For anyone in the world, yesterday, Thursday the 17th of July, was a particularly dispiriting one, with grim and savage news piling up on itself. The day started with the news trickling in that a Malaysian Airlines plane had crashed in the Ukraine, bringing nearly 300 people to a terrifying and unjust end. Feverish speculation about it being shot down started to circulate- and for once, it appears, the speculation was correct. Though no one has claimed responsibility, and at this point it is circumstance and conjecture, it looks as though (at the time of this writing) it was pro-Russian separatists. We’ve talked about the Russian/Ukrainian crisis before, and now it seems that the ongoing battle is potentially entering a newer, somehow even more dangerous phase.
Elsewhere, in the Middle East, the unending battle between Israel and the Palestinians went from a constant and endless mutual barrage of missiles to an Israeli ground assault, theoretically limited, but no war ever is. Without getting into the politics or “picking sides” (as if this was a ballgame), it suffices merely to note that every death on either side pushes the prospects of peace, already in a dim and hazy and unknown future, back even further.
At such a time, it can be immensely frustrating to run an international department in a high school, college, or business. Your whole goal is to condense the world into one international student body, to bring people together, to make the world a better place. But days like these make that seem an impossible pipe dream. Don’t give up, though- your efforts are even more important than you know.
The world is not getting worse
One of the characteristics of the information age is that we suddenly have news of everything going on everywhere. This leads to a sort of information bias. Fifty years ago, while we would have heard about the downing of the plane, it would have probably been days, or even weeks, before everything we know now got pieced together. Reports would have trickled in, and a narrative would have started to form. Now, we know everything right away, and the full force of terror smacks us in the face.
When there is conflict somewhere, we hear about it immediately, in full and graphic detail. This obviously hasn’t always been the case. We’re nearing the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. The world learned of this eventually, slowly, well after it had started. Contrast that to today, where before the ground incursion and before the slaughter in Ukrainian skies were known to us, we woke up to a heart-wrenching story of four boys killed at a Gaza beach (caution: disturbing images within link).
Thanks to this immediate information, it is easy to think that the world is an altogether more horrific place than it used to be. It really isn’t. This doesn’t minimize or negate any of these tragedies, but the world is actually a far less dangerous place than it used to be. There is less violence overall- we just hear more about. This is a good thing, because it means that no killing can go unknown. It doesn’t mean we’ll do anything about it- or that anything can be done- but it makes it harder for murderers to operate under the security of darkness. They have to justify their actions. If behavior follows language, the world could become a better place.
Where your school fits in
Language is important, as noted above. And I don’t mean “what language people speak”, but rather, how it dictates their actions. It’s the positive flip side to Orwell’s concept of doublespeak.
When you have a large international student body, it is more difficult to assign any one country or people into the vague grey lump category of “others.” An Israeli isn’t just an Israeli, it is international student Ben, and his family, of whom he carried pictures in his wallet. A Palestinian is international student Fatima.
When your brain starts making these associations, it conjures up warmer feelings toward people. It makes their tragedies not as distant, but more human. It forces you to think of people in the news as just that- of people.
I’m not saying that international education is going to bring about global peace. But it does change the world, in a very literal sense. It changes everyone who participates. It makes the world a smaller, more friendly place, forging invisible but strong connections across oceans, continents, languages. You might not be able to influence presidents or prime ministers, and you can’t get people to sit at a table and hammer things out- but by bringing together domestic and international students, you can make the world better for all of us. Something to remember when headlines are awash with pain.
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.