For as long as I can remember, history has most often been described to me as a series of conquests and domination. The recent prolonged events in the Ukraine reinforce this storyline and the damaging results on those who are impacted. As we emerge from the COVID pandemic into an era of COVID endemic circumstances, shifting political sands, and demonstrations from those who feel unheard and unseen, the challenge stands before us: what should our future historical narrative be?
As international educators we have a responsibility to invest in the direction of this narrative. Studying abroad should not simply be a return to “business as usual.” Critical questions are on the minds of students, parents, and citizens everywhere about ways to interact meaningful with each other in light of recent world events and how to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy. In response to these questions, international educators need to foster this dialogue and help build a new reference framework. Our promotional materials, pre-departure orientations, on-site orientations, and re-entry programming are ideal venues to engage students in the topics that will help shape how they interact with the host culture while overseas and, as a result, how they start to build the new legacy of intercultural engagement.
Some of the key questions for discussion would be:
• How do we invite new acquaintances/roommates/host families to share with us the experiences that they have had as a result of recent worldwide events? What are ways to show empathy and understanding?
• How do we share our own experiences and utilize this opportunity as a way to find commonality across cultures?
• What can we observe about the culture we are visiting and how it is responding to current events?
• What are our takeaways to bring back to our own culture and incorporate into our interactions with friends and family at home?
These questions certainly echo general approaches that we encourage of all students while studying abroad. The importance of these questions at this particular time in our world history take on greater meaning and are of greater urgency than ever before. The ancient African proverb, “It takes a village…,” is never more true than today and now. International educators, in collaboration with faculty at home and abroad, play a vital role in ensuring that these ancient words of wisdom remain on the minds of the young adults who will shape how our history moves forward.