Oberlin and the World: Educating for Global Engagement

Oberlin College has long held that educating our students to think globally about themselves and their place in the world is an important characteristic of an Oberlin education.  We have admitted and graduated students from around the world. We have sent our students to study away from campus with the belief that experiencing and coming to understand another culture is an invaluable part of a liberal arts education. 

Our curriculum reflects a commitment to thinking and learning about global issues, and covers all major areas of the world, including AfricaAsia and the PacificEurope, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and Caribbean. Some quick facts:

  • Oberlin offers instruction in a dozen languages, from ancient Greek to modern Hebrew, Arabic to Portuguese.
  • Approximately 300 Oberlin students each year participate in approved semester- or year-long study away programs. In the 2011 Open Doors survey sponsored by the Institute for International Education, Oberlin College was ranked 5th in the top 25 Baccalaureate Institutions in the total number of study abroad students.
  • Oberlin's international student community makes up 13 percent of our student body and includes foreign nationals, dual U.S. and foreign citizens, U.S. citizens living abroad, and foreign nationals with permanent residency in the United States.
  • About 10 percent of Oberlin's continuing faculty hold degrees from non-U.S. institutions.
  • More than 10 percent of Oberlin's courses are offered in languages other than English.
  • The large majority of the more than 60 formal areas of study that Oberlin offers in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences deal in significant ways with the world outside of the United States. 
  • More than 80 students per semester work as language teachers in the community, teaching Spanish, Chinese, French, and English as a second language through programs such as SITES, Locohs, and the Immigrant Worker Project.


In the fall of 2011, Oberlin College was awarded a grant of $950,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen international humanities teaching and research through the creation of a Center for the Study of Foreign Languages and International Cultures. The challenges facing the world today are inherently global, making knowledge of other cultures—their languages, histories, beliefs, political and social structures, and values—essential for informed citizenship in the 21st century. Climate change, national security, human rights, food security, finance and trade all require approaches and solutions that recognize not only local conditions but also the complex ways in which these issues span borders, cultures, and continents.

The center will play a critical role in meeting the college’s strategic goal of “internationalizing” Oberlin, by providing an ongoing source of support for faculty development, curriculum development, and humanities programming essential to sustaining a current and vital international curriculum. (Read an interview with the director here.)

The grant from the Mellon Foundation includes a challenge grant of $500,000 that must be matched by $1.5 million in new gifts through the 2015-16 year, to create a $2 million endowment to support the center’s faculty and curriculum development activities, international programming, and staffing. To launch the center while fundraising for the match is under way, the Mellon Foundation also awarded the college $450,000 in current-use funds to begin activities of the center in 2012-13.


The Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures is dedicated to working with existing campus offices and departments—particularly Study AwayInternational StudentsCommunications, all of the humanities and social science programs, the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, and the Offices of the Deans and the President—in order to:

  • Strengthen Oberlin’s profile as an international institution;
  • Increase the internal and external visibility of Oberlin’s international profile—at the level of courses, faculty, student body, research, programming, organizations, and institutional connections—by gathering, and providing easy access to, relevant and reliable data on each of these areas;
  • Encourage the learning, teaching and study of languages among both students and faculty;
  • Provide resources for students and faculty who are learning, teaching, or studying languages through the Cooper International Learning Center and other means;
  • Increase the use of languages other than English in courses across the curriculum;
  • Increase the number of students who spend time abroad as part of their study;
  • Increase collaboration and coordination among faculty, departments, programs, and student organizations around topics of international interest at the level of courses, programming, and research;
  • Strengthen and expand Oberlin’s connections with academic institutions abroad;
  • Strengthen community outreach: support Oberlin students working in area schools, as well as area teachers, engaged in international and language teaching; sponsor community events around topics of international and inter-cultural interest.


  • Website & databases;
  • Direct programming;
  • Co-sponsored programming/distribution of programming funds;
  • Distribution of curriculum development funds;
  • Student and faculty workshops;
  • Resource center for students and faculty interested in teaching, learning, or studying languages (Cooper International Learning Center).

Administrative Structure

  • The Center has a director who is supported by a Steering Committee consisting of 8-10 faculty and staff.
  • The Center’s list of affiliated faculty will include most of Oberlin’s faculty.
  • The Steering Committee appoints subcommittees where appropriate (e.g.: Language Pedagogy).
  • The director of the Cooper International Learning Center is a member of the Steering Committee and works in close collaboration with the director of the OCLC.

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