Raymond Manes is the first Luxembourgish executive director of Mudec (Miami University John E. Dolibois European Center)
AMCHAM: Please tell our readers the story of Miami university here in Luxembourg so our readers can understand the historical background and objectives of the school
RAYMOND MANES: When the founding fathers of MUDEC, President Phillip Shriver, Vice-President John Dolibois, and the first Director, Dr Warren Mason, launched the Miami University Centre in Luxembourg City in 1968, nobody would ever have imagined that fifty-five years later, close to 13,000 Miami University students would find their way to small Luxembourg.
The world in 1968 was not a comfortable place to live in. With World War II still fresh in mind, the East-West relations not being at their peak, the idea to create a centre abroad allowing students to learn about other cultures and civilizations born among faculty retained the full attention of the board of Miami University. Considering the economic development of this small country situated in the heart of Western Europe, close to other major European cities and an ideal vantage point from which to observe and study the evolution and growth of the E.U., Luxembourg – wide open to the outside world, multicultural, multilingual, with a thriving economy and a fast-growing international population, quickly became the focus of Miami University’s authorities when the decision was made to create a Centre abroad and in Europe. A survey of five other European cities in competition made it clear that Luxembourg was the place to go.
One of the key points in that survey was the fact that the people of Luxembourg have cultivated very strong feelings of gratitude for the United States and the American people. It is therefore no surprise that Miami students feel at home in our country, particularly as they get a warm reception from their host families who also help them adapt to daily life in Luxembourg and thus make the most of their European experience.
The overall objective is “to provide our students with an academically challenging, relevant and exciting learning and growth experience which will make them aware of, familiar with and functionally effective in different cultural settings; to offer them a learning experience in which they will develop a greater degree of intellectual curiosity, tolerance, problem solving skills, self-reliance, self-respect, and self-confidence, thereby preparing them to become mature and responsible members of society. For the University’s faculty, MUDEC strives to provide an opportunity for professional development, for refocusing research and teaching interests, and opportunities to establish new professional contacts.”
Has the mission and objectives of the school changed over time?
The program has been very successful in attaining these goals and objectives ever since. Almost without exception, MUDEC students look at their European experience as the most formidable and outstanding one in their university years. The expression the students coined: “After Luxembourg, you will never be the same again” is a testimony to this. Of course, a program running for such a long time has to adapt to current situations, but the overall motivation has not changed
How has the school fared during the Covid crisis and what is the current status now, post Covid?
We very proudly state that even Covid could not stop our program. When in March 2020, American citizens had to return to the U.S. and borders were closed overnight, all of our 112 finished their semester online. We immediately started looking into the possibility to run our program in Fall 2020 and we were able to host 39 students, 69 in Spring 2021, and continue our operations in-person. We were very likely the only program overseas continuing to be operational in Fall 2020, before vaccines had been rolled out. This would not have been possible without the tremendous support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs around Minister Asselborn and the Ministry of Health around Minister Lenert. Both Ministries made everything possible to allow our students to enter the Schengen Zone and give the same necessary access to testing and vaccines. Since Fall 2021, the program has gone back to normal numbers and we have even noticed an increase of final year students as a post-Covid effect. Fall 2023 will see a record number of enrolment as right now we stand at 161 students!
How is the school here in Luxembourg position within Miami University in Ohio and what is the reputation of the school “back home”?
There is probably no other place in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Belgium, Wisconsin) that knows Luxembourg better than Oxford, Ohio, the home of Miami University. There is probably not a single inhabitant not knowing someone who has spent a semester in Luxembourg. Past President David Hodge referred to Luxembourg as “the jewel in our crown” and the support our Centre receives from Oxford is unbroken.
We understand that many of the students live with host families in Differdange. We assume you are doing this for reasons both of housing cost control but also to keep the students safe and to build bridges between students and the host community. Please tell us about this?
I would say the essential reason here is the last part of your question: we want to bridge between students and the host community. How many host parents have visited the States to see past students, to participate in marriage ceremonies, and all kinds of other festive moments? Many of our host families can tour the US without needing a hotel and how many of our Alumni return to Luxembourg to visit MUDEC and their host family? Just as an example: when MUDEC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, close to 750 Alumni found their way to Luxembourg! And most of them spent at least an evening with their host family! This coming October we will celebrate our 55th anniversary and the competition has started already to beat this magic alumni number.
Students and host families have changed with the years and decades though. It is true that nowadays, it is more and more difficult to find host families, the need has increased as not only MUDEC is looking for host families. Therefore, we decided to open our residential offering and offer the possibility of private housing in studios to our studios. As of Fall 2023, students can opt between a stay in a host family, a community living with shared living space and private rooms or private studios. This does not mean that we will give up the idea of bridging: parallel to the host family program, we are building a new “host family for a day” program where interested people can propose an activity with 1 or more students. This can be an evening dinner at your home, an excursion, a walk or shadowing at work … or any other interesting idea that allows locals to meet our students. Avis aux amateurs, this is another chance to meet young Americans and speak English!
