GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘International Education’

Summer’s Labour’s Lost

In Uncategorized on 2010/08/02 at 15:45

Guest blogger, Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA.

My sons and I hold a recurrent discussion about the reason school lets out in early June and resumes on the cusp of September. They adhere to the notion that a summer vacation came to them as a birthright. I point out the critical difference between the break they receive and the vacation they claim.

“Do you know why you don’t have school? Because when schools first started, children had to help their parents work in the fields during the summer.” The lecture continues: “Do you know that because kids could only go to school in the winter, their parents had to give firewood to the teacher? The teacher would even go around to their houses with a wagon to pick it up.” A few more details about one-room schoolhouses, in which the older kids taught the younger ones (they know about their great-grandma’s), and the complaints about nightly reading die down.

Many undergraduates hang on to the vestiges of my boys’ sense that summer is supposed to mean getting to do exactly what you want to do precisely when you want to do it. For undergraduates, the desire for change frequently manifests in the desire to make money by whatever means and in the highest amount possible. Nirvana equates to a Goldman Sachs internship, which will miraculously produce the six-figure job offer and maximize this goal in the present and the future. Other internships result in less cash up front, but promise golden tickets to elite and lucrative legal or medical careers down the road. Then there are the camp counselors, shop clerks, and burger flippers. They earn a little and learn a little while the sun shines. Another set expends more parental cash to buy extra courses or “voluntourism” packages anticipated to ‘pay off’ in the future with graduate admissions and global influence to make newly-impoverished parents proud.

Any of these options may broaden a students’ minds and give them the ‘experiential learning’ opportunity of which academic administrators speak ad nauseam. However, the student has to conceptualize the opportunity as more than money/career-making in order for it to work. William Deresiewicz’s reflection on Ivy Leaguers’ inability to converse with convenience store clerks (http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education) could be quickly overcome with a summer working in a convenience store, but only if the student forgoes the snobbery of assuming they have nothing to share with their colleagues. If the student comes from a snotty suburb, a job in a low income urban neighborhood offers far more potential for cross-class understanding than one at home. As George H.W. Bush and Barak Obama each learned the hard way, every citizen should know the price of milk (NOT arugula) and its percentage in a minimum-wage worker’s budget. Once you know it, you can talk about it with anyone whether at Harvard or in Harlem.

Summer should be about pushing boundaries, and the best opportunities need not be expensive. That hypothetical convenience store might stand next to a community center. A student could volunteer to work with those in need while earning a little to contribute towards the family bills. The choice between teaching country-club kids tennis for profit or offering underclass children a new definition of fun for free need not be so stark. Time abroad means little if a student leaves feeling like a self-satisfied saviour or never sets forth from the safety of a study-abroad ghetto.

I spent the summer following my freshman year on the Navajo reservation. My parents paid my tuition for the ethnographic field school, but money had no influence as my blond ponytail circulated a Gallup, New Mexico stadium in a sea of shining, coal-black hair during the Intertribal Games. I knew in that moment what it meant to be different. I spent the evening with Native Americans from across the country commenting on having ‘seen’ me, the only melanin-deprived person among the throngs on the field. They had not seen me, of course. They each noted the ponytail bleached to extreme by the southwestern sun. That visceral sense of having my appearance draw everyone’s attention to my outsider status never left me. I made no money, but my summer’s labor was not lost.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is associate director of the office of fellowships and teaches history and American studies at Northwestern University, from which she earned her B.A. (1992). She earned M.Litt. (1994) and M.Phil. (1995) degrees in European History as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University before completing her Ph.D. at Princeton University (2000). In her so-called spare time, she fights household entropy, gardens, bakes boozy bundts, enjoys breakfast in Bollywood, and writes scholarly papers about funky monks. For more, visit http://elizabethlewispardoe.wordpress.com or find Elizabeth on Twitter@ejlp and LinkedIn.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

The Class That Never Ends

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/07/14 at 11:20

Denise Horn, writing from Boston in the USA.

