University of Calgary

Q&A with two experts: Why it’s worth internationalizing an education

UToday HomeMarch 25, 2013

CISSA StudentsEach year, about 3,000 international students come to the University of Calgary, while another 1,000 Calgary students travel abroad. Many seek the support services of the university’s Centre for International Students and Study Abroad. Photo by Riley BrandtWhat does it mean to be cross-culturally competent?

UToday spoke with Edna Einsiedel and Paul Chastko about why students internationalize their degrees — and how they can grow academically, personally and professionally, by developing their cross-cultural competencies. 

Einsiedel is a professor in the Department of Communication and Culture Arts, and program co-ordinator for the Development Studies program. Chastko is a professor in the Department of History, and program co-ordinator for the International Relations program.

UToday: Why is international experience important for a student?

Einsiedel: There's the virtue of perspective — where students might understand a problem, issue or practice from different standpoints; the benefit of more effective learning — where principles learned in the classroom can be demonstrated in different contexts; and the value of seeing and understanding diversity in broader forms and contexts.

Chastko: I try to encourage International Relations students to internationalize their degrees for a variety of reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that these programs are popular amongst our students, many of whom have what I would call “itchy feet” – that is, looking to travel. There are many other reasons for students. Gaining international experience is a wonderful way to broaden their horizons, get exposure to different ideas, cultures, places and people and to distinguish their degrees from those of their peers.

UToday: What is the academic impact of an international experience for students?

Chastko:  What is really striking in this respect is that taking part in one of these programs empowers students to become more actively involved in their education; students have the opportunity to become more actively engaged in their education by tailoring  their degree to suit their own academic and career goals. As professors, we encourage students to become involved in the classes they're taking – to attend lectures, complete assigned readings, and take part in class discussions. When you see the level of commitment that is required for students to take part in a study abroad program, to put themselves out there and take the time to find a program, get the necessary permissions, and physically travel to another country in order to pursue their degrees, it demonstrates a level of commitment that we are trying to nurture and encourage.

UToday: What might cross-cultural competence look like for a student?

Einsiedel:  I think it incorporates the outcomes of the above dimensions. The student has a broader knowledge base; exhibits skills of accommodation and flexibility; and demonstrates “cultural intelligence.” That's my complimentary term for “emotional intelligence” (borrowing from Howard Gardner and Dan Goleman).

UToday: Is this the same as being a global citizen?

Einsiedel: I'm not sure. (I happen to be thinking about what this means in the context of global challenges like climate change and biodiversity.) I'm sitting at the point where local and global can intersect, because I'm not sure if global citizenship then means ignoring national or local interests.

UToday: How else does an international experience benefit students?

Chastko:  On a more pragmatic level, internationalizing their degree also translates into more tangible benefits once a student completes their degree and enters the job market. Employers I've spoken to like to see that graduating students can adapt to new surroundings and experiences quickly, something that is absolutely part and parcel of the exchanges and programs they can take part in. 


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