According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the United States hosted nearly 1.09 million international students in higher education in 2018. The IIE also reportedthat from 2004 to 2016, the number of international students coming to the United States to participate in secondary school systems tripled, but the rate of growth in students coming to the United States for exchange has slowed in recent years. However, this decrease does not demonstrate a lack of interest—there are still more students coming every year to enjoy what the United States has to offer in terms of culture, academics, and overall opportunity.
Partaking in an international education experience allows students to absorb knowledge and build communication skills to take back to their home countries and into their future careers and lives, but they also have much to offer to the communities they are a part of.
In addition to building global bridges through relationships, international students in higher education contribute to communities and the broader country in many ways. EducationUSA, a network of international student advising centers that works with the United States Department of State notes: “Campus internationalization not only strengthens your academic programs, but benefits our economy, increases cultural understanding, and will ultimately lead to a brighter future for our globalized world.”
Although most available data about how international students benefit host communities are centered around students in higher education, it is reasonable to extend those benefits to international students in secondary schools as well.
Through Education, Travel & Culture (ETC)and other similar programs, host families and communities all over the country have the opportunity to be cultural ambassadors for the United States while also taking invaluable lessons through building relationships with exchange students. International students are actively engaged with life in the United States through school, family life, and extracurricular activities. Their extended stays in communities allow them to build lifelong friendships, relationships, and memories.
In the classroom, international students offer perspectives through their own cultural lens that may not be presented otherwise. Many teachers appreciate the contributions of international students because it can be difficult to learn the true nature of the world and people through the media and traditional lectures. Face-to-face interactions and classroom discussions enrich dialogue to benefit all participants, so both international and domestic students will be exposed to new ways to think critically about what they are learning in academic settings.
Each country has different approaches to academics, but all students that visit the United States for an extended period of time are eager to understand what the American system is like. This dynamic sets international students up for success in learning directly from the source about American culture. On the flip side, they benefit the school system by bringing in new ideas and strategies in approaching work and complex subjects. An environment where multiple cultures are mixed together can certainly create conflict in some contexts, but in the realm of academics, a variety of ideas encourages more holistic thinking.
Interaction with international students may also inspire students from the United States to study abroad in the future. Studying abroad is academically, personally, and professionally fulfilling in that it builds confidence, intercultural competency, and communication skills. As the world becomes more globalized, employers seek people with knowledge of international cultures
The ability to communicate internationally and interculturally comes from a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone by interacting with people of different cultures, beliefs, and values. In order to gain this competency, students enter uncertain situations to build upon existing experiences and skills in order to improve. During the academic exchange, strengths and weaknesses are shared between cultures to achieve a better understanding.
Individuals who are motivated to engage with other cultures and are open to new or different ideas are going to be more likely to seek out and make use of information that helps them adapt to new environments. They are able to assess their preconceived judgments about people and cultures in productive ways to reduce personal prejudice and encourage those around them to think more comprehensively.
International students have an advantage in that they develop intercultural competence by integrating into American society academically and socially. Not only do they help their classmates better understand their home culture and country, but they do the same for their host families and the greater community through social interaction.
Now that we have explored some of the ways international students contribute to communities and community social growth, it is important to note that there are certain necessities they need to succeed in their academic experiences. They need things like attentive host families, the ability to connect with people back home, transportation, and most importantly, love. If you are interested in hearing more about how international students can enrich your community or if you would like to host a student and be a part of their American journey, you can find more resources here.
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