Enhancing Career Prospects with Study Abroad

Fall is upon us and students are (mostly) back on campus. Many students will head to the global studies or study abroad office in the early days, planning ahead for the spring semester, or perhaps figuring out how best to incorporate study abroad into their academic program. I’ve put together a list of the most commonly asked questions I get from students, their parents and academic / career counselors.

What advantages do you see in someone studying abroad? What about advantages for someone already in the workplace, not just someone just leaving college?

There are many, many benefits to studying abroad. In general terms, studying abroad expands one’s personal horizons as well as opens up a world of professional opportunities for both students and those already in the workplace. Embracing and immersing oneself in a new culture and experiencing new ways of thinking leads to new perspectives about people, places and often themselves. Those who have studied abroad have an opportunity to develop a deeper self-awareness and self-confidence as they rise to the constant challenges of taking on a whole new range of situations. No matter when a person studies abroad, learning another language (or two) is one of the greatest benefits, albeit one that takes a little longer to acquire.

Is studying abroad a key way to keep up professionally in an increasingly global world?

Studying abroad is one way to keep up professionally, but it may not be practical for everyone. There are other ways to gain global experience such as an international assignment (short- or long-term), being part of a global team dealing with international issues, learning another language, and building relationships with international students or colleagues.

How does studying abroad help someone’s career? Does it for example lead to better job prospects?

Studying abroad is a smart way to establish international credentials in a global economy: to learn a different language, culture, education system, social system, local economy, industry or business, history arts and more. This knowledge can be applied to a job directly (e.g., the employer has operations in a certain country), or indirectly by demonstrating an ability to learn new skills, work with diverse people and adapt to complex situations.

Do employers actively look for or approve of individuals who have studied abroad?

Yes! Based on conversations I have been having with employers over the past decade, executives consistently say that they value the intellectual curiosity associated with those who have studied abroad. They believe that these people are on track to becoming globally competent and globally minded employees. The vast majority say that if they received two resumes that were exactly the same except one studied abroad, they would choose the one who studied abroad citing such attributes as cross cultural awareness, critical thinking, adaptability, multiple language skills and a predisposition to and experience with global mobility.

What less obvious ways might studying abroad help an individual by, for example, teaching them to become more adaptable or independent.

As noted above, study abroad inspires one to learn about oneself and become more self-aware, boosts self-confidence and strengthens independence. It will expand one’s worldview while also helping one learn about their own country and history, thereby appreciating its place in the world. Returnees have cited better communication, relationship-building and adaptability skills, plus it is a terrific way to meet interesting people and make lifelong friends.

Did you study abroad? If so, please describe your experience and how it might have helped with your career.

No, I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to study abroad because I also worked full time. But my closest group of friends in college were all international students who were studying abroad. This reverse exposure to studying abroad allowed me to expand my cross-cultural awareness and enhance my language skills. It also taught me that I wanted to work abroad. A few years into my career at Burson-Marsteller, I began to pursue an international assignment and landed one because of my abilities to work successfully on global teams and articulate the need for consultants to have global experience to apply to client problems. I worked in Hong Kong for three years, which was an impetus for fast-tracking my career, increasing my salary and inspiring me to write the first of my six books.

Are there any words of caution you could add for someone planning to study abroad? Is it suitable for everyone?

Studying abroad is a serious undertaking. It is challenging, costs money and will have an impact on one’s academic career. Picking up and moving to another country for a semester or year requires a good deal of research, thoughtful planning and honest self-assessment. It can be lonely and very difficult to live in a strange place, take classes in a totally different academic environment, and meet people and make friends. Some destinations may be “easier” to adjust to than others, specifically as it relates to language and culture, but every new place has its own challenges. The only one who can decide if it’s right is the person going. Pick up a copy of A Student Guide to Study Abroad a valuable hands-on resource with hundreds of tips and real-life stories from students and employers.

Make study abroad part of your undergraduate studies!

 

Traveling Through Rome…By the Book

My best friend from college is Italian, and I am fortunate to have visited her and her family many times in Rome and throughout Italy over the years. Although we’ve explored most of the country, Rome remains one of my favorite cities. I spent 10 days there recently and didn’t really need a guidebook— just an excellent map and my own research. Come explore with me as I travel by the book through the rise of the Roman Empire and the artistic genius of the Renaissance while tapping into contemporary life in this vibrant city.

