Marshall Center: Where Learning Surmounts Language
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
GARMISCH, Germany, Aug. 13, 1998 Each day, Paul Holman must remember one essential thing -- to speak clearly and slowly.
If he forgets, Malgorzata Kosiura of Poland, Cornell Gavalivgov of Romania and Holman's other multinational students will have a hard time understanding their lessons.
A professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies here, Holman teaches people from more than 30 countries. As he lectures on democratic principles, a background murmur of German and Russian fills the classroom as translators help those for whom English is a second or even third language.
Translation admittedly slows down classes, reducing the amount of substance conveyed by about 50 percent, but it's worth the effort, Holman said. It greatly expands the number of countries and students who can participate, he said.
"We can bring people here who otherwise would not be able to attend an American or a NATO facility because they do not speak a NATO language fluently," Holman said. "In my opinion, it's well worth the expense and the difficulty.
The United States and Germany opened the Marshall Center in 1993 to provide advanced professional education to senior military and civilian officials from North America, Europe and Central Asia. The center aims to create a more stable security environment by advancing democratic defense institutions, promoting active, peaceful engagement and enhancing enduring partnerships.
Holman, of Portsmouth, R.I., has taught at the center for more than two years. He previously taught 12 years at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. The two schools formed ties when the Marshall Center opened, he said. "Many of our [war college] professors have taught here or helped set up the original curriculum."
Offered a chance to teach at the center for a year, Holman accepted. He's since extended his contract to three years and said he'd like to stay as long as five.
Holman said the ratio of American to foreign students is the main difference between the two schools' student bodies. "At the Naval War College, I would have a seminar of perhaps 13 American officers and two international officers. Here the ratio is exactly the opposite. Of 15 officers, probably 14 are international students and only one is from a NATO country."
Language, obviously, is the other major difference. Holman taught in English while on the War College staff and used interpreters only during occasional lectures in places like Romania, Bulgaria, Sweden and Belarus. Interpreters are the norm now, he said.
"Every day in virtually every class, we're talking at least in English, frequently in Russian, and in German as well," Holman said. "This creates a constant challenge for everybody who teaches here. All the materials have to be available in three languages. We can do virtually nothing without interpreters, even social events, let alone lectures or seminars."
Most students enjoy the challenge of learning in Western languages, Holman said. "All of them find using English or German in a professional capacity valuable." The Marshall Center also offers part-time classes in English and German as second languages, as well as computerized language instruction.
As program manager of the Marshall Center's Executive Course, for lieutenant colonels, colonels and civilian equivalents, Holman recently helped revise the curriculum, cutting the course from 19 weeks to 15. He said cutting a month makes the course far more attractive to more people.
"Our theory is, really busy, important people had more difficulty getting away from their jobs for the longer format," he said. "Most of the students tell us they're glad the course is a month shorter than it was."
The class orientation also changed, he said. "We're spending less time talking about democracy, because most of these countries are well launched on the path of democracy. All of them now are either democratic countries -- or say they are -- and they're undertaking very serious and very difficult democratic reforms."
Along with required core courses, the Marshall Center also has increased the number of electives. Students can now spend about a third of their time on things they select, Holman said. And yet, he believes, the program is measurably tougher. For instance, the center now requires all students to do two written presentations that they also must present orally. In the past, a similar requirement was less demanding, he said.
Marshall Center students take no exams, Holman noted. "We felt from the beginning that tests would give an unfair advantage to those who speak English, Russian or German as their native language." Instead of grades, there is a pass-fail concept: "If we see students who are not taking the course seriously, on occasion we ask their governments to withdraw them." Expulsion is rarely necessary -- a phone call to a student's home ministry tends to have the desired effect, he said.
The majority of those who attend the Marshall Center are mature, mid-career professionals with very positive attitudes, Holman said. "What we're discussing [here] is the bread and butter of the lives and professions of these men and women. They enjoy meeting others from the region and discussing topics which they will all be discussing in their future careers."
Rather than create competition, the school aims to give students a chance to sit back and think and to meet with colleagues. The Executive Course is not mandatory in any country, but it has proven to be career enhancing. Graduates tend to better their chances for promotion and good follow-on assignments, Holman said.
Polish student Kosiura works in the Department of International Security in her country's defense ministry. She said she is one of the few her country has ever chosen to attend the Marshall Center. She, too, thinks grades would create unwelcome competition.
"It's very difficult with language problems," she said. "Some people have good ideas, but they have problems expressing them in a different language. I find it very nice when we can just discuss. It makes people more open than if you know that someone is going to give you a special mark or something. It would make people less interested in things and more shy."
Kosiura arrived at the center in January. She said students at first seemed more interested in making national statements than in listening to instructors, but they settled in after a couple of weeks. Then lessons became more practical and interesting, she said.
She said the most important part of the program to her was the personal contacts she made. "I know from my experience in my department, for example, my boss was able to prepare some official meetings thanks to people he had met when he was here a few years before," she said.
The school promotes networking and better understanding among people from throughout the region, Kosiura said. "In my job, I have no opportunity to meet people from Asia, from the former Soviet Union. They have sometimes very different ways of thinking of all these things we are doing here."
Gavalivgov, a Romanian parliamentarian, has been to the Marshall Center twice, first for a seminar and then the full Executive Course. He said the course was important to him because it provides advanced courses on national strategy, defense management and budgeting.
"It's important to manage better what scarce money we have for defense," he said. "Maybe when I go back to Romania I'll propose a subcommittee for purchasing, defense and security budgeting. This is very important for us because we intend to support our effort toward NATO integration."