My graduate department gave particularly brutal comprehensive exams. For our major field, we were expected to answer three questions in a 24-hour period. Our advisers claimed that it was never intended to be an all-night exam, but for hyper-competitive and insecure graduate students, the tradition was to prove your mettle by staying up all night, writing erudite, thoughtful and, by four in the morning, incomprehensible essays. I recall quipping to my adviser as I prepped for the exam “when you’re a professor do you often get calls in the middle of the night to solve some emergency surrounding the difference between defensive and offensive realism?”

Now I’m a professor. And it turns out, yes, you do.

Of course, the calls (or rather, knocks on the door) have nothing to do with whether Huntington’s thesis was misguided or brilliant. They are of the emergency variety: a kid who thinks his roommate is dying of malaria (food poisoning), calls to help a student who is having a seizure, hugs for another whose fiance who has gone MIA in Kabul after an attack, tracking stolen cameras, calming severe homesickness, culture shock, broken hearts and academic freak-outs. I have become accustomed to my students seeing me not at my best, as I morning-stumble to the dorm bathroom we share, struggle with my own queasiness at meal times, trying to teach class while suffering from typhoid, become snappish from exhaustion, or (gasp) they see me dance at a club.

Such is the life of the professor who leads international short-term faculty led programs. It is a month-long program where you are on stage 24/7. It is the class that never ends.

I have been leading these programs for over five years, to a variety of countries: South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, India and Indonesia. My programs all center on community development and social entrepreneurship, where students spend an intensive month devising solutions for the problems they see around them. The program is by no means a vacation (although we do have fun), and I am by no means simply a tour leader. I am teacher, adviser, first-response medical team, disciplinarian, friend and, admittedly, sometimes the mommy. I plan the curriculum, make all the contacts and oversee the budget. I am responsible for every detail of the program, and it takes months of planning. I sometimes question my own sanity.

The work fits in well with my own research, and the field research the students conduct during the program serves as a convenient survey of community organizations, future research contacts and real-world data. Time is always precious, but I’ve come to realize that I will never be happy sitting in a library or alone at my desk, pounding out articles that no one will read. I have to get my hands dirty, to listen to people talk, and I need to feel that sense of dislocation that helps me push myself to my limits. My academic life has been expanded in ways I never thought possible–that I can accomplish all of this while teaching is definitely a bonus.

There is something wonderfully satisfying in getting to know my students on such a personal level. In a regular class I wouldn’t know that the kid with the goofy affect and a complete lack of writing skill was actually a talented community organizer. I wouldn’t have heard a student tell me her hopes and dreams if it weren’t for that starry night on a remote island. I wouldn’t really know how much students do care about their work, and how much they struggle to impress professors. I wouldn’t know that they are just scared kids sometimes.

Academia, if we simply think of it as discrete sets of activities – teaching, writing, researching, service – can be a job like any other. But academia, if we think about it in terms of an ongoing process – a class that never ends – with limitless possibilities for connecting us to people, ideas, ourselves, and yes, even incredible adventures, can be fulfilling and deeply satisfying. It can be that emergency call in the middle of the night, to step up to the challenges we always secretly hoped for when we were students ourselves.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

The Geography of Hope

In Uncategorized on 2010/07/07 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA.

Last winter I taught a seminar on reading and writing biography.  In preparation, I spent my winter break reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father; David Mendell‘s Obama: From Promise to Power; and the White House official biography, introduced by the soon-to-be controversial Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

What struck me most in meeting Mr. Obama yet again through these narratives was the manner in which he adopted Chicago as his cultural home long before he moved to the Midwestern metropolis and met Michelle.

The man whose authentic African-ness came clearly from his Kenyan father, sought authentic African-American-ness on Chicago’s legendary South Side.  Obama heard about the South Side from his mother and others in terms that made him desire a place among this ‘imagined community’ of families confident in both the color of their skin and the content of their character.

Some time ago, Newsweek wrote about Obama’s circle as representative of a generation that came of age around the globe then came home to govern.  In a very loose sense, I fall into this group.  A faculty brat, I spent the summers of my youth traipsing from Norwegian fjords to Egyptian tombs; I gained graduate degrees and a spouse overseas; but I now live a half-block from the hospital where I was born and work at my alma mater.  Like my more powerful contemporaries in Washington, I looked around the world and tried to see what I could learn from it that I could use to improve my own sphere of influence.

