Cashing in on Opportunity = Responsibility

In preparing for the beginning of each school year my attention always turned to considering students new to the school, in particular new International students.

As school districts continue to look for ways to generate revenue in the face of under-funding, International Education programs in many areas continue to grow.

However, in our efforts to attract students from abroad to pay for the experiences our education system and communities offer, what kind of services and support should we then provide in return?

Having been involved in International Education in one way or another for over 20 years, I was surprised at what I found earlier in my career.

I recall being at schools in which International students were seen as an inconvenience and treated as such. Yet, taking on International students provided extra staffing and additional financial resources directly to those schools.

International students were not considered in planning and assigning staffing or building timetables. International students were given the leftover classes after the “regular” students were programmed, and often International students were withdrawn from full classes if a local student wanted to transfer in. Little tolerance was shown for students who could not express themselves well in English, and personal-emotional support barely existed.

A Principal I worked with had the opportunity to participate on a marketing trip. For years, colleagues had been “rewarded” with these trips, and they would return with tales of sight-seeing, late night socializing, and all the joys of travelling abroad… but little about the work involved.

However, he returned with a much different mindset.

While meeting with agents and, in particular, parents, he realized that parents of International students were not much different from us in regards to their concerns for the well-being of their children. The parents he met were exploring incredible educational and cultural opportunities knowing that they would have to place the care of their children in the hands of complete strangers.

He returned with a new-found appreciation for the weight of the responsibility we hold in taking on International students.

At student assemblies and in conversations he began emphasizing the need to be welcoming and supportive of International students. He began making that extra effort to engage them in conversations in the halls and classrooms. He described International students as being among the bravest students we will ever meet, for they had left their families and friends, their communities, the cultures they know, and the comforts of their own homes to travel abroad for new experiences.

Our own travels during holidays differ so much from the experiences of our International students. When we vacation we know that we are visiting for a short time. We know we will soon return to family, friends, and the lifestyles to which we are accustomed. We know as tourists there is often ample support when travelling to new countries. We often have the maturity, independence, and interpersonal skills to manage the challenges of being in new places.

The International students with whom we work come to us for a variety of reasons. For many of them, they are leaving family and friends for an extended period of time to live with strangers. They must use a language that is not their mother-tongue in an education system much different to what they are accustomed. For many, they do not know when they will have a chance to return home.

These students are participating in incredible opportunities, but with numerous challenges.

When our own students travel abroad for cultural exchanges and language immersion programs with only the language skills developed in the courses we provide, what kind of support and experiences do we want for them?

What would be our expectations if we had the means to provide similar opportunities for our own children?

Are the experiences and support we provide International students commensurate with the expectations we would have for our own students and children when travelling abroad?

And here is where the challenge lies:

The need to reconcile the marketing/entrepreneurial side of the “business” with the education and support for the students we have invited to join us. At the very least, the assurance that we are providing value for the dollar.

We have so much to offer, and in return there is so much we can learn about the cultures from which our International students come. This can’t just be about the dollar, but perhaps an opportunity to learn from each other in a reciprocal relationship in which there is value both ways.

The work we do as educators is not easy and has many challenges. I can only begin to imagine the challenges our International students face in leaving so much behind to travel around the world for the incredible experiences they’ve been promised.

A Future Post: Missed Opportunities All Around?

Image Source: shared by Hellobo on Flickr (CC)