Sunday, November 15, 2015

Back: Exporting higher learning where education is a matter of life and death

Don Back,

Don Back, director of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, has been active in international education for nearly 30 years.

Image from article, with caption: Participants in the Iraqi Kurdistan Rural University Partnership Program show off their certificates during a graduation ceremony with faculty from the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute.


[A]cademic mobility programs are key components of the Language and Culture Institute’s work and are vital to fulfilling Virginia Tech’s mission. As a global land-grant institution, the university aims to address society’s needs locally and globally and to encourage greater understanding of our interdependent world.
This fall, Tech welcomed its largest-ever population of new international students — 549 new undergraduate and 590 new graduate students. Overall, more than 3,500 international students are enrolled at the university, more than any other institution in the commonwealth, according to the Institute of International Education. Those students come from more than 90 countries around the world.
It is fitting that from Nov. 16-20 we will celebrate the 16th annual International Education Week, which highlights the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. A joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of State and Education, this year’s festivities are focused on the theme of “International Education: Advancing Access for All.”
This celebration offers us an opportunity to reach out to the international students in our own communities and develop a broader understanding of cultures and languages besides our own.
Each year, hundreds of international students come to the Language and Culture Institute’s locations in Blacksburg, Fairfax and Radford to improve their English skills and prepare to make the transition to academic life at a U.S. university. Indeed, many of our students go on to earn undergraduate or graduate degrees at Tech.
The benefits of these academic exchanges can be seen both at home and abroad. In the 2012-13, for example, the institute and its students added more than $5 million to the Blacksburg and Northern Virginia economies, according to a report from Tech’s Office of Economic Development. These students also increase the diversity of the campus community and, in so doing, help prepare Virginia Tech students for the interconnected world in which they will one day live and work.
In return, our international students receive the benefits of a high-quality Virginia Tech education. After their studies here, they return home to become leaders who better understand American society and values. By emphasizing mutual understanding and cross-cultural openness, we are, in a very true sense, enhancing America’s national security and public diplomacy.
We live in an ever-evolving international landscape where knowledge of the world is a necessity, not an option. For those of us dedicated to a system of higher education that is focused on the dual mission of discovering and disseminating new knowledge while also preparing the next generation of global citizens, there is no more important task than creating an environment in which international exchanges are encouraged and collaboration can flourish.

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