leveling. It’s one of the results of education. I hope our American students take advantage of the education being offered by our foreign guests. Learn about them. Learn from them. Train your ears to a foreign tongue. If you don’t, you will lose.
This has been a chance for me to learn, as well. As I wrap my tongue around foreign names and strain to listen to new voices, I’m learning that we are more alike than dissimilar. All college students, regardless of nationality, like to have fun. They don’t always show up in class, and they don’t always do their work, and love is always in the air on a college campus. The difference with many of our foreign students is a hunger for something better. Our American students already have everything they could want.
Having faced the most difficult financial crisis of modern times, I found myself disheartened by events and the state of our political system, but I found optimism among these new faces. One student told me, “You don’t understand. There is no German dream or British dream or Australian dream. For us, there is, still, an American dream.”
For all the difficulties of the last few years, I know that Americans are living the dream that people across the globe envision.
Recently, I attended an International Festival on campus. The highlight of the evening was a multicultural fashion show. As I watched my students take to the runway in the same auditorium where I attended chapel years ago, I could hardly believe my eyes. In Clinton, Miss., it really IS a small world.
Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is President of New Perspectives, Inc., in Ridgeland, (601) 991-3158. She is also an Assistant Professor of Finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her web site is www.newper.com.