Over this past spring break, I had the opportunity to combine a bit of work with a visit to my in-laws in southeast Florida. As an American, visiting Florida is not an exciting international experience, and many of you may think a week with “the in-laws” might actually be a somewhat painful exile. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. The quality family time was exactly what I needed and I was also amazed at the international environment in this region of my home country. I returned to Germany questioning, “When is a person ‘a local’ versus a ‘tourist,’ or do we simply remain in a state of being internationally minded citizens?”
At FIS we hold the responsibility of developing international mindedness in our students as a key component of our mission. But what does that look like? I believe it is a combination of factors. First, it involves the ability to leave one’s self, as the research from Pico Iyers (‘Global Imagination’, Ascent Magazine, Fall 2002) suggests. It is leaving assumptions at home and trying to see the world in the eyes of people different than oneself. Second, after detaching from one’s self, a person must be able to take a third-eye perspective on his or her experiences. This allows a positive synergy where one’s own identity is enriched by learning from a different culture. Finally, international mindedness involves the effort to communicate in a language other than your own.
The good news is a person doesn’t have to master all three aspects to be internationally minded and there is no test a person can pass to be awarded this status. In fact, people can be well-traveled and tri-lingual and still not be internationally minded if their abilities and experiences do not make them more appreciative and inclusive of those who are culturally different. Being international may be something you know and sense most distinctly when you return home and realize, “I am not the same person I was before I left.”
That is clearly what we want for our FIS students. As many prepare to graduate or leave our school in the coming weeks to take on new challenges, we hope they too have been changed in a positive way by the international nature of our campus. Our school must be transformational for students if it is to be successful in helping them go forward and transform the world as members of an international community.