IV. Conference Proceedings
Inclusive Student Exchanges and Experiences
This panel on Inclusive Student Exchanges and Experiences was chaired by Wagaye Johannes, Director of Operations & Organizational Development at Diversity Abroad, United States. She opened the session evoking the centrality of geopolitics and social location in definitions and invited each panelist to capture and explore the term inclusive from their own location and work by stating that “inclusion is a powerful word that demands definition”. The panel also offered an opportunity to think more closely, systemically, and with greater intention about the complex social dimensions and hermeneutics of the integration of calls for Indigeneity, anti-coloniality, anti-racism and anti-imperialism into the project of internationalization. Creating sustainable goals for the future relies on the ability to connect and collaborate across difference. In the words of Heila Lotz-Sisitka, “…it is hard to imagine how we might respond to global changes (e.g., climate change) without human learning across boundaries”. The core belief nested within this statement gives meaning to the overall conference on Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization, and the experience of internationalization and/or outbound mobility. It is a shared belief in the human capacity to experience and critically compare, coupled with an opportunity to think reflexively, and to work collectively, to transform our social realities. Opportunities to experience such possibilities, however, have been restricted to a minority. Profound systemic barriers, both material and intangible, old and new, continue to impact the wider democratization of such processes. Understanding these barriers and exploring how such boundaries may be transgressed is essential in both the context of, and for the purposes of, internationalization.
Students may not be aware of the value. It could also be that students don’t care, but what has contributed to them not seeing the value in it? – Diane Barbarič
Diane Barbarič, Higher Education Public Policy Researcher at the University of Toronto, Canada, focused on the political contours and significance of the use of the expression systemically embedding. The following questions served as her guiding concepts to approach this presentation:
- “How can we enhance and systematically embed the internationalization of higher education Outbound Student Mobility (OSM) in sync with call for Indigeneity, anti-coloniality, anti-racism and anti-imperialism?”; and
- “How do we ensure broader participation and a more inclusive exchange experience?”
She began by describing the Canadian public policy by setting a context, where systemically embedding outbound student mobility would require above all, its reconceptualization as a societal issue. According to Barbarič, education is a under the provincial and not the federal level in Canada. Based on her research, she found that only a 17% of documents at a federal level and 4% of documents in Ontario (as a provincial example) over a 30 -year time period advocate for OMS. She suggests that OSM is still imagined and considered as an opportunity for the personal benefit of a few, making it difficult to assess the meaning and impact of inclusivity. The research allowed her to conclude that not many government or private groups advocate for OMS. Therefore, recognizing and articulating its value to the larger community is also paramount to ensuring a broader participation. Barbarič maintained that current individualistic conceptualizations of outbound student mobility, coupled with a general lack of data and advocacy on the part of sectorial constituents, ultimately contribute to a discourse of international mobility experiences as distant and elitist. In the poignant words of an Ontario student representative interviewed by Barbarič: “Students may not be aware of the value. It could also be that students don’t care, but what has contributed to them not seeing the value in it?”.
Anna Veigel, Head, Kulturweit – International Volunteer’s Service, German Commission for UNESCO and the Federal Foreign Office, Berlin, Germany. Veigel started her discussion with similar questions of value and systemic barriers to inclusion. Kulturweit is a program that offers young people the opportunity to get involved in Germany’s foreign culture and education policy by volunteering abroad for 6-12 months. The mission of this organization is based on the premise of mutual understanding and learning while taking each other’s perspective where people work and live together. Veigel recognized that a significant amount of youth who volunteer with Kulturweit come from a privileged background within the German society. Over the years her team has realized that financial barriers are only one aspect of disengagement in internationalization. Kulturweit has identified that an increasing number of students have not been able to see the value of going abroad, and more so, they do not identify with the idea of international experiences. Based on these findings, Veigel posed two key questions: “how do we attract more young people with disabilities and those from a lower socioeconomic background?” and “What changes must be made structurally to ensure broader and inclusive participation?”. Reflecting on these questions, she shared the experience of a volunteer in the program called Tabia, who has inspired and demonstrated the impact of and urgency for change to the internationalization of higher education. As a blind student, Tabia volunteered for 12 months in the Official German School in Santiago de Chile where she was able to share her story, immerse herself in daily activities, lead discussions on inclusion, and even start her own project called Wegweiser (Signpost). Her project and contributions led to the development of audio guides that provide an orientation of the school in both German and Spanish as well as the placement of braille across different rooms. In effect, raising awareness of the meaningful impacts and shared benefits of truly inclusive, accessible, and diverse opportunities for youth, which Veigel highlighted, is a process of real change that Kulturweit is ready to learn from, expand on, and embark upon.
Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Chair of the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at Rhodes University, South Africa, further explored and scrutinized the connections between international mobility, inclusivity and social change. As she demonstrated, in sustainability and environmental education, she believes that the ultimate orientation must always be one of global relevance, while still maintaining contextual reflexivity. To Lotz-Sisitka, inclusivity is thus not only an ethically just aspiration, but it acquires an additional critical epistemological dimension. She stated that “we need to know enough about each other and how to support empathetic and meaningful, (non-patronizing, colonial and imperializing) global change responses in our own and other contexts.” Inclusivity becomes a measure of the quality and meaningfulness of our cross-boundary interconnections. In the absence of sufficient knowledge of the other, the potential for transformative and transgressive learning embedded in international work across boundaries diminishes. Lotz-Sisitka mentioned that in the field of environmental and sustainability education and research, inclusivity means restoring and renewing those worldviews and cultural legacies which have been overshadowed, marginalized, and even erased by colonial practices. This is synonymous with the struggle against barriers to knowledge production and dissemination that favor the global North. Additionally, working towards inclusivity can also mean working to overcome contemporary patterns of physical exclusion, including right-wing orientations to migration and borders and the unequal regime of visa costs/payments. In the direction of more equitable international exchanges that go beyond predominantly North-South and North-North trends. In her final remarks, Lotz-Sisitka gestured towards incommensurability of presence, leaving the panel with following question: “Are we able to fully see each other and our worlds via the rapid emergence of data cultures? What are we losing and who is gaining what?”.
Kao-Cheng Wang, Vice President of International Affairs at Tamkang University in Taiwan, presented on the Asian Community Leadership Seminar (ACLS) as an example of inclusive approaches to mobility. A three-week program was created in 2016 to extend cooperative networks and enable broader and inclusive participation for students in Ritsumeikan University, Japan, Kyung Hee University, South Korea, and Tamkang University in Taiwan. The operational pedagogy of the project involves project-based, cross-cultural, cooperative and experiential learning. The objectives of ACLS are to offer youth the opportunity to engage with cultural differences, to create peaceful mindsets, and to educate students with future-oriented thoughts. Respectively, each university focuses on one of these goals. In Kyoto, students are encouraged to examine and discuss cross-cultural differences amongst the participating Asian countries. While in Seoul, the focus is on peace studies, including identifying challenges and opportunities that the region faces. For instance, previous topics have included the impact of gender inequality and ageing population. The final week is in Taipei, where students are encouraged to think about the potential of development in Asia and to brainstorm forward-thinking possibilities to achieve these visions. In the interest of expanding and improving ACLS’ goals for broader participation and inclusive practices, evaluations are conducted at the end of the program by the students. Wang’s presentation revealed some of the skills appreciated and gained by the participants, including cooperation skills, innovative thinking, and curiosity towards cultural values. Through an inclusive and sustainable approach, ACLS is structured to give youth an opportunity to discuss important questions of diversity and to share their differences. Wang noted that the program is not running virtually under the COVID-19 context because student participation and the opportunity to learn and live together is crucial to the goals of the ACLS program. It is Wang’s hope that the program will safely resume soon.
Discussion and Q&A
During the question period, it was revealed some of the complexities to achieve inclusive internationalization during the COVID-19 era. The youth speaker, Christine Marton, asked panelists to reflect on how virtual approaches to education could incorporate the traditional learning and employment opportunities offered by international experiences for students while remaining physically local. All the panelists agreed that digital interactions could not replace personal meetings. Wang, Veigel, and Barbarič recognized that virtual engagement has broadened the possibility of learning and creating networks of solidarity that serve as a complement to physical mobility. However, Lotz-Sisitka noted that a digital divide has deepened exclusive access to internationalization and indicated a need for multidimensional interaction and communication that cannot be solely dependent on e-learning or online platforms. In sum, “there is something about looking into someone’s eyes when in their presence, and really getting to know people.”
In examining intentionally inclusive student exchanges and experiences, the session demonstrated global setbacks and opportunities. As presented, attaining a sustainable future requires acknowledging the histories of Indigeneity, and the outcomes of colonialism and imperialism that have embedded structural and systemic patterns for the many and privileges for a few. While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented barriers for connectivity, it has also accentuated the need for change and offered a sudden, however, necessary pause for governments, universities, researchers, and students alike to collaboratively re-direct inclusive and accessible international mobility pathways moving forward. This dialectical approach covers essential conversations and perspectives on the differences and tensions in approaches, experiences, and expectations for implementing equitable, conscious, and synergetic internationalization in higher education. It has also given voice to the potential for its success.