One thing I’ve noticed this semester is that in order to be successful in the international higher education market, a country needs to have (relatively) open boarders, liberal immigration policies, and a market economy (or, at least be moving in that direction). Thus, successful internationalization requires countries to roughly follow a typically Western model of governance in the higher education realm and also in the broader organization of their political institutions. Other models of education or governance are seen as outdated, backward, or, at the very least, incompatible with being suitable for internationalization.
This week’s reading — especially the ACE reading, reinforced this. An example can even be found in the way internationalization is implemented “at home” through the curriculum:
“While it is encouraging that many institutions report that they are engaged in initiatives to internationalize the undergraduate curriculum, the data raise some concerns about depth versus breadth. Certainly courses that address global issues are important, and their increasing prevalence in general education requirements is a positive development. However, foreign language instruction and other courses that primarily feature non-U.S. perspectives provide important background and cultural knowledge to contextualize the broader content covered in global issues courses” (ACE, 2012, pp. 12).
While American students are learning about global issues, they are primarily learning about them through a U.S. lens. This is important because it means students aren’t really learning about other cultures — rather, they learn about how those cultures fit into a wider world order dominated by American/western values and political systems. To me, an easy analogy is a political scientist trying to explain global affairs having only focused on international relations at the expense of comparative politics. You can’t understand the broader picture until you’ve done a more specific deep dive into other countries and cultures.
I would speculate that this is a big reason why American students have a hard time integrating into the local cultures when they study abroad. A big part of this is the language issue; very few Americans are proficient in a language other than English. According to an article in Forbes, “18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans (and increasing numbers in other parts of the world) can converse in a second language.” Thus, the challenge in internationalization for American universities is to make sure American students are up to speed about the culture and history of the place they’re going, as well as have a working understanding of how to communicate in a language other than English. Unfortunately, as the ACE reading showed, this preparation is still sorely lacking in U.S. undergraduate curriculums.
This U.S./western-dominated approach to internationalization is also a big concern for non-western countries, as discussed in the IAU reading. “For African respondents, the dominance of a ‘western’ epistemological approach is seen as the second most important societal risks [with internationalization], while in the Middle East, respondents view the loss of cultural identity as the second most important societal risk” (IAU, 2014, pp. 10). In order to integrate into other cultures, students who come from non-western countries must adopt so-called “international” values (which are very rooted in western thought). Likewise, in order to attract international students to their countries, their universities must also reflect this “international” mindset, which often may differ from their own cultural and national traditions.
While I am optimistic about internationalization in higher education in the long run, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed before internationalization efforts can become truly international. In a U.S. context, more attention needs to be paid to creating a truly international and diverse curriculum that looks at different cultures in their own terms, rather than through just a U.S. lens, as well as also places more emphasis on mastering another language.