The best places to begin to appreciate the Roman Empire are the Forum, Colosseum and Palatine Hill. This is where the action was (and still is, touristically speaking). The Colosseum is magnificent, and I was lucky enough to see it in the distance every single day as I hopped off the tram at Piazza Venezia. Made of travertine, tuff and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheater ever built. Construction of this remarkable innovation began under Emperor Vespasian (69-79) in 72 and was finished by his successor, Titus (79-81), the first emperor to come to the throne after his own biological father.

According to Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars, a collection of mini biographies that provide tremendous color and detail of key emperors from the founding by Augustus to the Christianizing by Constantine, public works were one of the ways that emperors boosted their standing with the people. Thus, a place where 50,000 spectators could watch gladiatorial games was monumental. So, too, were the nearby Arch of Constantine and Forum, best viewed from the Palatine Hill, where the emperors’ palaces were built, rebuilt and expanded upon over the years. Standing on the hill overlooking the ruins, one can imagine the intrigue taking place almost two thousand years ago among the various emperors and senators in a frenzy of politics, history and political drama.

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Constantine’s Arch.

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Constantine’s Arch.

Ten Caesars lays bare how difficult life was at the time: the rich and powerful could be swept up in a plot, leaving murder and suicide as the only ways out. Poor decisions by emperors could lead to famine while disease decimated a family or town. Slaves could die fighting for their freedom; women could take on immense power behind the throne.

And the statues! They are, literally, all over Rome. The most economical (time and euros) way to see the best collection of statues is to buy two different tickets. The two-part Capitoline Museums house iconic pieces of art and history, including famous statues of emperors (see photos). The four-part Roman National Museum allows visitors entry to Palazzo Massimo, which houses one of the best archaeological collections in the world; Palazzo Altemps, a 16th-century palace with a bust of every Caesar and “finished” statues (preservationists added a hand, foot, nose, arm to the otherwise fractured statues); Crypta Balbi, which takes one back to the time of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), the founder; and the Baths of Diocletian (284-305), known as the great divider.

Bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the philosopher,

The head remnant of the 40-foot high Colossus of Constantine (306-337), who is known as “liberating” the Roman people through Christianity.

The head remnant of the 40-foot high Colossus of Constantine (306-337), who is known as “liberating” the Roman people through Christianity.

Fast forward from Constantine to the Italian Renaissance which began in the 14th century: The Agony and the Ecstasy, historic fiction that was a best seller by Irving Stone written in the 1970s, provided rich, colorful details about Michelangelo’s struggles with his art, money and the politics of the Roman Catholic Church. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, by Christopher Hibbert, provided historic context and a glimpse into the role both power and money played as the city-states within Italy fought each other for land, power and influence. Michelangelo and the Medici family were from Tuscany and Florence, as well as paramount to the blossoming of artistic and architectural masterpieces commissioned by the Church.

The Agony and the Ecstasy describes how Michelangelo was taken under the wing of the Medici family when he was a teen. It was during this time that he honed his sculpting skills, met fellow artists and learned the art of fresco painting (the Sistine Chapel, located in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most famous fresco in the world).

So instead of revisiting tourist-thronged St. Peter’s, which is bursting with masterpieces and crowds, I spent days wandering the streets of Rome visiting dozens of churches and admiring the immense beauty to be found inside the cool buildings that were usually not very crowded.

Fast forward from Constantine to the Italian Renaissance which began in the 14th century: The Agony and the Ecstasy, historic fiction that was a best seller by Irving Stone written in the 1970s, provided rich, colorful details about Michelangelo’s struggles with his art, money and the politics of the Roman Catholic Church. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, by Christopher Hibbert, provided historic context and a glimpse into the role both power and money played as the city-states within Italy fought each other for land, power and influence. Michelangelo and the Medici family were from Tuscany and Florence, as well as paramount to the blossoming of artistic and architectural masterpieces commissioned by the Church.

Michelangelo considered this Moses, which adorns the Tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vicoli, to be one of his best creations.

Michelangelo considered this Moses, which adorns the Tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vicoli, to be one of his best creations.The Agony and the Ecstasy describes how Michelangelo was taken under the wing of the Medici family when he was a teen. It was during this time that he honed his sculpting skills, met fellow artists and learned the art of fresco painting (the Sistine Chapel, located in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most famous fresco in the world).

