All aboard for education abroad

(Edmonton) It is now generally accepted that nation-states are history—a reality that raises challenging questions.

Should sharing and caring become a core of humanity in our increasingly globalized world? And what responsibility do societies have to, as a University of Alberta associate dean puts it, “collectively make our world the best we can,” in response to changes in virtually every aspect of life?

“The university is a place where we serve and propagate knowledge, and each day things change in society. We have to recognize the changes that are taking place and respond,” says William Street, associate dean of student programs. “We have to look at the human condition and think about our local society and its relationship with other societies. Once we became aware that an international component was an important factor, it became our responsibility to include that in our educational mandate.”

Today, an education at the U of A is more than attending classes and passing exams. The university recognizes the role of the future leaders it is training, and is committed to ensuring that every student gets an education beyond the classroom.

“Two centuries ago, the requirement of an education would have been very different. We’re trying to be a model citizen by providing leadership and, specifically, sponsorship for international education and experience for students,” Street says. “Collectively we create our world. We need everyone to travel to the other side of the river, not just a few. So we’re loading up a metaphorical boat and we are going together on a trip.”

One stop on that journey will happen Jan. 30 in the lobby of the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, with a symposium on student engagement in international education. The event provides a forum for students to share their international experiences through poster presentations.

“This event will create a focus on what the world is today. We need to lead the world, especially in education, in our openness to other world views, understanding of other cultures and sharing of expertise and skills,” Street says.

“We can read about places and cultures, but from the time we have an especially engaging international experience, it can change our life. If I read an article about climate change, and never experience it, I might not believe it is happening. But if I see its effect, I will take on the responsibility of finding out why it exists and what can and should be done about it. The same is true for global social problems such as poverty.”

Street wants students to come away inspired to seize on the tremendous opportunities he says the university provides for students to go abroad. “I hope students are touched by this event, and become stimulated and encouraged by our enthusiasm for internationalization. I hope that it touches them in a way that will plant an idea for them to want to take part and move forward with what the university has outlined as one of our major initiatives,” he says.

“Once the seed is planted, you become an international citizen. It changes how you view and respond to people. You take more responsibility for your life and communities in a broader world, and you realize how fragile we are as individuals—and how strong we can be collectively.”

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Find out more about International Week 2013