The students I advise have a different geography of hope.  For all they may complain of Bush mis-administration and other patronizing powers, they travel to teach not to learn. Obama came to Chicago to learn what it meant to be ‘Black’ in America.  This generation of graduates travels to teach Africans how to help themselves while they learn what it might or might not mean to be African.

The students embarking on such secular missions are rarely of African extraction. Although descendants of empire, they reject the imperial project of imposed institutions and prefer to call themselves ‘social entrepreneurs.’  They cross oceans to trade in knowledge and hope the way the British Raj traded in tobacco and tea.  They want to listen to refugee children or illiterate mothers then put their twenty-something energy to work creating solutions for problems they never experienced in the suburban subdivisions of their own childhoods.

I have no doubt that such cross-cultural contact helps to broaden the world-views of the privileged few who attend a private university whether by virtue of parental wealth or financial aid, but the inverse proportion between proximity and interest bothers me.  The ability to comfort a child down the street lacks the glamour of saving a child across the sea. Even within the local sphere, students drive vans to visit neighborhoods with names from the nightly news, when they could walk to children with whom they share sidewalks and services in similar need.

Bill Clinton’s “place called hope” was the Arkansan burg of his birth.  Obama’s hope grew from the home he created with Michelle in Chicago.  These hopeful leaders lived internationally but dreamed domestically.  The students gathered in Grant Park to bask in the glow of Obama’s hope have sown their own in foreign fields.  Whether they will reap the results they expect remains unknown.

When looking at a student’s birth date, I remember that these are the children of GHW Bush’s thousand points of light.   I doubt Bush Sr. expected that the volunteers he hoped would save us from the need for a proper social safety net would choose to illuminate what their colonizing ancestors called the ‘dark’ continent.

This year, a seminar on my campus discussed the meanings of a supposedly ‘post-racial’ America.   The sessions stressed that as we roll back affirmative action and deny the existence of race at home, we have soldiers deployed to impose democracy abroad.  Hope has migrated from the least among us to furthest from us.

I hope that good intentions abroad need not undermine efforts at home, but I know we need to address not avoid the geography of hope.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is Associate Director of the Office of Fellowships and teaches History and American Studies at Northwestern University, from which she earned her BA (1992). She earned MLitt (1994) and MPhil (1995) degrees in European History at Cambridge University before completing her PhD at Princeton University (2000). In her so-called spare time, she fights household entropy, gardens, bakes boozy bundts, enjoys breakfast in Bollywood, and writes scholarly papers about funky monks.

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Engaging International Families: Re-Drawing the International Student Picture

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/07/02 at 09:00

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston in the USA.

The thing that impresses me the most about America is the way parents obey their children.

-          King Edward VIII (1894 – 1972)

It’s summertime in Boston and just about this time of the year, I become  envious of my friends who teach in the public schools.  One friend is off to Corsica for the summer; another is spending two months in Spain. I seriously consider the idea of getting certified to teach in the Boston Public Schools.  And then I remember the parents.

One of the luxuries of working with international students in higher education is that I hardly ever  encounter parents. Not only are the parents of my students several thousand miles away, but very few feel comfortable communicating with me in English.   In the past, I have always taken  pride in teaching these young adults, free for the first time in a new environment. I like to help them find themselves and become independent. Sometimes I even encourage them to  rebel.

Now that I have more experience creating and managing programs, my attitude is changing.  I am troubled by the alienation of parents and I am interested in finding ways to engage them.  I realize that they are making a  big leap of faith in sending their  child to college in another country. Most families are also making considerable sacrifices  to afford the staggering costs of a US education.  Over the years, I’ve fought to make sure more information is translated into multiple languages and available to parents.

I have noticed more and more  American parents on campus tours and participating in parent and family weekends.  They are invited to  brunches, dinners, and meetings with University leaders.  Institutions are increasingly creating orientation programs and special tours just for parents.  Information for parents is published in brochures and FAQ’s and parents receive a list of emergency phone numbers to call. I can see how inaccessible this information is for the parents of international students.  As higher education has become a hefty financial investment for the whole family, universities have responded by  catering to parents and families as well as to their enrolled students.

When I was 18 years old, I studied in Paris during my junior year of college (yes, I was young).  I had to find my own place to live. After three days in France, I remember calling my parents in tears because I didn’t know how to find an apartment.  I had never even done it in the US.  I don’t think my parents had ever felt so powerless to help me.  I had to solve the problem by myself.