So instead of revisiting tourist-thronged St. Peter’s, which is bursting with masterpieces and crowds, I spent days wandering the streets of Rome visiting dozens of churches and admiring the immense beauty to be found inside the cool buildings that were usually not very crowded.

The Stasi of Santa Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria, by Bernini, is probably his most famous and magnificent.

The Stasi of Santa Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria, by Bernini, is probably his most famous and magnificent.

Being surrounded by statues, paintings and the ruins of an empire long past can be exhausting, particularly because one’s studies can go on and on. So I spent many evenings reading The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, one of Italy’s most famous contemporary novelists. It catapulted me into the present where I enjoyed many discussions about relationships, marriage, economy, politics, literature, lifestyles, taxes, education, Brexit—and more!—over pinsa e pizza and a bottle of wine one evening, enjoying the delicacies of a mozzarella bar one afternoon, and walking, talking and eating gelato.

A lovely, light insalata Caprese served at Obica, a mozzarella bar in downtown Rome.

A lovely, light insalata Caprese served at Obica, a mozzarella bar in downtown Rome.

Rome is one of those cities that explodes with opportunity to enjoy art, architecture, history, archaeology, anthropology, food, beauty, friends. And as my trip came to a close, I recognize how much more I understand Rome’s past and present and am eager to keep reading until my next trip

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

 

 

 

 

 

 

DYK: Demand for Language Skills Are on the Rise in the Workplace?

Did you know that today’s employers increasingly rely on employees with foreign language skills? According to new research by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 90% of those surveyed rely on employees with language skills, and 32 percent of those state a strong reliance.

Wow.

It seems the demand for language skills in the U.S. workforce is greater than ever before. In boardrooms and in the field, with customers and partners and on social media, U.S. employers today are increasingly conducting business in a language other than English. Accordingly, the ability to effectively communicate in more than one language is a critical asset for U.S. students and employees—not only in boosting their marketability in the workplace, but in helping them thrive in a global economy.

This groundbreaking industry report, based on a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for ACTFL as part of its Lead with Languages campaign, and with support from Pearson LLC and Language Testing International, includes new data emphasizing the vital need for language skills in the U.S. workplace and their impact on the U.S. economy.

How did the vast majority of news outlets miss this news when the research was released back in May?

Perhaps for the same reason that the astounding news reported by the Modern Language Association in January that colleges have shut down a “stunning” 651 language programs over the past three years slipped quietly into and out of the news cycle.

Is anyone paying attention? Shouldn’t employers and colleges get together to discuss the skills needed to properly prepare our students for these jobs?

It’s apparent that the need is there—and growing:

  • 56% of U.S. employers say their foreign language demand will increase in the next 5 years.
  • 47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
  • 1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers report a language skills gap.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills.

 

The report goes into detail noting that the demand for language skills is not limited to a single language, market, sector or functional department. Spanish leads as the most in-demand language among U.S. employers (85 percent), with other highly sought-after languages including Chinese (34 percent), French (22 percent), Japanese (17 percent) and German (17 percent). Ninety-seven percent of employers use language skills at least to some extent domestically, leaving only 3 percent using such skills for international needs only. And while customer service and sales come forth as the two departments most requiring language skills, a full 12 percent of employers cite a need for multilingual employees across all departments—from production finance, and everything in between.

YES! Of course!

Combined with the critical cognitive and social skills inherent in the task of language learning, this new data places those who know one or more languages–in addition to English–at an even greater competitive advantage over their monolingual peers.

Along with the survey findings, Making Languages Our Business also presents seven actionable recommendations that employers can take to build a company-wide language strategy:

  • Take stock of current language assets by conducting a formal Language Needs Analysis;
  • Assess employees’ current skills using professional tools;
  • Maintain an inventory of linguistic and cultural competencies of their workforce to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement;
  • Make languages a strategic focus during recruitment efforts;
  • Invest in targeted training for candidates and employees who need additional skills;
  • Form partnerships with colleges and universities that offer intercultural and language immersion opportunities; and
  • Advocate for policies in support of funding for early language-learning programs.

