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 Other models of education or governance are seen as outdated, backward, or, at the very least, incompatible with being suitable for internationalization.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.

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3 thoughts on “W11: How “international” is internationalization?

  1. I agree with many themes of your post this week, including the language one – discussed before in other weeks – and curriculums not just designed through a US lens. While the US has benefitted from American hegemony and English being a ubiquitous language, it has failed on some levels in achieving multi-lingualism at par with European counterparts. But I do believe that language and bi-lingual approaches to education are changing in the US to help promote and substantiate internationalization at the higher education level. For instance, my daughters have had many pre-school opportunities to be in immersion programs in mandarin and Spanish. My older daughter will begin learning Spanish in 2ns grade compared to my starting a foreign language in 6th grade. And the opportunities to locally teach her Hindi are far greater than when I was growing up. All good signs that attitudes toward language are perhaps shifting in US education.

  2. Hi Jen,

    Thanks for your post! You make a lot of interesting points about how globalization can often lead to homogenization. However, I wanted to comment on your point about the lack of emphasis on language education in the United States. The ACE reading notes that the number of institutions that require language study for graduation is decreasing overall. What’s more, the most common requirement is only one year of language study. This is not just a higher education issue, but an overall issue on where we place value across various levels of education in the US. I was happy to read Sima’s post about early childhood education including language immersion options. Hopefully, those students will grow up with the desire to continue learning different languages.


  3. I really enjoyed reading your article this week and appreciate the argument you made that American students learn about global issues primarily through a U.S. lens. In this class, we have learned about higher education’s global systems country by country – institution by institution. We has also been required to analyze how specific political/social/cultural circumstances might lead to countries to operate their international programs in the way that they do. This class is on to something!

    I think that the idea of global studies is still evolving as it was a luxury that only certain children in prominent families could enjoy. I use the word enjoy intentionally, as I think that until other countries such as China began to grow their economic might, language was not “necessary” to compete, as the U.S. did not regard non Western-dominated countries as competition. Student’s studied abroad because that is what rich children did. Now the U.S. is doubling up to catch up but are not being as strategic in their methods. “In powerhouse China, more people are currently studying English than in any other country. An incredible 100,000 native English speakers are currently teaching there.” China got the memo a long time ago.


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