International education is one of Australia’s largest export industries. It is a globalising industry as well as an international workforce that can help us understand global issues. International education is more than just another profit-earning business for Australia, it is an educational and social experience not only for the international students. Its potential for inter-cultural encounters and experience to increase our global & cultural awareness is not always realised, as we remain trapped in ethnocentric and parochial mindsets. Simon Marginson attempts to shatter these limitations by introducing a new concept for the international student and international education: ‘international education as self-formation’.
As Marginson points out, international education is not the rich inter-cultural experience it should be, and suggests that local practices must change. Our attitude towards international students must change. Australians are often trapped within a very narrow, Australian-centred mindscape, and though we characterise ourselves as a multicultural and accepting country- our behaviour often says otherwise. The way we imagine international students and position them within our society neglects the international student’s true desires and intentions.
There exists the stereotype that internationals students are weak, lacking and helpless, and are expected to ‘adjust’ to the requirements and habits of their host country. We assume a sense of ‘cultural fit’ and cultural superiority where the closer the international student’s culture is more similar to the host’s, the happier the student shall be and succeed academically. When in actuality, international students are more successful than national students. International students manage their own lives, they have left their home, moved to another country, are responsible for their own education and living situation, and succeed academically. We choose to neglect the fact that they actually have brains, and are not helpless or weak. They can adapt and survive without the pressure of conforming.
The reason they have come to study abroad is to fashion a sense of self, learn new cultures and identities and come into their own as their own self- just like us. it is when we impose this cultural superiorty, teamed with the fear of ‘the other’ that it is a damaging relationship. International students benefit greatly from social experiences outside of the cultures, and national students fail to recognise the benefit they too could receive.
We need to break away from the impression that international students must mould to us, they are no different to national students. They have agency and drive to belong and will do so how they want to belong and on their own terms. Many international students choose to study abroad because of this, they want to change themselves and adopt elements of the new culture of their country of education- without losing their home country’s beliefs and cultural elements.
Australian rarely consider if the situation were reversed and we were the international student in a non-Anglo-American-Australian country. Many Australians study abroad, but never their entire degree as international students do. It is the time honoured advice every mother and teacher has tried to tell us: treat others how you would want to be treated. International students deserve dignity, respect, safety, help and acceptance like any student needs. As Marginson summarises perfectly, we need to recognise that we must ‘empathise with the other’, without forcing them to be the ‘same as us’
Marginson, S 2012, ‘Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, International Education as Self Formation, pp. 1-11.