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Having the Right Skills

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

International education is increasingly becoming the primary means by which societies will bridge the cultural and linguistic divides not only in the United States, but globally. With the challenges shared by societies being global and interdisciplinary in nature, and so too are the solutions.  The world demands a competent workforce able to integrate, and thrive in different societies through experience.  To achieve this demand, professionals in education must overcome the issue of lacking awareness of an international education in every class room and campus. Lack of knowledge in the opportunities to learn about and experience other cultures stifles the abilities of this generation to embrace the world of tomorrow.

On May 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary-General Angel Gurría stated that skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish in the margins of society where technological progress does not translate to economic growth, and the countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. A globally influenced education allows students to cultivate and harness a unique set of skills to compete globally.  It calls on educators to uphold the highest educational standard, challenging growing leaders by instilling best practices of disciplined learning, consistency in excellence and appreciation for the diversity we all embrace.

This is no easy task. What should all U.S. students be expected to know and understand about the world? What skills and attributes will students need to confront future problems, which will be global in scope? What do scholars from international relations disciplines and experienced practitioners of global education believe students should know and how can these insights be best incorporated into existing standards? For those who have studied abroad or had any resident international experience, how can those lessons learned and experience be harnessed and reinforced as students return to their respective home, professional and professional communities?  The solution includes but by any means is not limited to duties of professionals in education across disciplines to:

  • Increasing capacities of schools and colleges by improving access to high-quality international educational experiences by integrate internationally focused courses within the current learning curriculum.
  • Increasing the number and diversity of students who study and intern abroad and encouraging students and institutions to choose nontraditional study-abroad locations.
  • Help under-represented U.S. institutions offer and promote study-abroad opportunities for their students
  • Actively promote study abroad and encourage students, teachers, and citizens at all levels to study within the U.S. and vise a versa

We must be aware of the opportunities in order to take advantage and utilize them to maximum capacity by introducing international relations, languages and cultural studies to the classroom and reinforcing that teaching with firsthand experience through study, volunteering and teaching abroad.  Enhancing the abilities and skillsets of a generation of individuals to dispel preconceived notions about any culture and society, effectively communicate and appreciate diversity moves this generation closer to tackling global challenges. 

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Zubida Bahkeit for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  Diversity  education abroad  global education  inclusion  International Exchange  language  professional skills  research  underrepresented students 

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International Exchange: Stepping Away from Cultural Tourism

Posted By Lily Lopez-McGee, Thursday, December 9, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Stepping out of a long tour bus, a group of American students work their way into the common area of a small non-profit in San Lucas, Nicaragua. After hearing the organization’s director speak about its work with the local community and the challenges facing Nicaraguan youth, the students ask a few questions and are hurried back out to the bus to make their next stop. The dialogue stops there. The students go on with their courses and are unlikely to discuss the organization or their experience again.

In preparing for international study, students are generally advised into setting academic and professional goals for what they would like to gain from their experience. Though these are worthwhile goals, rarely do you find that emphasis is placed on true immersion into the local culture.Instead what is often the case is that students are conditioned to act as cultural tourists.This means that though they live near local students, they interact primarily with other foreigners.This is in part due to the pre-departure readiness of students, but it is also a result of program design and implementation. In an ideal scenario, a program provider would integrate true immersion through activities that allow study abroad students to peer into the real lives of their local peers.

A relatively new documentary titled Crossing Borders demonstrates one director’s attempt to create such an environment for American students.The goal of the film is to “support the development of intercultural empathy and critical thinking skills, and initiate dialogue between students of different cultures” outside of the classroom. Director Arnd Wächter’s Crossing Borders documentary challenges the traditional approach of study abroad programs that place American students with other American students, a method that rarely results in students engaging young people from the host country. International exchange should be more than simply taking classes in a different country; it should be an opportunity to truly exchange ideas, experiences and beliefs to better understand our differences, and more importantly, share our similarities.

Through the documentary, Wachter tries “to overcome the artificial separation between ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’” In a system where economic, diplomatic, and military exchanges require a deeper cultural understanding of one another, international programs should work to expose participants to other cultures and ways of thinking not only through academic training but also through personal interactions with the local community. Homestays and cultural site visits alone cannot take the place of thoughtful conversations between study abroad students and their peers in the host country.