All of these steps will not only amplify an organization’s own language assets but also boost outcomes to enhance the bottom line, something that I have written about for more than 10 years—since my first book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, came out in 2007. Globally-minded organizations can take a leadership role in contributing to the development of a strong future U.S. workforce by cultivating a pipeline of multilingual talent.

For more than a decade I have been proselytizing that employers and their bottom lines stand to gain the most and therefore are necessary to include in the discussions about education policy from K-16. We must work with them to build the bridges between employers and higher ed, between higher ed and K-12, between K-12 and employers.

If we want our country to have strong national security, world-class diplomatic and trade relations, and a robust economy, we must DO SOMETHING to address the lack of language skills and language learning opportunities here. This begins with actually paying attention to news that matters: the policies, trends and anything else that will have an effect on our future and that of the young people who will become tomorrow’s global, multilingual employees working in a multicultural workplace.

Travelling Through Morocco…By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our well-traveled family of four (two adults and two teenagers) recently spent a number of weeks exploring Morocco. In addition to our guidebook we brought along other books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Come explore Morocco with us as we travel “by the book.”

Our ferry from Algeciras, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco, gave us plenty of time to dive into our books detailing the fusion of Berber, Arab and European cultural influences that is Morocco. A few weeks in Spain had given us a much better understanding of the glories of the Moorish past, and whet our appetite for Morocco’s beauty, including Tangier and the northern coast, the big cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez, and many small towns in between.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

In the heart of the winding, twisting Fez medina sit leather tanneries with one of dozens of minarets in the background.

The book most fitting to begin with (and truth be told, one of us had already read it before leaving Spain) was definitely Leo Africanus (1986), written by the Lebanese writer, Amin Maalouf. It is an imaginary autobiography of the famous geographer, adventurer and scholar Hasan al-Wazzan, who was born in Granada in 1488 and whose family was forced to flee to Fez after the fall of Granada. We found this novel to be a delightful read as we traveled with the protagonist from Granada to Fez (and on to Cairo and Rome), relishing the stories of culture, religion, commerce, climate and politics of 500 years ago. While in Granada, Spain, we had stayed in the old Arab quarter of Albayzín, looked at the Alhambra from St. Nicholas Church terrace, and pictured Leo Africanus and his fellow Muslims being forced to leave their homes as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the last Moorish stronghold in Spain.

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

A Moroccan medina is a city’s old district, usually walled and a top attraction in almost every town. Medinas are the hearts and souls of cities. Shopkeepers sell all kinds of goods and services, including a wide assortment of dates, a mainstay of the Moroccan diet

We spent a whole day wandering through the Fez medina, eyeing the piles of dates and assortment of sweets, haggling with a shopkeeper over the price of a ceramic tagine, and peeking through the doorway of the University of Al-Karaouine, the oldest university in the world. We imagined Leo Africanus and his friends spending their youth there, learning the Koran and heeding the call to prayer as it came from multiple directions five times a day. Reading the fictional account of a Moor added color and texture to the historic sites, architecture and art, making them that much more interesting.

Fast forward to the newly independent nation of Morocco in the 1950s. We chose The Last Friend (2004) by internationally-acclaimed Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun (who emigrated to France in 1961), which took us on a deep cultural dive into the friendship between two men struggling to find their identities in Tangier in the late 1950s. The Last Friend shed light on this era of repression and disillusionment by giving us a very personal glimpse into the psyches of two very different men. Each narrator tells his version of the story over the course of 30 years, painting a vivid portrait of the strict life in Morocco and how they lived within and outside the rules. We felt we learned much about the psyche of Moroccan people, which carried over into our discussions and people-watching all over this bustling international, yet incr

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

The author’s twin daughters posing with Sultan, the lead camel for our day-long trek across the Saharan sands, which began near the coastal town of Essaouria. Riding a camel is not like a horse: One leg hangs down while the other is bent-knee with the ankle resting in front of the “handle bar”. Sultan is 15 years old and one of only two camels trained by his guide, Mustafa, using only hand signals (no reins). For the record…camels do not spit and are most closely related to llamas not horses.

easingly conservative, city.

