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Friday, November 19th 2021

As International Education Week (IEW)—a joint initiative of the US Department of State and Department of Education—draws to a close, IFE reflects on how to meaningfully promote international education.

It’s International Education Week. "Helping make the world a better place”; it’s hard to disagree with that. Thing is, stakes that important mean it is important to make sure there is more to our international education efforts than lovely words. Here are some of the parts IFE thinks you should see when you look under the hood of study abroad:

- Language acquisition – whether learning to survive in Catalan or mastering conversational Russian –- serves core IE purposes, from opening doors into otherness to sharpening communication skills.
- Whole campus buy-in, which means no unnecessary obstacles to sojourns abroad (there are enough real ones in the world), and value added to learning abroad, on campus, before and after, especially through the curriculum.
- Long study abroad experiences. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it cannot be grasped in six (even well-programmed) days. The short term can be put to good uses, but the goal is to get to long, meaningful exchange. A Martian, after listening to standard internationalization discourse, raises his little green six-fingered hand: “so may I assume that this activity of such importance to you occupies at least 25% of a student’s curriculum?” What happened to a junior year abroad (or any of the four, or two separate semesters)? If massification was responsible, are we happy with that? If today’s forms of study abroad are still not for everyone, is it a problem of access? What alternatives can be dreamed up so that we don’t end up content with a situation where IE outcomes themselves are “not for everyone”?
- An intellectually credible (and honest) engagement with change agency. This is not International Apple Pie and Ice Cream Week. Dialogue-rich contact with civil society actors, and a clear-eyed investigation of specific forms and instances of (universal) realities of social domination and interest-serving uses of power are mission-critical to study abroad that lives up to the discourses. Or else we sidestep all of this, but then we need to stop talking about making the world a better place, as if human agency and iniquity have nothing to do with it having become a not-so-great place for so many.

When study abroad talks to itself about its mission it is all about world understanding, but when it needs to convince provosts and parents about its value, it’s all about career readiness. The good news is, in IFE’s experience, both can be true! The parts listed above are some of the components of learning abroad that would train students to go on to make informed choices about career paths that will indeed make a difference.

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