How US Colleges Encourage International Education Beyond Study Abroad

In light of global workplace demands, higher education has responded with efforts to internationalize the curriculum beyond simply offering study abroad programs, which encourage students to travel to gain global and intercultural experiences. The broadening of intellectual paradigms to include global competence is not, however, an endeavor that needs to be accomplished exclusively through travel; it can also occur on campus, and across disciplines.

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International education and global competence are key for academic and career success. As former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said once at the NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference, “In the 21st century, a quality education is an international education.” According to Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education worked to “promote and support study abroad, area studies, and foreign language learning.”

International Experiences on Campus

Studying abroad is often viewed as the primary means of promoting international education, though schools are also focusing on “internationalizing” their curricula in order to foster “global competence” — what the National Education Association (NEA) defines as “the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of international issues, an appreciation of and ability to learn and work with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, proficiency in a foreign language, and skills to function productively in an interdependent world community.”

In light of global workplace demands, higher education has responded with efforts to internationalize the curriculum beyond simply offering study abroad programs, which encourage students to travel to gain global and intercultural experiences. The broadening of intellectual paradigms to include global competence is not, however, an endeavor that needs to be accomplished exclusively through travel; it can also occur on campus, and across disciplines.

According to the American Council on Education, 55 percent of respondents to a survey regarding the internationalization of college campuses reported that they have efforts underway to provide all students with global competencies, regardless of whether or not students study abroad.

Curricular Shifts

In many cases, global competence is taught through curricula designed for that very purpose.

For instance, Yale University offers a global affairs major through the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. The program is designed to teach students how to be global citizens and increase their understanding of the world through a curriculum grounded in the social sciences. The major has two tracks, each with their own specific focus. International Development focuses on economic development and poverty, while International Security focuses on international relations, foreign policy, and diplomacy. The courses are open to students outside the global affairs major, which provides opportunity for all students to deepen their cultural awareness.

At the University of Michigan, global competence is woven into a field of study. The school offers an International Minor for Engineers; it’s one of just a few institutions to offer an international focus in a STEM-related field. The program emphasizes foreign-language proficiency, knowledge of cultures outside of the United States, intercultural communication skills, and an awareness of global trends in engineering and business.

At Purdue University, international education features prominently in the school’s 2015-2020 strategic plan, with a stated goal of building “a robust international perspective across the College.” The plan comprises four initiatives, all aimed at preparing students, faculty members, and community members for “international facets of their careers.” It is interesting to note that Purdue recognizes that not everyone might have a career that requires them to live and work abroad, but in an increasingly interconnected world, many people will have some international element to their professional and personal lives.

Colleges and universities can follow these schools’ examples to internationalize their curricula and instill a global perspective in all students, not just those who have the opportunity to study abroad. This is especially important for first-generation college students, as well as underrepresented student populations.

Suggestions for Schools and Students

The following are suggestions for institutions and students seeking to internationalize higher education — beyond study abroad:

  • Incorporate global knowledge and literatures as core elements of the curriculum.
  • Include global examples in individual course topics.
  • Invite international perspectives and offer diverse experiential learning opportunities across campus.
  • Recognize that the standard events (culture carnivals and potlucks, for instance) to raise international awareness do not create real change or promote deep understanding.
  • Provide students with opportunities to live in global villages or residential communities that allow them to practice their linguistic and other intercultural skills.
  • Establish foreign-language partnerships with students from other countries.
  • Offer global student organizations for students to join.
  • Partner with global organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross.

By promoting international education and global competence — on campus, as well as through study abroad — colleges and universities create an atmosphere of respect for diverse cultures, promote intercultural communication, and graduate students poised for leadership in the global economy.

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