As an intern in the International Affairs Office at ED, my main project of the summer has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies. Globally competent people have knowledge about the world and use it to investigate beyond their immediate environment, recognize various perspectives, communicate with others, and translate ideas into actions. In schools this is done through international-based subjects such as foreign languages or world history, global knowledge entwined in other subjects, digital exchanges, and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the data on study abroad show a dismal tale of how students are developing global competencies.
My study abroad experience in India was one of the best opportunities I have ever had, but unfortunately only 14% of U.S. students study abroad at some point during their degree program. I learned about Indian culture, religion, history, and development, all while interacting with diverse people. I also worked on what I believe is one of the most important skills: asking critical questions with humility and respect. Whether I continue to travel to different cultures or stay at home in our increasingly diverse communities, engaging with others in a respectful way is necessary to having positive and peaceful interactions.
Study abroad also teaches students how to be leaders and engage with the interconnected problems that our world faces today. Research about leaders in 30 different countries reported that nearly half of them had international experience. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade and hiring managers view international skills as increasingly important. Having the ability to engage with those from different backgrounds and communicate effectively enables positive change to occur. In order to handle global challenges and be leaders in the globalized future, students need to have international experiences that expose them to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
Next spring, I have the opportunity to participate in a Semester at Sea voyage around Asia and Africa. SAS is a study abroad program where you learn on a ship and travel between 15 ports, which you then have the opportunity to explore. On the ship each student takes a comparative lens course, which connects course content to each country we visit. The reason I choose SAS for my semester abroad, however, was their idea of integrating global content into courses. One of the courses I plan on taking is International Management. In the course, students apply case studies from the countries visited to business concepts, and also participate in a field lab. I will gain firsthand experiences that will help me gain greater comprehension and appreciation of the material.
Although the data was disheartening, it can help us formulate a vision for how the development of global competencies can be promoted in the future. There are many great programs out there that help teach students about the world and how to apply that knowledge. Interning at the Department has allowed me to meet many people who are passionate about helping students succeed. I have faith that international education can be promoted and encouraged and our students can succeed in the changing international arena.
Rachel Warner is a rising junior at the College of William & Mary. She interned in the International Affairs Office in Summer 2015.