The True Meaning of International Education

in International Education Week, 2012
November 13th, 2012

International education does not mean learning about other countries.

I have always been interested in global history and maps and even international foods. I learned about these things from books or TV shows, and thought I had a pretty clear picture of how things were around the world. Then I went to China this summer, and I found out that you can’t really learn something so complex as culture through words, photographs, or even videos. This simple, yet involved concept can only truly be learned through people, places, and experiences.

I went to China with two of my best friends from high school and one of their mothers. My friend’s Mom, who was born and raised in China and still has family and friends there, was committed to giving us a truly Chinese experience during our visit. This meant eating scorpion in a crowded Beijing alley, seeing a giant Buddha statue that is taller than the Statue of Liberty on an island I didn’t even know existed, confusing “smog” with “fog.” It also meant sleeping in a temple complex at an elevation of 10,000 feet and watching the sunrise there in the morning, climbing stairs with a 75 degree incline to reach the top of a “hidden” mountain, and being inches away from North Korea. Most importantly it meant spending 3 weeks with people I did not know beforehand, with whom I could not communicate effectively, but regardless took me in and exhausted themselves to make my experience memorable. I had never met anybody made so genuinely happy by simply eating a meal with me and enjoying my company. And sure, I did those cliché things that people have to do when they go to China like walk part of the Great Wall of China and see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and those things were awesome too, but I didn’t learn from that. And I definitely didn’t learn more from my travel guide, which was supposed to teach me everything I needed to know about China. I learned from my experiences that were quintessentially and un-ordinarily Chinese.

I’m thankful that BU gives us the opportunity to have these experiences and to meet people who are not tour guides but real, foreign citizens either at the events of this week or abroad. As a freshman, I can’t wait to fully embrace these opportunities.