Storytelling is one of the bedrocks of Moroccan society, but as outsiders we wouldn’t have known this if we hadn’t read Tahir Shah’s memoir-ish In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (2007). Although the book is set mostly in Casablanca, we also go along with Shah (figuratively and literally) as he travels across Morocco, including a trip across the Sahara. We visit the tailors and shoemakers of Fez, who really do work their magic with fabric and leather the old-fashioned way. We have hundreds of glasses of mint tea in small cafes in every single town we visit, but especially liked Café Hafa, set on a sheer cliff in Tangier with a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean. We wander through Rabat and see the rows of “men only” coffee houses and imagine them drinking bitter black coffee while having intimate conversations about people, politics and stories as described by Shah. Shah’s storytelling opened up for us another side of Moroccan culture–one of mysticism, wisdom and secrets that we only glimpsed in Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fna, the large square set in the middle of the medina where everyone gathers after sunset. We rode camels across the Sahara and could appreciate the barren beauty and sheer terror of being left alone in a place which changes dramatically overnight as the winds shift the hills of sand completely leaving visitors at the mercy of a guide.

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Morocco’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

Traveling Through Spain …By the Book

Originally published on Concordia Language Village’s WorldView Blog

Our family travels a lot. Our global family adventures began with our twin daughters, Connie and Betty, when they were six months old. They have been part of the trip planning process since elementary school, and now that they’re 18 years old they direct and lead a lot of the adventures. My husband, Mike, a veteran travel writer, identifies the top sites to see and things to do (both well-known and little known), I set the travel schedule and arrange logistics, and the girls research what we need to know and how we should go about our trip.

Most recently, we spent a number of weeks exploring Spain. In addition to the required guidebook or two (we enjoy Rick Steves’ Snapshots for big cities), we brought an assortment of books to enhance our travels: a combination of history, memoir, social commentary, cultural portraits and fiction relevant to our itinerary. Choosing the right titles can be tricky and requires research, so for those of you heading to Spain, come along with as we travel “by the book.” 

We spent the majority of our time in Andalucía, including Granada, Córdoba, Seville and Arcos de la Frontera, exploring Spanish culture built upon the remnants of the sophisticated Moorish civilization that lasted 700 years.

We began in Granada and so naturally, Washington Irving’s Tales from Al Hambra, a collection of essays, journal entries and historical sketches, was first up. The book begins with a chapter in which Irving describes his journey from Seville to Granada with the flourish of a travel writer. The remainder of the book focuses on the fabled palace of the Nasrid Caliphate (where he took up residence in the spring of 1829), and where we spent an entire day. It is clear that Irving was enamored of what he called “one of the most remarkable, romantic and delicious spots in the world”, and we could see why.

The Alhambra is actually a collection of four areas: Palacios Nazaríes is an exquisite Islamic building with perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceilings and an abundance of water; Charles V’s Palace was added to the Alhambra after the Reconquista and includes the museum; Alcazaba is an old fort with towers and excellent views; and the Generálife boasts beautiful, manicured gardens and a summer palace. Reading Tales around the time of our visit transported us back in time and filled the palace’s empty rooms and halls with colorful stories about the Moors, sprinkled with references to his grand ideas about lost Moorish glories, including the ghosts wandering the place. The Tales stayed with us long after we left reminding us that Irving was indeed a first-rate story teller. 

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

The Alhambra was built in 889 on Roman ruins, renovated and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Nasrid Caliphate and then taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the and Mihrab (left) and Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

n the Mezquita in Córdoba, the contrasts are stark between the Mihrab (left) …

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

and the Chapel of the Conversion of St. Paul in the church (right), the equivalent of a high altar, in the mosque.

Modern Spain is a lot less romantic–and much more complicated–than the sunshine, siestas and flamenco most tourists enjoy. We wanted to better understand the people selling us tickets to the Museu Picasso, serving us tinto de verano in the cafes, and sitting beside us (hundreds of teens actually) at the Maestranza watching novilladas (bullfights designed to promote new talent) on a hot July evening. Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past (2006) by Giles Tremlett, a journalist and resident of Spain, provides a contemporary and sobering view of a people still torn apart by the 1936-39 Civil War and subsequent repression under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. We learned about the cleaving of the population as Catholics stood by or rejected the Church’s actions during the last 100 years. And as we toured the grand Cathedrals of Granada, Seville and Córdoba–built on or near the conquered Moors’ edifices—we talked about the vein of oppression and cruelty exacted by the Church and its monarchs through the ages—and its effects on society still today.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

Antoni Gaudí’s presence is felt all over the streets of Barcelona from the many buildings he restored and remodelled like Casa Batlló.

