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Eyes on NAFSA: Highlights from the Kansas City Conference

Note: I write this sitting in the airport in Kansas City — my old hometown — where I have been attending the 2010 NAFSA conference. As my professional work has expanded from research on educational student exchange to research on education, I was pleased to reconnect with my many colleagues at NAFSA and to find much of interest and relevance to my new work and to Intercultural Eyes. As I have in previous years, I am highlighting some of the sessions I attended this year.

Global Citizenship?

Both funny and thought-provoking was the June 1st debate between Michael Woolf and Jim Skelly titled “Global Citizenship: Valid Goal or Absurd Concept?” At times playful and absurd, at times idealistic, at time pedantic, this session was the most talked about session that day and the next in the overheard conversations. People who hadn’t been there felt as though they missed something important, and presumably since NAFSA sessions tend to be recorded, it will be possible to purchase the recording and hear the full debate including the marvelous audience participation – none more eloquent than Rebecca Hoovey’s defense of aspirations of all types.

Knees and Nose

Michael and Jim’s debate seemed to grab more attention even than the Salman Rushdie keynote address, which also seemed to be one part stand-up comedy. One of those who attended the Woolf-Skelly debate decided to invite Rushdie to join the conversation by adding his views on Global Citizenship. Rushdie who now seems thoroughly British, seemed to feel that this concept escaped him a bit, and proceeded to answer as if the question had been about globalization.

I have read many of Rushdie’s books, always enjoying his playful use of the English language, but loving no book so much as I did Midnight’s Children, and the repeating references to the knees and nose of its main character. Rushdie’s presentation at NAFSA showed some of his intellectual navigation of human universals and the particularities of specific places, but it seemed to me that he projected the evolution of his own understanding of the world on all of humanity, as if things he has noticed more recently had only happened recently, and as if the way he used to view things was surely the way they used to be. Nevertheless his presentation included the wit if not so much the poetry of his writing. I discussed the Rushdie speech with an Indonesian friend at lunch one day. She had been asked by some of her compatriots why she was willing to listen to him. She concluded that Rushdie is pretty much harmless to Islam.

Peace, Justice and Data

Wednesday morning began with a poster session that was to focus on peace and justice as it relates to international education. Peace is an often mentioned hoped-for outcome for international education, but are we in fact achieving it? Bring on the data! With a booming voice reminiscent of a salesman on late night television, Charles Dambach introduced the group to the global peace index putting up slide after slide of last year’s data with measurements of peace and its correlaries. The 2010 data is due to come out next week. “Measuring peace is a tool to build peace,” he noted, as he brought forth statistics such showing that the world has become significantly more peaceful in the last 20 years due largely, his sources believe, to the end of the Cold War, the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping, and the emergence of civil society in the form of peace building NGOs. The Global Peace Index involves 144 nations, 23 indicators and 33 drivers of peace. The 10 most peaceful nations last year? New Zealand, Norway, Austria, Japan, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Canada and Slovenia. Dambach reminded us that many of these nations were not always peaceful, and that Europe was not that long ago one of the least peaceful places on earth. Dambach’s organization, Alliance for Peace Building, is looking for lessons learned from nations that have become peaceful. High on the list of lessons learned was the need to be humble, to focus on human development, good leadership, a lack of corruption, justice, respectful engagement with others, and early attention to conflict.

Peace is not the only thing that is data driven. An international panel led by Francisco Marmolejo looked for ways to measure internationalization in higher education. The panelists tended to speak in very general terms, and I was left with the sense that while there were some indicators used, nothing was particularly easy to measure, nor is it all that certain what we are looking for. Darla Deardorff from the USA talked about models for thinking about how to collect relevant information and a few indicators that might be used. From Mexico, Gabriela Castañon Garcia talked about 42 quantitative and qualitative indicators that seemed to be related to study abroad. Most of the Mexican students from the CUMex system apparently study abroad in Spain.

Then of course there are some massive data sets. A session on counting study abroad students introduced some of the difficulties of getting accurate data but nevertheless, Open Doors has collected such data in vast quantity, effectively setting the guidelines for what data is and is not collected about study abroad students on most campuses. It seems likely that students who go abroad in the US for educational travel are being undercounted by current measurements. The other massive set of data belongs to the GLOSSARI project which presented its “final” report at this year’s NAFSA while at the same time practically begging for graduate students who want to work with this data to do more. Though there are some clear findings such as better graduation rates for students who participate in study abroad, even the strongest of the findings are nuanced when the results are controlled for a wide range of relevant factors that also influence the outcome. Http://glossari.uga.edu

This brings me back to the topic of research, which has traditionally been my focus at the NAFSA conferences. One of the best sessions was a discussion of research and its relationship to educational policy. Richard Sutton at the seminar “Advancing Internationalization on our Campuses through Research” offered the image of hundreds of disconnected research projects of various types growing in a petri dish totally outside of the realm of educational policy. A small but dedicated group of active researchers in the field made up the audience and discussed why this might be so and what we might do about it. It seems like a discussion that will continue in various formats and venues in the months to come.

Discussion at NAFSA Graduate Research Roundtable



1. Eyes on NAFSA « Intercultural Eyes - June 6, 2010

[…] Read more at Eyes on NAFSA […]

2. Bryan McAllister-Grande - June 8, 2010

Great post, Betsy. I do hope that Woolf-Skelly debate was recorded!

3. Kim Brown - June 8, 2010

Gathering a group of scholars to discuss such topics is an excellent way to dissect many of the issues educators face. It is important to take the information gathered, follow through, make decisions and make changes that will enhance the way students are taught in schools and through training sessions at their place of employment.

I have always been facinated by individuals who leave their country to study abroad. To experience another culture and learn the educational concepts as they are taught in that culture in invaluable. However, I find myself wondering how these individuals adapt after returning to their countries. For instance, there are many rules and regulations placed on individuals living in China. If a Chinese student is taught business in the United States, will they be able to truly use the methods they learned when they return to their homeland? It would be interesting to study such and individual.

Kim Brown

Bettina Hansel - June 10, 2010

Thanks, Kim. You raise an interesting point about reentry, though it is also difficult for US students who have learned and adapted to another culture. Even your own language can feel strange when you return if you have been living in another language for a couple of months or more.

Back in 1992 I did study a group of 49 Indian students who had come to the USA for study, and interviewed them back in India some months or years after their return to find out how they managed their readjustment. There are several different types of adjustment paths, and not all of them had an easy time. (Some returned to the USA.) I have a copy of my report on my website http://www.bettinahansel.com. I would also recommend a paper done by a Danish student who lived in Kenya for a year as a high school exchange student. Her paper, “But I Am Danish ?” can probably still be found on the AFS website: http://www.afs.org/research.

But in terms of “using what you learned” — Of course any technique or method of business, science, or even thinking or writing styles would need to be adapted to the culture in which you will be working, and that really is the point: to understand how to adapt, rather than to simply do what you were taught.

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