American universities gain many benefits from having international students enrolled in their institutions:  diversity of the student body, enriched cultural experiences for American students, the caché of being a world-class institution that is able to attract students from all over the globe,  and the revenue from the real tuition dollars that most international students must pay. As universities reach out to a global audience, the parents of international students must be drawn into the conversation.  After all, this is also their investment and they are often the ones paying for that investment.

Meg Palladino

Go Global and Get Uncomfortable: Push Yourself and Push Your Students

In Happy Mondays on 2010/05/28 at 09:00

Going global seems to be on my mind these last couple of weeks. Denise’s post from earlier this week talked about the challenges and rewards of taking a group of undergraduate students to Indonesia and helping them to deal with culture shock. Meg’s post from Wednesday focused on bringing international students to the U.S. The big international education conference in the U.S. – NAFSA 2010 – starts this weekend in Kansas City.

Last week Harvard Business Review published a blog post on leadership and the global mindset. The week before, both Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at George Washington University and Martha Nussbaum’s speech at Colgate College touched upon the need to push ourselves to a global level of humanistic compassion and understanding.

Below, a video of Michelle Obama delivering her speech to the GWU crowd on the National Mall:

In her speech, Dr. Obama stressed the following in relation to globalization:

  • That we are no longer isolated from what happens on the other side of the world.
  • That it’s in our best interest to look beyond our immediate self-interest, and look out for one another globally.
  • That so many of today’s challenges are borderless, from the economy to terrorism to climate change, and that solving those problems demands cooperation with others.

Everyone’s talking global. Everyone’s going global.

Or maybe not – reports from Canada and community colleges in the US stress that not everyone has the financial means to study abroad. Michelle Obama referenced her own working-class background in her speech, stating that: “I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where the idea of spending some time abroad just didn’t register.” Neither she nor her brother studied abroad. The focus was on getting in, getting through, and moving on. Obama’s story is an American story. Study abroad is still viewed as a luxury to many in the U.S., particularly for the non-traditional students who make up over 70% of those studying at higher ed institutions.

We need to find a way to help all of our students go global. However, before we throw money at helping more students study abroad, I think we need to think seriously about what it is we want our students to achieve. We need to do what higher education in the U.S. often fails to do: we need to think about outcomes.

Is the overriding goal of study abroad the goal of achieving a global mindset?  I would argue that at some level, it is.

While the global mindset from the HBR blog focuses on leadership, I think it is pretty relevant within the framework of higher education. I think we owe it to our students and ourselves to focus on facilitating their growth (and our own) through the development of a global mindset.

According to Mansour Javidan at the HBR blog, people with Global Mindsets are:

  • Passionate about diversity and are willing to push themselves.
  • Comfortable with being uncomfortable in uncomfortable environments.
  • Better able to build trusting relationships with people who are different from them by showing respect and empathy and by being good listeners.

In her commencement speech at Colgate, Martha Nussbaum focused on the importance of liberal arts and the ways in which the current economic crisis threatens the future of the Humanities and the Arts. I interpret Nussbaum as saying that one of the ways of achieving a Global Mindset is a continued focus on liberal arts:

  • They [Humanities and the Arts] only do what is much more precious than that, make a world that is worth living in, people who are able to see other human beings as equals, and nations that are able to overcome fear and suspicion in favor of sympathetic and reasoned debate.

Although they may be on opposite sides of debates on capitalism I think both Javidan and Nussbaum are headed in a similar direction, a global direction. This type of thinking needs to inform higher education’s production of globally competent students – students who are prepared to lead, work, and live in a global world.

The study abroad programs that our institutions endorse should provide a diverse student body, should force our students outside of their comfort zones, and should teach them to listen with empathetic ears. If you are sending your students abroad, make sure the host institution is not filled with students who speak the same language and who are from similar backgrounds. If you are going with your students, make sure they do more than visit the museums. Get them off the tourist routes, make them speak the language, force them out of their comfort zones. And if they can’t afford to go abroad, find ways to expose them to similar experiences in-country. I have helped non-traditional students find local immersive experiences  - teaching ESL to a group of local Somali women, helping recent Haitian immigrants relocate, etc .

