The Importance of an International Education for All Students

This week is International Education Week — a time when educators, administrators, students, and parents recognize and celebrate the importance of world language learning; study abroad; and an appreciation of different countries and cultures.

Recent tragedies throughout the world — including in Paris, Beirut, Yola, Sinai and Baghdad — serve as a reminder of our common humanity and our shared interest in building bridges of understanding.

For students who study a different part of the world, speak a second language, or study abroad, the experience can lead to a better appreciation of the complexity, challenges, and ambiguity, as well as the opportunities, of life in the 21st century.

These skills and aptitudes contribute to our young people’s global competency.

However, for too many of our students, global competencies — including mastery of a foreign language, cultural understanding that comes from studying abroad, or the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to solving global issues—are not always easy to obtain.

A continued lack of investment in world language programs and world area studies at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels have left many of our students behind the curve. Study abroad often also can be seen as a luxury and not as an essential and integrated part of an academic experience, even though research shows it can have a positive effect on college completion, especially for the most vulnerable students. The price of study abroad also can be prohibitive for students with modest means.

As important as global competencies are to building a robust educational experience for our students and increasing the cultural understanding of our people, they also are critical tools for individuals navigating a global job market. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that one in five American jobs is tied to global trade; and that number is expected to rise significantly in coming years.

As we work to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education, it is imperative that the experience they have, whether it is during their K-12 years, at a community college, or at a four-year university, gives them the skills to succeed in our increasingly connected, 21st century global economy.

It’s almost a cliché these days to note how interconnected our world has become—but we must not take this powerful dynamic and its implications for the future of our young people for granted. It simply isn’t sufficient for a small business owner to have a basic understanding of accounting and management. Increasingly, she must think about where her product is sourced, the competition from overseas, and whether or not she can communicate across borders with suppliers who may not speak her language.

The engineer tasked with working on a construction project in Iraq has an infinitely more difficult job without an understanding of the Arabic language and the local culture. Similarly, here at home, our healthcare professionals are treating patients from around the globe, and a knowledge of world regions, cultures, and language can help them diagnose a rare condition, be more conscious of a patient’s cultural sensitivities, or simply communicate “you’ll be just fine” in another language.

As we celebrate international education this week and every week, we must ensure that all students leave our classrooms and campuses with the skills to work with their counterparts in other countries and in our own increasingly diverse communities, for a safer and more prosperous world.

Mohamed Abdel-Kader is Deputy Assistant Secretary for International & Foreign Language Education at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. In myanmar country;we learn both mother language and foreign language as english.Education lead to increase his country so we must more learn many foreign languages

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I agree with your post. International Education is neccessary for all the students. This type of education will help us to learn about the cultures of different society.

    Thank you again and keep posting this type of post.


  4. I agree with this post. I believe a greater understanding of other cultures is necessary to make our society more tolerant. It is important to understand that other cultures are different, and that difference does not make the culture threatening. Tolerance and understanding of other cultures is extremely important to develop and foster a relationship with international partners on all issues. Having a greater understanding of other cultures allows us to move forward as a part of the global society, instead of being left out. I am happy to see the Department of Education is taking steps to increase cultural awareness, like having an International Education Week. I also believe the Department can do more. I think the Department should work to develop curriculums that promote understandings of other cultures. I think the biggest gap to students receiving an education on other cultures is the teachers are not prepared to teach the subject, especially in elementary schools. If the funding is available, the Department should also expand access to foreign language programs. Knowing a second language is extremely important in our current job market.

  5. As a foreign born U.S. citizen, former study abroad participant, and avid traveler, I share the author’s enthusiasm for multicultural education- whether it be through classes here in the U.S. or through a study abroad program elsewhere- and absolutely agree that such education is critical to an individual’s maturation and professional ambitions. I feel fortunate to say that I can look back at my study abroad program in Germany with fond memories and indelible educational experiences that will forever affect my career path, but I know for many students the cost of participating in such programs is simply too much. As the blog mentions, a dearth of funding for global education programs seems to be a major reason for why many of these programs are simply too expensive for student- something must be done to address this. All students will need this sort of education, as the blog notes that the Department of Labor estimates that one in five Americans’ jobs are tied to global trade. While I did not know beforehand that this week was international education week, I believe every week should be international education week, and that as it becomes more and more critical for students to have the skills concomitant with such an education to compete in our hyper-connected global economy, more should be done to promote multicultural education. Cause as the article notes, the engineer working in a foreign country has an extraordinarily more difficult time working their if he or she does not speak the language or understand the culture.

Comments are closed.