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International Education in Flag People

Passion and International Education: Remembering the Why?

July 20, 2020

For international educators in 2020 it has been a trying few months. Between hostile immigration policy and a rising nativist tide in the United States those of us engaged in the promotion of the free movement of people and ideas have witnessed the most challenging landscape arguably in the last 50 years.

Unsurprisingly many of us who have chosen this career have done so because of our own experiences of language, travel, and/or cultural mobility. Many believe as an article of faith that the free movement of people and ideas is central to our future prosperity and world peace. There are very few mechanisms in our world to cut through bureaucratic red tape like international education that allows people to engage 1:1, person to person, and not government to government. Or put differently by Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

At the moment, many of us are feeling as we were in the aftermath of Sept 11 when standing up for the movement of people and ideas was not only controversial but attracted significant negative attention. It was challenging to provide the level of service to our students and scholars in an environment when everything and everyone was being regarded with great suspicion. While that great darkness began to subside within a year or so, in the current environment we have been grappling with 3+ years of unrelenting anti-immigrant rhetoric and hostility.

COVID-19 has just been the icing on top of an inedible cake of professional misery. So where do we go from here to renew ourselves and our commitment to the work? For us at Petit World, we come back to the people: the students we serve, our colleagues, and the community that rallies around the positive cause of cross-border and cross-cultural mobility. That is our why. That is the nature of our calling, and our mission.

Throughout the recent history of the world, there have been periodic realizations that the path away from conflict and misery and suffering is not to be found in bigger weapons or higher walls for more strident voices. The way to move past and beyond the crisis of the moment is to be found through connection, engagement and through the sharing of ideas, cultures, lives, languages, and ultimately the commonality of our shared humanity. It is not coincidental that the foremost program for international exchange and understanding had its roots in the aftermath of World War Two.

Inspired leaders saw firsthand the carnage and devastation that misunderstanding, and mistrust can create. To quote Senator Fulbright, the namesake of the Fulbright program:

Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.

Ultimately, this is our “Why.” Our work helps link people with invisible bonds of shared understanding. We will continue to keep our “why” in focus and to be optimistic, because what is the alternative? As the sun rises each morning, we choose to believe that a brighter future will come with the new day and our mission will be to keep engaging, striving, and persuading to help make that better global future a reality.

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Photo Credit: University of Groeningen