I have found that is pretty easy to force American students out of their comfort zones – so, LET’S DO IT!

As a student, what got you out of your comfort zone? If you are a teacher, what has worked with your students?

Mary Churchill

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CBIE Canadian Bureau for International Education Media Release. May 27, 2010. CBIE Report Urges Culture Shift in Academia and Government to Open Study Abroad to Many More Participants. (link).

“Degrees of Difficulty.” May 24, 2010. USA Today online blog. (link).

Duncan, Arne. May 26, 2010. “International Engagement Through Education.” Remarks by Secretary Arne Duncan at the Council on Foreign Relations Meeting. (link).

Fischer, Karin. May 13, 2010. “New Group Will Help Community Colleges Become More Globally Focused.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. (link).

Javidan, Mansour. “Bringing the Global Mindset to Leadership.” May 19, 2010. Imagining the Future of Leadership series on the Harvard Business Review Blogs. (link).

Moltz, David. April 19, 2010. “Global Community Colleges.” Inside Higher Ed.com. (link).

Nussbaum, Martha C. May 16, 2010. Not For Profit: Liberal Education and Democratic Citizenship. Commencement Speech at Colgate University. (link).

Obama, Michelle. May 16, 2010. Remarks by The First Lady at George Washington University Commencement. (link).

(Dis) Orientation: From Airport Pick-Up to University-Branded Lanyards

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/26 at 09:00

I am yawning as I sit down at my computer to write this post.  Yesterday, I worked a long day, from 8:00 AM until 1:45 AM.  We welcomed a large group of international students from China to our campus.  The students arrived on five different flights coming from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Suzhou and Hangzhou. They were welcomed by a university team at the airport, and then shuttled to their campus dormitory, where another group waited to help them with their bags, give them gift bags with university t-shirts and thumb drives attached to university-branded lanyards. They also helped them to their rooms which were spread out over five different floors of the dorm.

It was amazing to see how the University community worked together to welcome the group.  Directors and Deans and student ambassadors met them at the airport. Cheerful student employees welcomed them with signs saying ”Welcome!”.  In the dormitory, a team of international student volunteers from Nigeria, India, China and the US carried their bags and pillows.  Other students operated the elevators, and explained that the dorm keys worked on a key card system.  My role was to size up each student and present them with a small, medium, or large university t-shirt and give them a formal welcome from the University.

The night went fairly smoothly, but we had a few mishaps.  Several students locked themselves out of their apartments within 15 minutes of arrival.  Others wanted to return their t-shirts for different sizes.  One mother called frantically, because her daughter had not called her the second her plane landed.

The excitement about this new group from all parties was really genuine.  We cheered when the new students arrived, and happily worked into the wee hours of the night to make sure that everyone was comfortable.  It was rewarding when the exhausted students got off their bus, in the US for the first time, and told us how nice everything was. They liked their rooms, the campus, and the staff who greeted them.

Despite my exhaustion, I can’t wait to attend the Welcome Reception later this week.  It will bring students, faculty and administrators together. It reminds me that the work really is about the students, and that the other, more complicated things about working in an institution of Higher Education are worth it.

Meg Palladino

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How Did I Get Here?: Bali is not Bangkok

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/05/24 at 09:00

I am writing this from a beautiful terrace overlooking tropical gardens and rice paddies. I’ve spent a day walking around in the sun, smelling the good smells of Southeast Asia–in fact, all my favorite smells, because Southeast Asia is one of my favorite places to be. I love the noise, the people, the bugs, the geckos in my bathroom, the sweat rolling down my back, and taking off my shoes when I go inside. I love the food, especially the unexpected green chili masquerading as a green bean that makes you choke and then cry like a baby. I love Thailand, where I learned a lot about myself, fell in love, and think about all the time.

But I’m in Bali, Indonesia, not Northern  Thailand, where I expected to be this week and for the next five weeks. When the Thai army began firing on the Red Shirt protesters who had encamped in central Bangkok, things changed quickly. The university deemed the situation too unstable to take students there, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I moved an entire program–with 26 students enrolled–to Bali, a place I’d never been to, trusting an organization I’d never worked with. Leaps of faith are pretty typical with me, but this was a big one.