... or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

… or the still under-construction Sagrada Família, a monumental Catholic church

Barcelona was also on our itinerary, and we felt that it worthwhile to dig a little deeper into Catalan history and Catalonia’s recent bid for independence. Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona (1990) provided an overview of Catalonia’s distinct 1,000-year history, which helped contextualize Catalan nationalism and the fervent push for independence. This passion was visible throughout the city in the form of the Estelada, the independence flag of Catalonia, coupled with giant signs featuring images of the original Catalan constitution. Reading Homage also explained the passion for the Catalan language and why shopkeepers, ticket takers and restauranteurs would speak to us in Catalan first and English second, choosing not to speak Spanish. The book served as a timeless travel guide as we walked the streets and admired the architecture, art and the role famous artists—Picasso, Miró, Gaudí, Dalí, Casals–have played in this cosmopolitan city’s evolution. 

At the end of journey, we all agreed that we had a much better understanding of Spain’s past and present, and were eager to keep reading after we arrived home.

What are some of your favorite titles to read for which places?

 

A Student’s Attempt to Understand the Complicated History of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

By Betty Berdan

Thirty years ago today, tanks and soldiers turned a peaceful student demonstration in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square into a massacre. While the Chinese government has claimed that no one died, the death toll is likely almost 10,000. And hardly anyone there knows about it. If there’s one thing that China is good at, it’s covering up its own unsavory history.

Four years ago, I took a class on modern China in high school. That was when most of the kids in the class learned for the first time of the government’s actions in Tiananmen Square. While I couldn’t fault the American students for their lack of knowledge, I was shocked to learn that several of the Chinese students had never heard of this event. These students lived in Beijing and Shanghai; they returned to China for vacations; they grew up in their country’s educational system until high school. Yet, they weren’t aware of a violent day that shook the rest of the world — one when their parents weren’t much older than the student protestors.

How could these smart people be so oblivious to their country’s recent past? Throughout my seven years of Chinese language and culture classes, this question stuck in the back of my mind, making me wonder what made the Chinese so different that they were able to completely abrogate major events from their history. Censorship and communism couldn’t be the only explanations. It wasn’t until my third visit to China that I finally found an answer.

Betty inside one of the 90 palaces of the Forbidden City, Beijing.

A year ago, I visited my friend and her family in Shanghai. Wanting to show their country to an interested foreigner, they packed me up and toured me around Beijing. We waited in lines to get into every palace and historic site, with passports in hand to enter Tiananmen Square. In all of my learning about China, I couldn’t picture the enormous size of the square. It was difficult to imagine the centuries of history in the place I stood in, looking up at a giant portrait of Mao while soldiers marched by. With the Forbidden City behind me, it seemed easy to forget about a day in 1989 when centuries of other historical events occurred in the same place. Instead of recalling the carnage of one day, there was a better history to remember: this one was an easy one to forget.

Through broken Mandarin and English translations, my friend and her parents explained a Chinese perspective I couldn’t have begun to understand in the classroom. As they defended communism, Mao and censorship, they explained that they had what really mattered: comfort and happiness. They knew that the government hid things from them, understanding that there was information they weren’t allowed to know and atrocities that were covered up. To a democratic westerner, this seemed unacceptable, undemocratic — almost inhumane. But they explained that they lived good lives in a country where they didn’t have to worry about politics or the challenges of daily life. Like any others, their country wasn’t perfect, and its past had its blemishes in order to create a smoother future: a future they were living in and enjoying.

Even if I can’t agree with the Chinese about their acceptance of the government’s covering up the truth and lying to its people, I can understand wanting to not worry about the government every day. Here in the US, I look at how politics is destroying our daily happiness, and how it might be easier to be as uninvolved as the Chinese. At the end of the day, we’re too culturally different to fully accept and understand each other’s politics, but those glimpses into opposing perspectives have allowed me to finally start to see the Chinese peoples’ point of view on an event I could never explain as just an American. Above all, I have learned that there is tremendous value to understanding another culture by trying to see a person, an event, history and a culture from another perspective. All of the time I’ve spent immersed in another culture with hosts has reinforced the belief that different is not bad; it’s just different.

