January 26, 2004

An Emory international pioneer: Ildiko Flannery

Lailee Mendelson is communications coordinator for the Office of International Affairs.

After 20 years working behind the scenes of Emory's internationalization, Ildiko Flannery (known around campus as Ildi) stepped down from her position as associate director of the Office of International Affairs at the end of December.

"I welcome this as a chance to spend time on projects I've been wanting to work on for many years. I think of this as a sabbatical," she said, adding that she could look for other opportunities at Emory during the 2004-05 academic year.

Over the next several months, Flannery plans to research and write about the life of a fellow Hungarian woman, Ilona Zríny, a popular figure in Hungarian lore unfamiliar to most English-language readers. It is a tale that captured Flannery's imagination as a child; when riding on a train through the countryside, she saw Zríny's castle lit by the setting sun, and her father recounted the story of the fiery Hungarian noblewoman who married and begat legendary rebels, and who herself for three years held off the Austrians who besieged her castle.

A long-time champion for internationalization at Emory and fluent in four languages, Flannery's own international education came early as a result of real-life experience. During World War II her family fled Hungary to escape the advancing Soviet army.

"The end of the war found us in a small village in Bohemia that was surrounded by a forest," she said. "On one side of that forest were American soldiers; on the other, Russian. When the American soldiers pulled out of the area, they gave us a choice: Stay with the Russians, or move ahead."

The family chose to move west, deeper into the American zone of occupied Germany, eventually ending up in the French-occupied town of Freiburg, where they stayed until emigrating to English-speaking Canada. In addition, Flannery lived in Ireland for two years with her husband, Emory's James Flannery, Winship Professor of the Arts and Humanities.

She came to campus in 1983 to coordinate a new cultural exchange pact with Peking University, Emory's first such agreement signed with an international partner. After six years as coordinator of international exchanges, she moved to the president's office as special assistant for international affairs, where she handled protocol for visiting dignitaries such as former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and South Korean president Kim Dae-jung.

"While we were creating new exchange agreements, we were also trying to figure out what international work was going on at Emory," she said. "But nobody knew what anyone else was doing. So my job was to find those faculty members working in the international arena and bring them into dialogue."

By the late 1980s, she said, these talks had turned into a full-fledged call for an official policy on international education at Emory, and then-Provost Billy Frye established the Office of International Affairs.

"Suddenly," Flannery said, "what had just been me was a real office, with an appointed Council on International Affairs and a mandate to catalog information on Emory's international initiatives, to assess those programs and to make recommendations for the future."

Flannery applauds the many advances made over the years, including the creation of area studies programs and a study abroad office, an undergraduate language requirement, an increase in international students, and research in international areas across all the schools.

"But these are largely separate activities," she said. "Now is the time to identify how these areas relate to each other, to find synergies between them. We need to be talking about Universitywide partnerships with international institutions now. We need to develop deep connections to other nations if we're going to be known as an international university."