Every year, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education collaborate to bring us International Education Week (IEW), celebrating the importance and benefits international education and exchange around the world. Schools, colleges, universities, community organizations, embassies, and businesses are all encouraged to promote and honor international education in their own way. International Education Week 2014 was held from November 17 to 21 and is celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide.
The Institute of International Education, with a grant from the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, released the results of their annual Open Doors report. The report shares statistics and facts about study abroad and international students in the United States.
This year, we welcome 8.1 percent more international students to the country, a record high number. We have 2.1 percent more American students overseas on study abroad programs compared to last year, more than tripling the number of students studying abroad in the past two decades.
The Open Doors report includes a variety of interesting rankings, including countries sending the most international students our way, U.S. states and institutions that host the most international students, and leading destinations and most popular fields of study for study abroad students.
International Education for Public Diplomacy
Public diplomacy is, of course, foundational to Meridian’s mission and international education and exchange is an important part of creating and sustaining a more secure and prosperous world. Arnie Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, shared his thoughts on the importance of international exchange for International Education Week:
“The way in which citizens interact with each other both in our own countries and with those from other nations have fundamentally changed, especially as we continue to redefine what it means to be neighbors in an increasingly interdependent world.”
International education, bringing international students to the United States and sending American students abroad, greatly contribute to the country’s efforts in building bridges of understanding between cultures and communities. Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, spoke at Open Doors 2014 Report on International Educational Exchange at the National Press Club, kicking off IEW 2014 activities and events:
“Through international study, students cross socioeconomic, cultural, political, religious, and geographic borders. International students enrich classrooms, campuses, and communities in ways that endure long after returning to their home countries. Those individuals develop an understanding of other values and perspectives which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Whether having a casual conversation with an international student in class or studying abroad and exploring other countries first hand, American students benefit from hearing different perspectives in their field of study and beyond. It is of increasing importance that American students take advantage of opportunities, studying abroad, learning foreign languages, and hearing global perspectives, to become leaders in our globalized world.
On the other hand, welcoming international students to our educational institutions which allows them to develop international connections with their classmates and professors, fosters entrepreneurship and initiative in their field, and is an opportunity for them to engage with Americans on a daily basis.
Engaging International Students on Campus
International students face a difficult challenge when arriving in the United States for a semester, a year, or a full degree. Adjusting to a second language, managing different classroom dynamics, and interacting with a new culture can negatively impact their experiences. Universities around the country need to support continued efforts to help their international student populations acclimate to their campuses and enjoy their time in the United States.
While a large part of the battle is physically getting international students to our schools, the support they receive while they are here is an often overlooked and undervalued part of the plan. If international education is to be an effective tool for public diplomacy, building bridges, and making connections, it must be seen as more than simply bringing people to the United States to create the opportunities for themselves. During IEW, institutions, schools, and organizations around the world organize events and programs for such engagement.
Movie screenings, food festivals, educational programs, and dialogue events all provide forums for structured yet informal interactions among peers. However, that kind of engagement cannot be saved for a single week in the school year. Along with a structured effort from the school to advise and work international students, opportunities for healthy and facilitated engagement have to be present throughout the year and can be designed to meet a variety of funding levels and time constraints. IEW can be used to stimulate ideas for both large and small programs and events across the campus.
International Education is for Everyone
The theme of International Education Week 2014 is just that, international education is for everyone. While the United States experiences growth in the number of students who study abroad every year, study abroad students represent a limited demographic of Americans who tend to study in Western Europe above all other destinations. This year, IEW sought to raise awareness among all students that study abroad is a possible and worthwhile venture for everyone.
Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are provided to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need for study abroad, hoping to reach students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Relevant programs are designed for STEM students, traditionally underrepresented in study abroad, that allow for them to earn credits and keep on a structured degree path. Organizations, universities, and colleges are looking to encourage non-traditional destinations outside of Western Europe – destinations that are more strategic for U.S. foreign policy and less popular among their peers. Shorter winter or summer term programs can provide opportunities for students who are unable to take a full semester or year abroad due to job or family obligations and can be less of a financial burden for students.
Ultimately, study abroad should not be all that is available for American students to experience the world. Studying foreign languages, infusing international lessons in to curricula across classrooms, and, as mentioned above, providing opportunities for international and American students to interact can be just as valuable as traveling to another country.
Although it is easy to talk about what is important, implementing a successful strategy of internationalization, or an effort to internationalize every part of a school from classroom curricula to global exchange programs, can be a daunting task. However, considering case studies and looking at examples of strategies, those that were successful and not, can guide those on a path to improving their international efforts.
The Senator Paul Simon Awards, organized by NAFSA, acknowledge universities and colleges of all sizes for their valiant efforts in overall campus internationalization as well as highlight particular programs. You can read about their strategies in NAFSA’s annual publication, Internationalizing the Campus. A range of professional development opportunities are also provided through NAFSA, keeping international education professionals and advocates on the cutting edge of research in the field.
International Education Week not only promotes international education as a tool for a safe and prosperous world, but is also an opportunity to review, rethink, and improve our efforts in welcoming international students to our country and helping American students acquire a more global mindset through study abroad and other kinds of engagement. As we all look forward to our next International Education Week, from November 16-20, 2015, we can look to strengthen our engagement and work promoting international education’s values, benefits, and opportunities.