About the Author

Betty Berdan is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University. She has studied Chinese for more than seven years, and has traveled to China multiple times to study abroad and visit friends. She is proficient in Spanish and loves to experience other people, places and cultures.

Preparing to Study in the USA

My most recent book, Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know. is a BESTSELLER! and is being re-released today by IIE. The book remains in hot demand as the USA continues to welcome more international students than any other country, but the same rich, dynamic system that draws these students can be a source of complexity and confusion. This book goes deeper, responding to questions that need answers but are too often overlooked: How do I get involved on campus? Why are sports so prevalent in the USA? Why don’t American students always go to class? Make sure that your students are prepared to navigate and appreciate their USA educational experience!

Available as an e-book in English and Chinese from major vendors through IIE’s bookstore. And soon to be released in Arabic.

Book Review: “Tong Wars” by Scott Seligman

Guest Blog by Anna Catalano / @annacatalano

A captivating narrative tells a story of the early generation of Chinese immigrants who settled in New York City. Scott Seligman, China-hand and journalist by background, transports us into the violent and corrupt streets of New York’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century. The research uncovered by this work qualifies the author as a historian as well, as he details the decades of incidents surrounding two rival brotherhoods using volumes of both published and unpublished documents.tong-wars-cover

On the surface “Tong Wars” is the true story about Tom Lee, who arrives in NYC with the intent of helping to strengthen the Chinese community in Manhattan. As is frequently the case with ambitious newcomers in well-established big cities, the lure of quick money and power turns Tom’s focus to the underbelly of society, and he quickly becomes aligned with corrupt law enforcement, politicians, and criminal activities. In addition to legal restrictions (The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), blatant discrimination goes unchecked, and as a result, the tongs become surrogate organizations providing belonging and protection. The stories of conflict between rival groups On Leong Tong and the Hip Sing Tong are underpinned by significant details extracted from historical archives. This level of detail lends credibility to the real stories told that might otherwise seem to be lifted from the big screen.

The true value of this book is that it causes one to pause and reflect on today’s real-world struggles of minority groups arriving in new lands, hoping to preserve some of their culture while pursuing their dreams to achieve success and stature. The reality of living in a country where you have no social, economic, or political currency is understood by very few. In reading this story, the reader will find himself in conflict by sympathizing with the concept of achieving power by any means. This untold story of Chinese immigration captures a fascinating perspective and gives reason to question how modern-day societies continue to create formal and informal mechanisms of exclusion.

You can find much more information on the book at www.tongwars.com. Order your copy today from Amazon.com!

Anna was one of the six women featured in Get Ahead By Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-track Career Success. To read more about Anna’s perspective on leadership, check out her blog, Shades of Leadership.

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Anna Catalano is a board director, a wife, and a mother of two, and involved with organizations and causes that are making a difference in the world.

A River, Trail, Mountain or Settlement Runs Through It: Going Global by Starting with Features Close to Home

Guest blog by Kelly Clark

My colleagues and I were preparing for an ArtsLit Academy in Owensboro, Kentucky, a town on the banks of the Ohio River with a long and rich culture based on and around this vital natural feature. In preparing to lead K-5 teachers through experiential learning based on a sense of place, I searched for children’s books that spoke to the power of a river in the life of town. I couldn’t find them. What I did find were books about all the geographical elements in a state, books about boats or bridges, fictional histories or memoirs that used or relied upon the river as a backdrop, and books about the water cycle and the place of rivers within that cycle.

Each of the books I found had separated the river into distinct content areas: geography, engineering or transportation, history and fiction, or science and climate studies. It seemed evident that there is a gap in the literature, or perhaps more accurately, an outdated way of thinking about texts to support teaching.

If we want teachers to cover an increasingly large amount of content at a deep and meaningful level, we have to approach the concepts intentionally so that that content, woven together, is covered through relevant and authentic learning while students grow in skills and global mindedness.

When I talk with elementary school teachers about adding global elements to lessons, one of the biggest stumbling blocks they mention is that they don’t have time to add content to an already packed day. My suggestion is that by reframing the content around local landmarks or geographical landmarks and extending that learning from the local to global, they make connections while building a sense of civic pride and understanding about their own cultures.

