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Professor talks studying abroad at UCLA Global Conversation event

Jared Diamond, geography professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, discussed at a UCLA Global Conversation event Thursday the importance of learning about the world as it becomes more interconnected. (Courtesy of Todd Cheney)

Jared Diamond, geography professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, discussed at a UCLA Global Conversation event Thursday the importance of learning about the world as it becomes more interconnected. (Courtesy of Todd Cheney)

This post was updated Dec. 1 at 12:57 p.m.

UCLA celebrated the end of International Education Week with a speech by Jared Diamond, geography professor and Pulitzer Prize winner.

Chancellor Gene Block and Cindy Fan, vice provost for international studies and global engagement, described their efforts to encourage the study of different cultures on campus and abroad at the UCLA Global Conversation event in Powell Library on Thursday. Diamond spoke to about 100 students, faculty, staff, campus administrators and diplomats at the event.

Block said he thinks studying abroad at UCLA provides opportunities for students who may not have traveled before because their families could not afford to.

“It’s essential UCLA produces graduates with careers and a sense of responsibility with people around them so when they leave, they’re committed to making the world a better place,” Block said.

Block added students will face complex multicultural environments, whether they work in Los Angeles or elsewhere in the world.

Fan said International Education Week, an initiative of the departments of state and education, aims to prepare Americans for the global environment and attract future leaders to exchange cultural and work experiences in the United States.

She added studying abroad in Japan, the Philippines and the United States pushed her to learn about and appreciate the different places in which she studied.

Diamond delivered the keynote address, in which he described his personal experiences with three different aspects of international education: advantages of studying abroad, contributions of international students at UCLA and international engagement of the United States.

Diamond said he thinks one of the most important parts of studying abroad is learning a new language. He cited a study from Toronto that found bilingual and multilingual people developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s five years later than monolingual people.

He added knowing more than one language forces a person to think, listen and talk under different grammar rules and vocabulary.

“Within a fraction of second, you have to switch back and forth between rules,” Diamond said. “All day long, all waking time, whether listening, talking or thinking, you’re exercising your brain. If you play sudoku, how many hours can you play?”

Diamond also noted the shift in demographics of his classes since he started teaching at UCLA 50 years ago. In 1966, 58 out of 62 students in his class were white men. Diamond said his classes in recent years have consisted of more women, minorities and international students.

He added he thinks the controversy around immigration and ethnic diversity is strange because everyone in the United States immigrated from somewhere else.

“All Americans, without exception, are descendants of immigrants who came to the American continent within the last 14,000 years,” Diamond said.

Diamond also said many Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences are first or second-generation immigrants.

“Imagine dividing a population into two groups: one that consists of the healthiest, youngest, most ambitious, most risk-taking, willing to take new directions of that country, and the other consists of people without those characteristics,” he said. “Immigration makes that division of the population.”

Diamond said the United States had the advantage of being made up of immigrants for centuries, which he said explains why so many Nobel laureates and National Academy of Sciences members are immigrants and their children.

“Success in science and literature requires many of the same qualities as immigrating, like ambition and willingness to try new things,” Diamond added.

Diamond also compared the isolationist tendencies of the United States in the 1950s to the world today, which is interconnected by trade, immigration, terrorists, military concerns and the global climate.

“Since 9/11, the U.S. is no longer isolated and no longer protected by two oceans and borders with friendly neighbors.”

Students in attendance said they thought Diamond’s remarks shed a light on global interactions.

Michael Xing, a fourth-year economics student, said he thought Diamond’s speech was pertinent.

“I think his best point was about the disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners who are immigrants, especially given the current political climate,” Xing said.

Bundita Kosolcharoen, a third-year economics and political science student, said she enjoyed Diamond’s discussion about bilingualism postponing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

“I was really interested in international education, but this event helped broaden my mind even further,” Kosolcharoen said.

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