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Students can be an intercultural asset


Bringing an international dimension to the curriculum can seem daunting, especially at smaller universities where funding and resources may be limited.

But at a recent workshop on internationalization for smaller institutions, one speaker reminded attendees that a university’s greatest resource – its students – can help faculty to integrate global or intercultural dimensions into the content and delivery of a course.

“Faculty can ask students in their classrooms what languages they speak, whether they’ve lived abroad, what they know about the topic at hand in terms of other cultures,” says Sheryl Bond, a professor in the faculty of education at Queen’s University.

And while some smaller institutions may not be as diverse as larger ones, their size can be an asset. “They have a leg up on internationalizing the curriculum because they know their students personally and can use what [the students] bring with them. It’s harder to do in large lecture classes,” says Dr. Bond, an expert in this field.

Universities are becoming increasingly aware that, in a global society, students “need to be able to understand other people and connect with other people,” notes Dr. Bond. Yet, she says studies have shown that students come out of university with less international savvy at the end of four years than when they started. “Somewhere along the line, they’ve lost exposure to multiple cultures. They’ve lost all that richness because they’re not communicating it.”

Students can help

That richness comes not just from international students studying here, but also from Canadian students who’ve studied abroad. Neil Blazevic, a student in global development at Huron University College (affiliated with the University of Western Ontario), went to Kenya to work with a women’s micro-credit program. He says the value of this kind of travel is that “it changes you as a person and you can share in more meaningful ways.”

But not every student has the chance to go abroad, so it’s valuable to get that exposure in the classroom, he adds.Another barrier to internationalization is faculty resistance. “Most faculty don’t know what the benefits of internationalization are, or they think it’s a fad imposed from on top, or sometimes disciplines already see themselves as international,” says Dr. Bond.

The workshop, held at Huron in late August, was organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and Huron, with funds from Human Resources and Social Development Canada’s International Academic Mobility Program.

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