International-Mindedness: Bringing the World Into Focus

One central mission of our school is to instill in every student a sense of “international mindedness”. There are many definitions of this term but for the purpose of this introduction, let me summarize it as the ability to see oneself as a responsible member of a global community. This mindset means that my neighbor is not only someone who lives next door, my neighbor is also someone who lives on the next continent, likely speaks another language, and leads a life that is vastly different from mine.

We can understand how a student might initially find geographic distances – and even cultural differences – as the basis for an “out of sight, out of mind” point of view. However, an international minded approach suggests the opposite is true. This FochtmanIMbroader perspective brings those who are different from us into focus and offers us a richer view of life, much like how the nearsighted can better experience the world – close up and at a distance – after putting on glasses.

This subject has been at the forefront of my mind given the recent refugee crisis in Europe. Many have suggested that not since World War II has our region experienced a humanitarian challenge of such magnitude. I won’t argue what must be done to alleviate the suffering that exists. I will however, suggest that as an internationally minded citizen, I must not see this issue as “someone else’s problem” – this is mine as well. And in some capacity, I am compelled to act on behalf of my neighbor.

In many ways this concept is easier to teach children than adults, especially within a school like ours where 60 nationalities and dozens languages  are represented. My children are both playing on FIS sport teams this season and it comes naturally for them to support and rely upon their teammates to achieve a common goal. If someone falls to the ground, they don’t think about that person’s background before helping him or her back to their feet. These gestures of passing a ball and extending a hand are free from cultural and language barriers, and happen reflexively as a natural response.

Our purpose as an internationally minded school is to deliberately instill the same reflexive action from the sports arena to the academic and interpersonal arena, and on to a global scale. We want our students to wear prescriptive world lenses that continually allow them to see their interconnectedness with others and with the issues that our planet faces. It is our obligation to see that children grow into adults who heed the call for action.

Of course, like so many other education initiatives, this responsibility must be shared between home and school. As parents, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves how often we extend dinner table conversations beyond subjects concerning only our own family and school. Do we model a mindset that pushes our perspectives beyond the familiar and embraces the concept of a larger “we”? Do we extend what we talk and care about to the borders of our own country and then on to our larger community of “neighbors”? As a father, this is an area that I want to develop in my own home. And as an educator, this is an issue that I will continue to foster within our school community.