If you’re reading this and are an educator, chances are your school already has international students. At the very least, it is strongly considering opening up an international program to expand its global reach and bring kids from around the world into the shelter of its halls. If you are in the former group, you might be used to international students; if you are in the latter, you may be unsure if the benefits outweigh the resources, expenses, and time.
Though you can probably guess, our answer is an unqualified: yes. Having international students is one of the best things you can do for your school, and for your students. It provides all students a chance to learn, grow, forge new friendships, and explore new cultures. It fulfills the primary mission of education. That said, there might be some objection to the idea, and some schools may wonder if it is worth the bother. Let’s take a look at some of the common objections and see if we can’t rebut them.
What if it brings conflict?
One issue that schools sometimes have is the fear of conflict. This conflict can take a few different forms. There is the big one- like what happens if the U.S. is in actual conflict with a student’s home country (something we talked about vis a vis the Russian/Ukrainian situation). This is, of course, rarely a problem, and it is something that educators can use as a learning tool, a way to not just defuse a situation, but to bring students (and ultimately countries) closer together.
Then there are conflicts that could brew in the hallways, common bullying exacerbated by language barriers and the all-too-common high schooler default of finding someone more awkward than they are to use as a punching bag. It happens, unfortunately, and is never fun. But here’s the thing: that is going to happen at any school, anywhere. And it is something that can be stopped. Next week, we will explore the issue of bullying and international students, and how to stop it. I think you’ll be very happy to learn that it isn’t as much of an issue as you might fear. But any conflict, whether between nations or between students, provides an opportunity to learn. Bullying can stop, and the feelings engendered can fade if it is quelled quickly and decisively, but the lessons learned will endure.
In the age of global communication, won’t kids be international without direct contact?
That’s a good question. After all, this generation can instantly communicate with people in Tokyo, Baku, Moscow, Lagos, or anywhere. There really is no reason for people to be sheltered, insular, anything less than exposed to the entirety of the globe. The world, or at least all its information, is literally at their fingertips.
Of course, we know that not everyone takes advantage of it. It is very easy to get stuck in your own corner, and even if you are talking to people, it is a self-selected group that shares a common interest. And that’s great, but it isn’t really expansive. Having international students strongly encourages your students to interact, to come out of their shells, and to see the variety of the world. They are living on a day-to-day basis with people from around the globe who have vastly different experiences. This is always eye-opening- especially when they realize that, despite the differences in language or diet, everyone is pretty much the same. That, ultimately, is the most important lesson.
OK, but international students aren’t just here to teach a lesson, like a walking after-school special
True. There is always the danger of robbing people of agency, of making them out to be just a lesson for your students, which is dehumanizing. But we don’t mean it that way at all. When schools don’t have international students, what they miss out on is really, in a sense, the primary purpose of education: creating a generation that can respond to the world in a positive, cooperative, intelligent, critical, lively manner.
This has nothing to do with politics, but with the way people think. And bringing together different cultures at such a young age aids in that immeasurably, for all students: American and international. They learn to respect areas where there are differences, but find common ground over similarities. They learn how to bridge gaps that seem immense, but are ultimately easy. They learn that the world is both vast and intimate, and in expanding their horizons in that sense, they take another step toward realizing who they are. Obviously, schools without international students can help with this, but it is a ladder with a few rungs missing, creaky at parts, and seemingly in danger from an unearthly wind. Bringing international students into your halls adds those sturdy planks and solidifies your students’ journeys upward.
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.