Opinion: International Education Week provides essential opportunity to engage in global conversation

Opinion: International Education Week provides essential opportunity to engage in global conversation

Beginning last Friday night, Calvin College will recognize International Education Week, a national week implemented by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to celebrate international educational exchanges. Calvin will include several events focusing on international education experiences and celebrating the breadth of student organizations and opportunities already present on our campus. It is essential that we as a community use this opportunity to recognize the value of an international educational setting for its academic integrity.

Academic institutions in the United States have historically been destinations for global  scholars, only increasing in recent years as global travel is easier and cheaper. The higher education landscape in the United States is in a time of transition. As public funding decreases, American institutions increasingly look to international students as an additional source of talent and tuition dollars.

International education provides an opportunity to pursue the ultimate goal of any college or university–academic exploration and development. Numerous studies have indicated that learning improves when students are exposed to new environments. Our minds are opened to new ways of thinking when we are placed in unfamiliar settings; it is a manner of adaptation. Diversity in the classroom is one of the most important ways to create a unique environment to encourage new thought and innovation.

Diverse classrooms are inherently better classrooms. Exploration of new thought is a core purpose of the academy, and diversity of opinions bring new ideas to the conversation. A scholar from the United States is unlikely to approach European history from the same perspective as a scholar from Zimbabwe. An environmental scientist from the shores of the Great Lakes may have unique resources and experiences from which to draw insight about threats to freshwater sources. Diversity of opinion is the foundation for academic debate and development.

As an institution of the tight-knit Christian Reformed Church, Calvin College is historically aligned with the Dutch immigrant community in North America. This community values academic excellence and celebrates the capability of human knowledge. This emphasis is what has pushed Calvin to pursue truth in fields as varied as religion and chemistry. It is also why Calvin has committed to bringing as many voices to the conversation as possible, stating in the From Every Nation document that Calvin will be “Moreover, a multicultural community will assist in the educational goals of understanding different cultures and promoting understanding between people.”

International education is experiential. It includes studying abroad, where students are thrust into unfamiliar environments, bringing with them their experiences. It requires faculty from a variety of nationalities, and reading lists including the voices of men and women, colonizer and subjugated, scientists and philosophers. It involves conversation with the student next to us and examining our own motivations.

International education is a question of academic integrity, not only of racial justice. Calvin’s foundation in the Dutch North-American community brings urgency to the mission–it is a place where the conversation was long dominated by people with similar background, values, and perspectives. Calvin’s commitment to the academy is why it has emphasized international education, demonstrated in this coming week.

Beginning Friday night, take time to participate in this global conversation. Engage in a culture with which you may be unfamiliar. Listen to stories of your classmates who have lived abroad. Pursue opportunities to explore. Calvin’s campus will be celebrating the places we call “home,” the backgrounds that shape who we are as students and as community members. Participate in the conversation.