Sharon P. Robinson: Commit to International Study Cultures

From the National Journal “Education Experts” blog
By Sharon P. Robinson

Many of AACTE’s more than 800 member programs do phenomenal work incorporating global competencies into their curriculum. However, this is nowhere near a common enough practice in educator preparation or higher education as a whole.

As I thought about this topic further, I could think of no better source to explore it with than Donna Wiseman, dean of the University of Maryland (UMD) College of Education, which won this year’s AACTE Best Practice Award in Support of Global Diversity. Her perspective contributed greatly to this response.

First, there are great education and economic benefits to be had from international study. Students who are born and raised in the U.S., never leaving for more than a vacation, are bound to be limited in their understanding of diverse cultures, languages and even business practices.

As with PK-12 student achievement, we know that exposure to different ways of thinking and problem-solving can greatly expand and benefit mental capabilities. A U.S. student studying in another country, or a foreign student studying in the U.S., brings his or her own unique perspectives and experiences to that culture. Thus, international study is mutually beneficial for students, helping them build a better understanding of each other’s societies.

However, there are obstacles to international study. Perhaps the most significant is the expense. To allow ample time for foreign studies, students must have the means to support their travel. In many cases, particularly with low-income students, international study could present challenges with maintaining a job and/or contributing toward family financial resources.

There are also challenges with commitments from institutions. To recruit foreign students, or to develop programs for U.S. students to study overseas, the college or university must embrace global competencies as an integral part of its culture.

The UMD College of Education has also instilled a college-wide commitment to diversity and the ability to grow programs that facilitate internationalization. Its GATE Fellows program has become a national model for faculty development and curriculum change. Each year, an enthusiastic cohort of faculty commit to transforming the college’s curriculum by developing ways to infuse internationalization into their own courses. The diversity of these faculty-led projects has broadened the scope of the college’s globalization efforts and enabled the effects to be sustainable.

The college has also been selected as a partner of the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Distinguished International Teaching Fellows program for the last three years. Through the program, a group of international teachers from countries such as Morocco, Finland, Taiwan and South Africa join the college’s courses each fall semester to facilitate learning among the Teaching Fellows, students and faculty.

In summary, I do believe we should encourage international study by U.S.-born students and by foreign students who have the dream of postsecondary education in America. As Dean Wiseman put it, “If the international student has the mental capabilities and their families have the financial resources to send them to the U.S., why would we not welcome them with open arms?”

From here, we must think about a way to create a higher education culture that encourages, facilitates and infuses global-mindedness into every level of the institution. This includes university leaders who can create a support system for domestic and international student study and faculty members who are encouraged to engage in professional development opportunities abroad. If an institution’s leadership and faculty embrace the commitment, it will transfer naturally to their students.

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