Category: International Education Week, 2012
Global engagement happens when one reaches out to make a connection that might not have been previously possible. It means have the audacity to try something new, engage with others, and speak an unfamiliar language. One of my favorite experiences abroad was conversing with a German student I had recently met while playing in a pickup soccer game. I didn’t speak German and he didn’t speak English, but we both used our own second languages – Spanish – and our first passions – soccer – to connect.
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.
Listening to faculty, staff and students describe BU’s opportunities to study in China, their own experiences studying or working in China, and the presence of Chinese students on campus. Listening to how high school educators create opportunities for their students to spend 4 months in China. Learning about how and why professionals train teachers to enhance their global curriculum through a better understanding of foreign cultures. Speaking to a BU graduate student who comes from China and who is here to learn our language, our culture, our perceptions of her home country, and our expertise in city planning. Knowing that my commitment to expanding the boundaries of my own knowledge, to continuously challenging and questioning my understanding of my own and others’ cultures and to finding ways of being a more informed member of the global community is not unique to me. It is shared.
We live in an age when an understanding of the world beyond our own backyards is critical to nearly every profession. It’s even necessary for being a good citizen of the US. I think “global engagement” resides first and foremost in our own mindsets, in how we think about what we do, why we do it, how we learn, how we interact with others. Sure, studying abroad and working abroad are great experiences, and I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed both, but there is also so much international education to be had right here at BU, both in and out of the classroom. There are guest lectures, festivals, classes, clubs… and just people you sit next to for lunch or on the BUS…. BU didn’t start me on my global experiences, but it allows me to interact with people and ideas from other cultures every single day. That is global engagement.
The sight of someone wearing a Red Sox hat, when you’re studying abroad in London, is a welcoming sight, one that briefly alleviates homesickness. When I came back to BU for my last semester, senior year, though, it took me awhile to squelch that startled surprise….