What’s the importance of international education?

International education refers to a dynamic concept involving a journey or movement of people, minds, or ideas across political and cultural boundaries. This is facilitated by the phenomenon of globalization, which is increasingly removing the geographical constraints of economic, social, and cultural arrangements. The concept covers a wide range of learning, including formal education and informal learning (training, exchange programs, and intercultural communication). It could also involve a reorientation of the academic view, such as pursuing “cosmopolitanism” as a goal so that a school or its academic focus is considered international. For example, the National Association of State Universities prescribes adopting an “adequate education” that reflects the full range of global, social, political, cultural, and economic dialogue. International educators are responsible for “designing, managing, and facilitating programs and activities that help participants interact appropriately, effectively, and ethically with culturally diverse people and ideas.”

What is international education?
International education is about the mobility of students and scholars who go to another part of the world to study, research, or teach. It’s not only about the mobility of students, both in and out of the US, but it’s also about research scholars who come to the US to do research, faculty who go to other destinations to teach, and those who do community-based service-learning. The primary goals of international education are to further knowledge and cultural capital, learn about places and cultures, and gain intercultural skills.
International education has existed throughout time. Throughout time, people have sought education elsewhere to better their lives, contribute to their societies and communities, and better equip themselves as citizens of their respective countries. It’s not just the US engaged in this activity; many nation-states have participated in this work.
What is the importance of international education, and who benefits from it?
You can think about the benefits of international education on several levels. One is a global education and the use to the individual in pursuit of education, research, or teaching. Another way to think about it is through the nation-states engaged in international education: how and why might a government decide to provide scholarships or other mechanisms to encourage citizens to acquire an education overseas? It may be trying to equip citizens with a level of education and knowledge to return and contribute to their country’s economy or in-demand fields. International education may be a form of cultural diplomacy. Employers also have a stake in international education. Some employers incentivize their employees to go and acquire credentials elsewhere because, in this global economy, companies need a workforce with the capacity, skills, and talents to compete globally.
Why would you encourage SIS students to study internationally?
I think international education is an essential part of 21st-century education in a global economy. In the world we live in, no one is an island to themselves, so we need to expose students to the world. There are opportunities to learn from all different parts of the world. And now more than ever, isolationists are not who we want to be.
For any international relations student to have a nuanced understanding of the field, there is value in studying abroad. One, studying abroad provides you with varying perspectives on a subject matter. And two, studying abroad contextualizes international relations so that you understand the global dimensions of your work. If you are looking for international relations, you need to understand the frame of reference for that work. If you are a student of international development, how do you best study the different aspects and complexity of issues in international development? Suppose you are a student of peace and conflict resolution. How do you study that topic from a theoretical perspective and lived experiences of folks in conflict zones and situations worldwide? As you think about all the different fields of study at the School of International Service (SIS), it is essential to understand real, lived experiences and the human condition. Through international education, students are exposed to different perspectives and important nuances.
It’s crucial, particularly for US students, to study abroad. European students understand the value of studying abroad because there is more mobility in the European Union. African students are the most mobile of any group of students globally. Students in Asia and other places understand the value of studying outside of their home countries. But how you immerse yourself in the social, cultural, and different aspects of a new business is also essential. And sometimes, what we see is that students move around and study abroad, but they live in bubbles where they try to replicate what they have experienced here in the United States. That’s not the actual value of international education. International education requires immersive learning.
I think that we are pretty fortunate that most students understand the value of international engagements at SIS. They know that it is not enough to study a country or topic in a classroom setting-you need to go and experience what you look like.
Do you have suggestions for how SIS students studying abroad can immerse themselves in new places and cultures?
First, find yourself in uncomfortable situations and struggle because you need to communicate with people who speak a different language. A language is a powerful tool for understanding culture. There is growth and learning in that. And there is value in learning another language. Being bilingual or multilingual is a real asset; you can navigate the world in different ways and gain insight and perspective.
Second, it’s essential to not be in a bubble. Part of not being in a bubble is venturing out and discovering the world. And in that process of learning about the world, you will learn a lot about yourself. As you go and discover the world abroad, find intentional ways to engage. Engage with the people that you encounter. Engage in subject matters in different ways and with a different lens. Challenge yourself. In that process, you will grow intellectually, personally, and socially.
The third thing I would say to students is that it is all about perspective. Part of learning and understanding the complex, challenging issues of our time requires that you be exposed to multiple views on issues. You can learn that in a classroom or from a theory, but there is nothing that can substitute the human relations part of perspective. When you are overseas, you see the issues on the ground from a different perspective, which can only enhance and enrich your learning.
Lastly, take advantage of the fact that you have international students on your campus. International students are essential cultural translators and cultural ambassadors. Our international students from all parts of the world mean that your learning can begin on this campus. If you read about a specific issue or a specific part of the world, talk to someone who may be from there. Their perspective may not fully represent all people from that part of the world, but it can certainly provide you with another insight. Let’s increase engagement between our domestic and international students. It will serve all of us well because our international students have a lot to offer.

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