International Student Exchanges and Diplomacy

For this week’s blogging assignment, I have decided to delve into the realm of international education and exchanges, and how they relate to public and cultural diplomacy. Not only am I going to be studying educational exchanges as part of my group project this semester, but I also feel a personal connection to the topic, as I spent close to seven months interning for NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

The New York Times posted an article entitled “Helping Foreign Students Thrive on U.S. Campuses” a couple of days ago which deals with the shift that has occurred with respect to foreign students studying in the United States (Fischer, K. (2014). Helping Foreign Students Thrive on U.S. Campuses. New York Times: Americas: International Education. Retrieved from  Fischer explains that the emphasis has gone from recruiting international students to focusing on the actual needs and experiences of the students while they are studying in the U.S.

Fischer argues that there is not a lot of information or studies available that delve into international student retention and fulfillment. However, she cites that this is slowly changing, and reveals the results of a recent study conducted by Mr. C.K. Kwai, director of international programs at the University of Maine at Orono. One of the interesting elements Mr. Kwai found in his study was that on-campus employment usually led to higher retention rates, which implies that international students may feel more invested and integrated within the university by working on its campus.

Fischer states that NAFSA is currently partnering with World Education Services (both are nonprofit international education organizations) in order to conduct a nationwide study on the factors which are associated with the retention of foreign students and the success of their study abroad experiences. The results will be released at some point this year, and I look forward to reading the study and seeing what they have found on the subject.

Fischer also claims that most universities are not equipped or properly trained to address the needs of international students once they actually arrive and begin studying at their institution. It is extremely important that the needs and wants of the international students be met. David L. Di Maria, director of international programs and services at Kent State University, rightfully stated that “The best recruitment strategy is a good retention strategy” (Fischer).

International education exchanges have become increasingly important in today’s globalized and interdependent arena. From the theoretical knowledge I have gained from taking cross-cultural communication classes here at AU, as well as with my firsthand experience interning for NAFSA, I strongly believe that international education is an intrinsic part of cultural and public diplomacy, and should be treated as such.

Richard T. Arndt states that cultural diplomacy begins “[…] when a nation-state steps in and tries to manage, to whatever extent it can, this natural two-way cultural flow so as better to advance national interests, preferably on both sides of borders” (Arndt, R.T. (2010). The Hush-Hush Debate: The Cultural Foundations of U.S. Public Retrieved from Blackboard). One way to achieve this type of cultural exchange and collaboration is by pursuing international educational exchanges. This can help promote respect, understanding and communication among citizens from different national and cultural backgrounds – which in my opinion is an important component of diplomacy itself.

Nick Cull explains that cultural diplomacy is a form of public diplomacy, “[…] one method by which an international actor may conduct its foreign policy through engaging in a foreign public” (Cull, N. (2010). Jamming for Uncle Sam: Getting the Best From Cultural Diplomacy. Huffington Post: Arts & Culture. Retrieved from Blackboard). As I mentioned in class when I was leading the discussion on Pamments’ “Perspectives on the new public diplomacy,” cultural diplomacy can be distinguished from public diplomacy for many reasons, one of which is that, as Cull reiterates, cultural diplomacy has more long-term goals and endeavors.

As a final thought, one of my tasks at NAFSA was to listen to webinars on various issues related to international education, and verify that there were no typos in any written courses or textbooks. One of the webinars I found most interesting was on Chinese students in the United States, and how to integrate them within the university, both academically and culturally. This is a topic I’m extremely interested in, and one I look forward to learning more about as I pursue a career in diplomacy.


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