Space does not allow for a full scale discussion of all the rivulets and streams that would emerge when students immerse themselves in inquiry-based learning on the river flowing past their front door. But I can offer some suggestions for ideas to form essential questions that might start the wondering that would shape the class learning.

Bringing the river into the classroom would seem most at home in social studies, most likely under Human-Environmental Interactions, but it could also have geography and economic components. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to add in art, music, math, history, engineering and science strands. To provide some food for thought, I have grouped sample questions about rivers into three categories.

GEOGRAPHY

  • Where am I? What is around me?
  • Where does this river go? If I can’t see the end or beginning how do I know where it starts and ends?
  • Using maps, where are other places that have rivers? Are there towns like mine on rivers in other countries?
  • Why is our town on a river? How does a river both help and hurt a town?

ECONOMICS

  • Why are there boats on the river? What are the boats carrying?
  • Thinking about goods, how do people get the things they need? Does everything we need and use come from our own town?
  • How much does a boat carry? What is the cost?
  • Is the river the best way to travel and move goods from place to place?
  • When your town was young, and travelers came by river, what did they bring with them?
  • Are people, cultures and goods still moving on the river today? Who and where are they coming from?

WATER

  • Why is water important? What are the ways we use water?
  • Why is this river important to our town? To other towns on the river?
  • Are there ways for towns to get water without being on a river? How?
  • What happens when the water dries up or goes away?
  • What happens when the water becomes polluted?
  • What life forms depend on the river?

Any one of these questions could form a unit of study that can both be global in comparisons and historical in looking at the past, present and future of our rivers. The scope and breadth is huge, and, as such, does not fit easily into a children’s book, which is where I began my original search. Instead, use the local feature as your text and have the students create their own river books to demonstrate the depth of their understanding in an authentic way that honors their sense of place as well as their learning.

Kelly Clark is the state lead for Global Competence at the Kentucky Department of Education. Kelly enjoys supporting all Kentucky students in being prepared for a globally interconnected and inquiry based world. @KyDeptofEd @KellyAClark

Kelly Clark, KY Leads

Kelly Clark is the Global Competence Lead at the Kentucky Department of Education.

Preparing to Study in the USA: How American Football Inspired IIE’s Newest Book

Guest Blog by Dr. Allan E. Bookman

The idea to write IIE’s newest book with Stacie Berdan—Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know—grew out of a football game. I was visiting with a group of international students attending The Ohio State University. A few weeks before, they were fortunate enough to be recognized by the university president and invited to watch a football game in his sky box.

While greatly honored by the invitation, none were sure what to make of it. An American friend tried to help out by explaining that seeing the game from a sky box was much better than going to a tailgate party. Because they did not know what a tailgate party was either, they asked me to explain. I said the next time they went to a football game look at all the cooking and partying that goes on in the parking lot and the people gathered around the open back doors of their station wagons. Since we do not have too many station wagons anymore, and I was not sure what you called the back side of an SUV, I was not sure what I said did much good.

The group had just two more questions. One revolved around why the players stopped playing so often. The other was why did the Ministry of Higher Education allow schools to spend so much time and resources on athletic games.

Stacie Berdan, it turned out, often had similar conversations. We discovered that there was an awful lot about American higher education that did not translate well into other cultures. This book is our effort to gather in one volume some of the most confusing things about our system as well as the culture surrounding it, and then try to explain it from the viewpoint of someone encountering it for the first time.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions about how we did and also other concepts and practices that it would be helpful to explain.

A few days after I left Ohio, one of the students got in touch to thank me for the explanations, and then to ask one more question. Everyone loved the marching band that performed at half time. What the student wanted to know is what happened to all the soldiers when the game was over? To whose army did they belong and was there a military base near the campus that housed them?

If you’re interested buying a copy of Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know, go through either IIE for the paperback (US$4.99 for one copy, steep discounts for 20 or more) or Amazon for the eBook (US$2.99).

@iiegoodman @iieglobal #internationalstudents #generationstudyabroad

Dr. Allan E. Bookman, president of the Institute of International Education, is a leading voice on the critical need for more international exchange to promote commercial, diplomatic, scientific and cultural understanding around the globe to create a more peaceful and prosperous world for all. @iiegoodman