I am asking my students to make that leap, too, and it’s a burden of responsibility that weighs heavily with me. When I travel with students, I’m the person they turn to when things don’t make sense: How did I offend that person? How do I ask for what I need? What is this strange rash?  But more often, it’s the effects of culture shock and growing up that become most pronounced for them, and I’ve watched it so many times it’s almost predictable. I’ve seen the cocky, cool kid break down and cry with frustration. I’ve watched whole groups of students turn on a student whose cultural insensitivity was shocking. I’ve seen young men and women blossom into amazing adults who’ve suddenly realized their own capabilities. They are annoying, whiny, pouty, beautiful and magnificent.

I know that things will work out here–Bali is beautiful, and some of the things I love about Thailand are here, too, even the geckos. I will get over the disappointment of not seeing my friends this year, and I will get over the heartbreak of watching Thailand rip itself apart. I will remember, too, that my students, every day, at some level, will be asking themselves “how did I get here?” I may not really know that answer, myself, but I think Bali will tell us.

Denise Horn

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A Little Less Conversation

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/07 at 09:23

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
 - Herbie Hancock

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.
 - Lao Tzu

As Elvis Presley once said, “I don’t know anything about music, and in my line of work, I don’t have to.” For one of the programs offered at the University, I am in the process of hiring instructors to teach academic content courses to students from China, who will have arrived in the US for the first time just days before they will join their courses.  One of the courses is called Music of the USA, a music history course.

As part of my interview questions, I ask the prospective instructors about their preparedness to teach a class of only Chinese students, newly arrived in the US. Each of them cites their experience of having a few Chinese students in each class, or a mix of students from various countries in their classes.  One of them taught music lessons in Korea for a few weeks.  Another music instructor that I interviewed today asked me how much these students know about the history of American music.  Frankly, I had no idea. 

The last time I mentioned Elvis Presley to a very Westernized student from China, he had no clue who I was talking about.  I was shocked.   I had thought that it was impossible for anyone to not know Elvis.  However, when he mentioned a famous Chinese pop star, I also was uninformed, and he was equally stunned.   It was an eye opening experience in some ways.  Although I have worked with international students for over a decade, I always have something to learn.  I vowed that day to learn more about Chinese pop music.

I always hear about how the world is getting smaller.  I am happy to see that it is still big enough to introduce people to great new music.  I envy the music instructors that I am hiring for my program.  They will have the pleasure of introducing American music to our students, and through the music, talk about American history and culture.  I am certain that this will be a very rich experience for these students.  I hope that I can observe the class on the day that they discuss Elvis Presley.

Meg Palladino

Recruitment Agents: An Excuse for Prejudice

In Happy Mondays on 2010/04/19 at 09:00

“US and Australia Usher in New Agent Guidelines” –This article came flying through my Twitter feed this week and I was happy to see that progress is being made towards institutionalizing the training and vetting of agents who recruit international students to study at higher ed institutions. This is particularly important as countries such as the US ramp up their recruitment of international students in hopes of diversifying their student body and revenue base.

I include revenue here because higher education is a business. While we know that our institutions focus on teaching, research, students, and faculty, we need to be more open about the fact that they also focus on generating revenue. Perhaps this is most obvious in the US, where some private institutions are now charging upwards of $40,000 a year.

In the world of international education, one of the more controversial issues in academic institutions in the US is the use of agents. What I want to address in this post is how the use of agents in the recruitment of international students brings together an interesting mix of:

  1. a denial of academia’s pursuit of profits witnessed through the ethical concern over commission-based recruiting
  2. a xenophobia or prejudice against international agents and students.

Scholars of racism and sexism know that certain events and processes create situations where prejudice becomes more explicit and obvious. In my experience, the practice of contracting agents is one of those processes.

Discussions over the process of contracting agents to recruit international students have facilitated some of the most open prejudice I have witnessed in academia. The agents are often from Asia and the Middle East and are rarely white men recruiting white students. Agents are human – some may be unethical but many are just as talented and amazing as our very best admissions folks. The people in admissions and recruitment do many things but one thing they do particularly well is sell our institution for us. Agents are experts in their countries and regions and we pay them to sell our institutions on our behalf.

