Diversity, whether economic, racial or educational, is essential to building a tolerant and successful society. This was the message a panel of experts promoted Wednesday evening at Forum Hall as part of the ongoing International Week, hosted by the International Coordinating Council.
Most of the presentation focused on how international students help build acceptance and respect between different cultures.
“Are we an export earner for the countries that host us or a method for meaningful change for the families and communities that host us?” asked moderator Obair Siddiqui, president of ICC and graduate student in industrial engineering, framing the evening’s discussion.
Five professionals in education and public policy engaged in a discussion entitled, “International Education & World Peace: Compatible or Incompatible?”
The entire panel agreed that international education is essential to world peace and meaningful change, so the discussion focused on explaining how education built tolerance, while drawing in examples from around the world of educated people making a difference in their communities.
Marcelo Sabates, interim associate provost for international programs and head of the philosophy department, said studying abroad helps build critical thinking skills and helps students empathize more with other societies.
“If you go to a country for a while and learn their culture, learn their practices, it is going to affect you significantly more,” Sabates said. “A tsunami [or] an uprising – it is going to cause you to think more, to care more, to reflect more.”
Many of the panelists echoed this sentiment and also pointed out the influence American thought has on the rest of the world.
Sabates said many colleges in America are influential because of the diversity in race and class in the student body and because of the freedom of speech allowed for faculties.
“Generally, the U.S. has practices in the educational system, specifically higher levels of education, that deal with freedom, open thought and the fact we have a tenure system where your job cannot be taken away because of what you think,” Sabates said.
Other panelists emphasized the abundance of resources in the U.S.
Toyin Falola, panelist and history professor at the University of Texas, said students in the U.S. have many opportunities in education that much of the world does not.
“There are so many dimensions to this issue because of the resources you all have,” Falola said. “You take these for granted.”
Of course, some of the panelists had important perspectives on international students from a more policy-oriented perspective.
Rick Roberts, panelist and U.S. Diplomat in Residence, said international students are essentially ambassadors between cultures.
“We insist students in the program return to their country of origin,” Roberts said. “We don’t want them to stay here. We want them to go back and tell people about their experience.”
Roberts pointed out this was partially to discourage brain drain, or the flight of educated professionals to developed countries from developing ones, but that the students were not permanently banned from the U.S.
The panelists also spoke about the image that other societies have of the United States because of often misleading mass media.
Roberts said he has spent his career trying to undo other countries’ views of America that were created by Hollywood.
“I’ve seen every episode of Baywatch, so I know all about the U.S.,” Roberts joked.
April Mason, university provost, said locally, there is a special emphasis to ensure K-State’s many international students feel included in the community.
“We created a task force to look at what should be the internationalization efforts of our university, what should our university look like in 15 years, international to domestic students,” Mason said.
Mason said K-State is trying to create a vision of the future that has placed an importance on diversity.
Sabates said about 10 percent of the students at K-State are from foreign countries.
According to James Sherow, professor of history and mayor of Manhattan, the local community also has a long way to go in the effort to address the large number of international students.
“My work in the community has let me know people don’t know how many international students we have and how much they contribute,” Sherow said. “They are either oblivious or ignorant, and in our city, I would say in some elements, there is a touch of xenophobia.”
The discussion went smoothly, as the panelists agreed on most issues and the audience listened respectfully to their opinions.
Ally Fink, freshman in animal science, said she was required to go to the panel for a speech class, but also said she enjoyed the discussion.
“I thought it was interesting how they talked to international students,” Fink said. “They are important in showing their country what America is really like and are essential to connecting the countries.”