Learning Abroad Center

MSID Philosophy

Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID): Mission and Educational Philosophy

MSID Mission

Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID) is devoted to the preparation of culturally sensitive individuals who are committed to the concepts of justice and sustainable development for all societies in our interdependent world. MSID seeks to engage students, faculty, staff, and the general community in dialogue and reciprocal learning with people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America concerning local and global problems, with a particular emphasis on development issues. Through grassroots internships and research experiences in development projects working within economically poor communities, MSID participants gain firsthand experience with the conditions, needs, and strengths of the countries involved with the program.

MSID Educational Philosophy: Fostering Lifelong Habits of Thought and Engagement

MSID seeks to foster in its participants 9 lifelong habits of mind, heart, and action. The program has been deliberately designed to help its participants acquire these habits.

Habit 1: Think, Feel, and Act Holistically

MSID helps students value many kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing. It asks them to cultivate not only the cognitive domain but also the affective and behavioral and to appreciate not only western linear approaches but also more holistic non-western approaches.

Habit 2: Extract Meaning from Experience

After leaving the university, most people receive information not through neatly organized lectures or textbooks but through real-world events. MSID’s experiential pedagogy provides opportunities to hone important observational and analytical skills. Field experiences and writing assignments push students to move continually back and forth between experience and ideas. MSID challenges students to apply theories, concepts, and modes of analysis to help understand their experiences but also to critique these same theories, concepts, and tools in light of those experiences. MSID strives to produce alumni who are actively attentive to their surroundings, who have learned to spot the significant in the midst of the mundane, and who seek to produce ongoing dialogue between theory and practice.

Habit 3: Understand the Intimate Relationship between Knowledge and Power

As MSID students seek to understand how poverty, discrimination, and powerlessness are produced and manipulated, and as they dissect “knowledge” about development, they come to see more clearly that knowledge is socially constructed. MSID alumni should reflexively ask who has produced particular knowledge, on what perceptions of reality that knowledge is built, whose interests it serves, and how knowledge based on other realities and interests might differ. They will be aware that the public arena reflects some realities better than others. MSID is intentionally cross-class as well as cross-cultural. MSID alumni should constantly reflect on what voices are absent or distorted in public discourse and in media portrayals. They should wonder how civic dialogue would change if valuing a diversity of voices and opinions were the norm rather than the exception. They should seek to hear those multiple voices themselves and to help them reach the ears of others.

Habit 4: Savor Diversity

Working in boundary zones generates creativity. Through classroom study, homestays, internships, excursions, and field assignments, MSID brings students into interfaces across boundaries of culture, social class, religion, and ideological perspective. Program alumni should be eager to move beyond their comfort zones and resist the temptation to surround themselves only with people like themselves. Knowing that reality is too complex to yield to the tools and insights of a single academic tradition, they should be addicted to interdisciplinary thinking and should seek always to understand a variety of perspectives before formulating their own positions.

Habit 5: Invoke the Global Context

The MSID experience pushes students to examine local and national issues in their host countries in the context of great forces—economic, political, social, environmental, cultural—that are reshaping the globe. Students often conclude that the dominant approaches are not working and that the world’s problems require a rethinking of development and intercultural relations at all levels. MSID alumni, by second nature, should consider the global context as they seek to understand and address issues in their own communities. In the quest for alternatives, they should be capable of questioning the assumptions that underlie current ways of doing things, and of thinking creatively about alternatives. Moreover, having come to a new appreciation for the perspectives and strengths of at least one society within the global south, they should have an ongoing impulse to help others share that appreciation. In ways big or small, they should find themselves striving to build north-south bridges.

Habit 6: Take a Long-Term Perspective

Political systems and the marketplace give disproportional weight to the short term (e.g., the latest poll results or quarterly financial reports). MSID asks students to question models of “development” that are unsustainable and to challenge “progress” that is based on borrowing from those yet to come.  MSID alumni should ask how decisions—individually and as a society—affect posterity. They should imagine what the voices of future generations would say if they could be heard and how to live keeping these voices in mind.

Habit 7: Cultivate Empathy

MSID helps students develop the capacity to experience aspects of reality from the frame of reference of others, to value their skills and insights, and to walk—at least mentally—in their shoes. An ability to identify with others casts suspicion on the asymmetry inherent in many efforts to promote development and social justice. MSID alumni should have not only a bent toward empathy but an aversion to condescension. When reflection and analysis lead them to couple empathy with action, they should instinctively eschew a vocabulary of “helping” in favor of “working with,” “joining the struggle of,” or “learning with.”

Habit 8: Foster Community

MSID students are immersed in societies less individualistic than their own. Their internships and homestays often prove a powerful venue for experiencing the magic of community. At the same time, they are part of a second kind of community—a community of learners. MSID students have a responsibility not only to maximize their own learning but to assist in the learning of their classmates. In the MSID model, all teachers are learners and all learners are teachers. The MSID experience should leave alumni with a respect for the power of community and a commitment to contributing effectively to the communities in which they participate.

Habit 9: Translate Insights and Values into Action

By immersing themselves in alternative realities, MSID students gain new insights into their own. By learning about the other, they rethink who they are. By directly participating in work within the host country, they act on their learning. Through writing assignments and group discussions, they continually reflect on their own relationship to issues of injustice and social change. As they gain new self-understanding, they reexamine what is important to them and what kind of lives they wish to live—as professionals, as consumers, as investors, as parents, as citizens. This reexamination should be not a one-time event but a lifelong process. MSID alumni should lead lives of effective action coupled with critical reflection. They should have a lifelong passion for justice and a lifelong habit of thoughtful civic engagement.