Just as we work hard to hire the best admissions counselors and recruiters, we should also choose to work with the best agents.

Agents are interested in assisting prospective students in finding a good institutional fit. These agents know that their reputation depends on that good fit. They want the student to attend the institution, successfully graduate from the institution, and return to their home country to move on to further success. They are not trying to talk people into applying to institutions just so they can get a commission. The horror stories of a bad fit can ruin their reputations and the reputations of the agencies they work with.

I am always surprised to hear otherwise intelligent people use illogical arguments to support their views against recruiting international students. These same individuals are even more vehemently opposed to the use of agents in this recruitment.

In these discussions, it is assumed that:

  • documents have been forged,
  • students have cheated on tests,
  • students have attended suspect institutions, and
  • agents have coerced students into applying and have taken their money
  • agents have lied to students and are generally untrustworthy

The unspoken assumptions that support and fuel this prejudice are:

  • domestic students do not forge documents,
  • do not cheat on tests,
  • attend reputable institutions and
  • do not work with fee-charging counselors who help them write their essays and prepare for their interviews

Obviously, some students are honest and some are not. This is true for both domestic and international applicants. If we assume that the domestic applicants and their counselors are being honest, we must make the same assumption for international applicants and their agents.

We should not insult the rest of the world by using the trump cards of ‘ethics’ and ‘quality’ as justification for the practice of prejudice.

Mary Churchill

Related Post: Recruiting International Students: Moving Beyond Revenue

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Related articles and websites:
  1. Aleem, Zeesha. 2009.”The Changing World of International Recruitment.” AACRO Transcript (interesting comments) link here
  2. Clark, Nick. 2010. “The Use of Recruiting Agents in the United States” March 2010. World Education News and Reviews link here
  3. De Luca, Marisa. “‘Agent’ – A Dirty Word?” Institute of International Education website – link here
  4. Redden, Elizabeth. 2009. “Not-So-Secret Agents” June 10, 2009. Inside Higher Ed website – link here (good article and many comments)
  5. Steinberg, Jacques. 2009. “Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In.” July 18, 2009. New York Times online  - link here
  6. Steinberg, Jacques. 2009. “For Hire for Hundreds of Dollars, or Thousands, Independent Counselors Proliferate.” July 18, 2009. New York Times online – link here – blog post to accompany article with over 300 comments from readers
  7. SUNY Becomes Host to the American International Recruitment Council Secretariat. Jan 31, 2010 – press release – link here
  8. AACRO Proposed Standards – response from AIRC President and Chairman  link here
  9. ICEF Agent Training Courses – more info here

The Emergence of Spring

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/04/02 at 09:00

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

It finally stopped raining, and the sun will come out today, bringing the warmth of spring. On my way to work this morning, I noticed the bright yellow daffodils, and the deep purple crocuses. It is a fresh new day.

In accordance with the Japanese academic calendar, I am preparing to teach a new course that begins next week, another fresh start. The thing I love about teaching is the cycles. The course ends, and the work is complete. The course begins: a new slate. It is very satisfying. Teaching feels very organic. When I am in the classroom,I respond to the things around me: the questions students ask, the material we are working on, the wonder of the ladybug that crawls across the chalkboard. My stress is around getting grades in on time, and my success is measured by the lessons my students have learned, demonstrated as I correct their final papers.

The rhythm of my role as an administrator is dictated by a fiscal year calendar. The stress comes from the pressures to meet revenue and enrollment targets. In September, we are planning for July. In July, we are thinking about January. In January, we are anticipating September. My thoughts are always in the wrong season. Some projects have no end. Administration can also be satisfying, but the pleasure of seeing a successful program is so delayed that by the time the students arrive, their programs are set up, and I have moved on to the next task.

Like the ladybug crawling across the chalkboard, there are always surprises. We make three-year and five-year plans, never really knowing what will happen. In international education, you can never predict Swine-flu, a global financial crisis, or 9-11. We plan now for what we think will happen then, always tweaking along the way.

On my way to work this morning, I stopped to buy some things to prepare for my new class. Influenced by the spring, I bought a purple folder, to remind me of the crocuses, and a yellow folder, the color of the daffodils. I am looking forward to meeting my new students next week.

Meg Palladino

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