It’s summer, and the sun is lingering long in the sky. School is over, and you’re looking forward to a few months off from being a student. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t working. Some of you have summer jobs, some are working on your reading list to prepare for next year, and some of you are just working on your tan. And that’s great; you should enjoy your summer. But if you are a student at a school with a lot of international students, you may find it beneficial to work on something else: your leadership skills.

In a school that recruits, accepts, and welcomes multiple international students, peer leadership is extremely important. In high school, the majority of students are still trying to find themselves. Sadly, that sometimes comes out in a negative way, trying to define others before they themselves can be defined. Too often this comes out as bullying, and many times international students can be special targets of bullying. Concerned and confident student leaders can help to change that.

Leadership

Lead by example, and others will follow.

Culture starts at the top

Obviously, the administration and teachers are in charge at a school; in terms of a hierarchy, they are at the top. But in many situations, they aren’t typically the ones students look toward for guidance, and certainly they are rarely the ones students choose to emulate. Instead, students tend to look toward their peers, and especially peer leaders.

Traditionally, student leaders were the “popular” kids- jocks, cheerleaders, etc- the so called “mean popular” kids. At least that’s what movies taught us, and there was certainly an element of truth. But as traditional roles have changed over the last few decades, especially in the last 10 years, with the rise of social media, mashup-culture, and “nerd power,” these ideas have changed. Smart, creative, caring, and compassionate kids are now gaining popularity. And they have the ability to influence others.

This is important. In any business, the behavior of individuals in positions of leadership can affect company culture. If bosses are paranoid or petty, or engage in backstabbing, so will their employees. If they are kind, collaborate, and both ask and answer questions, their employees will follow suit.

It’s the same in a school environment. Popular students who engage in gossip and rumors encourage others with the desire to be popular to do the same. If they target some students for abuse, so will most everyone else. The fish rots from the head down. Unfortunately, there is no counterpoint cliché for a fish that isn’t rotting, but there should be, because if the most respected kids treat everyone with respect, that kind of sentiment will spread.

Why International Students Need It Most

It’s hard being an international student. There may be a few other kids from their country, depending on how big a program your school has (or their country of origin), but more often than not they are alone. That doesn’t mean it is impossible to make friends, but it is still very challenging to have no one around with shared experiences, similar cultural touchstones, or something as basic and important as language.

It is key to create a climate in which international students are welcomed. Doing this requires real peer leadership. For some people, this kind of leadership is natural and instinctive. For others it is harder-won. In Thursday’s article, we’ll discuss methods to demonstrate peer leadership in your school. Remember, you aren’t just representing yourself for international students. You are not just representing your class, or your school. For at least one person, you’re one of the leading faces of an entire country. That sounds like a huge responsibility, but you can embrace it. We’re counting on you.

 

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.