In our contemporary society, the internationalisation of education is deemed as a ‘business’ that predominantly governments and corporations benefit from, yet I believe international education goes deeper. Marginson (2012) reflects this idea, proposing a new idea “…of international education and of the international student. I call it international education as self formation.”
Marginson’s concept of ‘self formation’ refers to the transformation of international students’ identities as a result of their rich experiences, having been immersed in a society with different culture and norms, which infuse with their own socio-cultural background (known as hybridity) to create a stronger sense of self agency.
While Marginson is concerned with international students, I believe that there is profound value in intercultural encounters for both international and domestic students alike. International education is able to provide rich cultural experiences and bridge gaps in knowledge about other cultures, as illustrated by Cummins (2015), “intercultural education [is] a means of generating respect and understanding across social groups, thereby promoting a more cohesive and equitable society.”
However, these advantages can only be gained as long as we are willing to navigate the obstacles of intercultural experiences. According to Marginson (2012), “Research on international education also shows that most international students want closer interaction with local students… and it shows that most local students are not interested.” Marginson believes Australian students are too parochial (confined within the scope of their own culture), and ethnocentric (holding the attitude of other cultures being less superior). Similarly, Kell and Vogl (2007) reflect these sentiments in their accounts, “Other students found it hard as they felt that Australian students knew very little about their culture and countries of origin.”
Marginson and Kell and Vogl express how international students find it difficult to adapt and that local students need to make more effort, however, it is a two-way street. While local students have a significant role to play, it is often the case that international students will only remain with individuals of a similar culture, posing as a barrier to meaningful intercultural encounters. International student Scott David Heng, addresses these issues in his TED talk ‘What an international education inspires’. (2015)
Heng states it is natural to gravitate towards people you are more comfortable with, who often are from a similar culture. However, this “…hinders intercultural understanding, because you don’t give yourself the opportunity to learn from someone else.” The ability to be culturally flexible towards the ‘Other’ is incredibly important for the hybridity of cultures to exist cohesively in society.
In the cases where cultural awareness and respect are missing, societal conflicts arise, such as the 2009 violent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, students from North Dakota University ‘black facing’ last year, and more recently this year, racist attacks on Nigerian students in India.
Thus, we are all urged to consider how international education provides an invaluable opportunity to culturally enrich the fabric of our society, yet this cosmopolitan utopia cannot be achieved unless it is done so collectively and harmoniously.
Cummins, J 2016, ‘Intercultural education and academic achievement: a framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools’, International Education, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 455-468, Accessed 23 August
Heng, S.D 2015, What an international education inspires, Accessed 19 August
Kell, P and Vogl, G 2007, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, pp. 1-10
Knight, J 2014, Internationalization of education, Accessed 23 August
Marginson, S 2012, International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012