In addition to offering students on both sides the opportunity to explore other perspectives, students are able to reflect on their own beliefs, experiences, and ideas - something Karen Rodriguez describes as “an awareness of how one is informed by one’s own culture and makes sense of cultural differences subjectively.” These skills - empathy and critical reflection - though hard to measure, are imperative to a student’s successful entry into a global job market.

As educators, program providers, advisers, and mentors, we must encourage young people to have these conversations. There is a great opportunity to change the way young people see the world and communicate with those who think differently. Moving away from cultural tourism and stepping toward models of true cultural immersion will have a positive long-term impact on the next generation of international leaders.

Lily Lopez-McGee currently serves as Program Manager with the UNCF Special Programs Corporation in the Institute for International Public Policy division. Among her many duties, Ms. Lopez-McGee manages student internships, language institutes and social media outreach.  She is fluent in Spanish and has traveled through parts of Latin America and Western Europe. She is a graduate of the University of Washington Evans School for Public Affairs, where she earned her Master's of Public Administration.

Tags:  100000 Strong Initiative  AID Roadmap  career  China  culture shock  Diversity  International Exchange  International Students 

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Changing the Face of International Educators

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 28, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

As the international education field strives to address issues of diversity and equity, what we cannot overlook is the lack of diversity among international education professionals. The demographic of international educators does not reflect the diversity of the students we aim to serve. Given that so many education abroad professionals are former study abroad participants themselves, the lack of diversity in the study abroad student population has a direct impact on the demographics of professionals in the field. The implications of this cannot be ignored. While we recognize that direct outreach to underserved students and their parents is essential to diversifying education abroad, it is equally clear that these students and parents may respond more favorably to advisors and education abroad representatives with whom they can identify.

Although I do not subscribe to the notion that one has to share the ethnic background of a student to effectively advise them, I do believe that these connections can enhance the relationship between advisor, student and their parents. This is particularly true when working with parents of first generation students and of students from certain ethnic backgrounds. That said, the reality is that few institutions are in the position to maintain a professional staff that reflects the diversity of the students on their campus and despite recent growth in international education, the number of diverse applicants for new positions remains relatively low. So what can be done?

First, we have to look for opportunities to partner with professionals of diverse backgrounds at our institutions and leverage these relationships to assist in reaching underserved students for international education opportunities. Although this does not directly diversify the field, it does help encourage more diverse students to study abroad by identifying its importance among diverse faculty and staff with whom students trust. Thus this increases the diversity among study abroad participants, which in turn increases the pool of potential candidates from diverse backgrounds for future international education positions.

We also have new opportunities to diversify the field each time an international education position becomes available, be it study abroad, international student services or other international education positions. When our administrative budget allows for a new hire, who are we encouraging to apply?Are promoting these opportunities to the same audience that we always have? By proactively promoting these opportunities to professionals who enhance and are committed to diversity, we will increase the number of diverse applicants for international education positions and we send a strong message to our peers about our institutions’ commitment to diversity among international educators. Many institutions have a diversity office that is responsible for maintaining a diverse workforce on campus. Be sure that you’re liaising with them when new positions open. Our colleagues in these offices can lead us to resources for reaching diverse candidates. There is also the Diversity Network Career Center, which was created as a platform for institutions and organizations that are serious and committed to recruiting diverse candidates to fill international education administration, faculty, and staff positions.

By creating and supporting efforts to diversify the field, collectively we can change the face of international educators and the study abroad students. This is no small task; it requires us to be open to new ideas and approaches in order to reach more diverse communities.The field of international education is comprised of creative, cosmopolitan and compassionate professionals who do this work, in large part, for the intrinsic value that it brings.As we look to the future, we must continue to display these qualities in our approach to diversifying the field of international education.

Andrew Gordon is the founder and president of Diversity Abroad. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he studied business, economics and Spanish. He has studied, traveled and worked throughout Europe, South America and Middle East. He started Diversity Abroad in 2006 with the focus of significantly increasing the number of non-traditional students who pursue international education opportunities.

Tags:  career  Diversity  Education Abroad Diversity  inclusion  International Exchange  Minority Students  mission  Outreach  professional skills  Resources  Study Abroad  Underrepresented Students 

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