Tell us the background of your Chateau location and how you have come to be able to use it?
From 1968-1996, the Centre was located in the heart of Luxembourg City but the last space avenue Monterey became too small so that a new location had to be found. Luckily, Dr. Ekkehard Stiller, then Executive Director of the Centre, was well connected in the Luxembourg community and heard about the Château de Differdange being empty and not used by what still was ARBED at that time. He brought his students south and he always said that when he saw their faces, he knew this was going to be the new facility. Transformations had to be made and in 1997 the first classes took place in the château. In October last year, we celebrated 25 years in Differdange and since then, the city has developed and the relationship we have had throughout the years with the Community authorities has been great. ARBED has become ARCELOR-MITTAL but MUDEC was able to keep its fairy tale château.
What are the details of your course of study?
We have a wide range of courses and the major challenge is to offer enough possibilities to all students of Miami University. Our mission is not to offer courses to a selected group of students, but to allow every student at Miami University to study in Luxembourg. Thus we offer a good number of courses concentrating on Europe: Art, Architecture, Economics, International Business, History, Marketing, Politics and all have a European focus. Experiential Learning is another key to our success; many of courses include out-of-class experiences where students go out and collect the information they need; Faculty organize field trips to visit sites of interest and we have a series of courses to which we add a study tour component of 5 days during which we travel with our students to course relevant places.
“Every credit counts” is another requirement for a program like ours. Students cannot afford anymore to extend their studies by one year which also explains why from year students we have moved towards semester students in the last 30 years. Students need to remain focused towards their majors which explains why we allow one online class in their department among the 15 credits they have to take while here. This also explains why we have identified groups of students with specific majors so that we can offer a larger number of courses around the topic. About 40% of our student body comes from the field of Business, so International Business, Marketing, Management or Economics are key in our offering. But we also have a once a year offering for Architects, Kinesiology or Sports Leadership and Management students as well as for students coming from the School of Education.
Another very important element is the offering of internships; may it be short once a week experiences over a full semester and counting as an Independent Study or a mandatory full-time internship counting towards the student’s curriculum.
Tell us about your academic team?
We have a mixed team of US-based Faculty coming from the main campus in Oxford, Ohio and appointed by the University Provost for a pre-determined period of time and local Faculty coming from the local teaching world or from the professional environment. Thus we have architects teaching Architecture, bankers teaching Finance, local language professors teaching Languages …
We understand that you strongly encourage your students to travel around Europe. How do you manage that and how do you ensure the safety of your students?
Miami University students are well known as being tireless travellers and from late Thursday evening to sometimes early Monday mornings, they are on the road. They come with a list of must-see places and tick them off one by one. It has become a tradition that we limit to 5 the number of Fridays they must stay until noon; typically, classes end on Thursday afternoon for all other weeks. I remain a lonesome rider defending these 5 last Friday very much like Don Quijote but I want this program to remain focused on studies rather than become a travel agency. And this compromise allows us to get along pretty easily and without too much grumbling on the students’ side … I think!
Safety and security are of course a constant concern if you know that 100+ young people travel through Europe on their own! We do have great support from the Oxford side and a fantastic team around Risk Manager Ryan Dye provides all necessary help and support 24/7. Through Miami Police we are very quickly connected and have the contacts and contracts to help students with serious issues. Of course, we have a very close relationship with our local U.S. Embassy who provides advice and help to us and our students.
Also, during our study tours, a staff member helps the Faculty in case of an emergency and everything possible is done, all possible information is given pre-hand so that we can concentrate on the unforeseeable while traveling somewhere in Europe with a group of 25-30 students.
Do you have any relationship with the University of Luxembourg or any other European educational institutions?
One of my priorities since 2020 has been to foster relationships with local institutions and companies even though not matching academic calendars may make things complicated. We have many cultural activities with University of Luxembourg students and the TAD conference as well as the Debates are only two shining examples. The Sports Leadership and Management department of Miami University has developed a close relationship with LUNEX, the local Sports University and an MoU is being signed shortly. An MoU has already been signed with the International School Differdange-Esch/Alzette and the School of Education as many students studying from that department in Luxembourg have an internship at EIDE. The Summer Camp in July is a perfect example of how we can collaborate and more and more students come to Luxembourg to have an international internship experience while studying abroad. This coming Summer, 22 students will be in local companies.
Please share with our readers any other information you would like to share
It is now 55 years that MUDEC has been in Luxembourg and this is a good reason to celebrate. Every 5 years, we will host a Convocation and many American Alumni will take advantage of the occasion to visit Luxembourg. Miami University will be represented by a large delegation around President Gregory Crawford and Provost Elizabeth Mullenix. The fact that they honour us with their presence shows the importance they give to our Centre. Another proof of that support is that the Board of Trustees agreed to issue four degrees of Doctor Honoris Causa this year.
In my 20 years at MUDEC, I have enjoyed every single day and I am very grateful to our students for the nice environment they create every semester allowing my staff to work in a very exceptional setting.