In January, I attended the Ireland United States Alumni Association’s inaugural conference. Impressively, every panel of the day included top names in Irish business, education, art, and culture, such as the general secretary of the Department of Education, the chief executive of Culture Ireland, and the presidents of two Irish universities. The plenary session, which addressed the topic of the internationalization of education, wrestled with the benefits of international students to universities and of studying abroad for students. In European countries, a key benefit is economic: International students pay significantly more in non-EU fees. All three panelists argued that the most important benefit is more qualitative and harder to measure—that is, the reciprocal learning for domestic students, international students, faculty, and administrators. In my previous posts, I spoke of some of the learning that has occurred here in Ireland thanks to the Mitchell Scholarship. Now I would like to describe a few random ways my global learning has proven quite useful.
My first example is slightly silly. To give some background, no one in my family, including me, has ever won trivia games at restaurant or pubs. We are quite bright, but the sports and popular culture categories usually trip us up. So needless to say, I was not expecting much of anything when my cousin and mother decided to host a pre-wedding rehearsal dinner at an Italian restaurant that does a trivia night on Thursdays. Surprisingly, after a few rounds, we were doing pretty well. But by the time the last question came, it was anyone’s game. While you were answering the question, you also wagered the number of points on your answer. For this last question, you could wager up to 100 points; if you got the question wrong, you would lose whatever points you wagered. I had never played this way before, but the format made my cousin’s fiancé, our scribe, very nervous. He already knew not to wager too much unless you were very confident of your answer. Then up came the question: “It sounds painful if one were to receive a kick in the Trossachs. Where, in fact, is this geographical feature?” I immediately threw up my hands in delight. I had travelled to the Trossachs in November because in fact Ireland is quite close to…. Scotland! So I whispered the answer to my cousin’s fiancé and reassured him that he should wager the entire 100 points. So we actually won!!
Now back to a more serious view of global learning …
There have been countless facts and figures, along with contrasting systems and methodologies, that I have learned throughout this year. One of the most useful things I’ve learned stemmed from the Mitchell Scholars’ trip to Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU, in March. For the last few years, the Irish Representative to the European Union has hosted the Mitchell Scholars in Brussels for a couple of days. This year we visited the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the US Mission to the EU and had meetings with representatives of businesses and NGOs such as the European American Business Council, the European Policy Centre, Google, and the Irish Business Employers Confederation.
It was a busy couple of days. The biggest difference between the US and the EU is that the US was formed as a confederation of states that joined together primarily to share the burden of foreign policy and defense, while the EU was formed for mutual domestic benefit, both economically and socially. Each type of union has its advantages, which can be understood more fully through recognition of this difference.
This realization will always help me in interpreting European social policy, and this is exactly the sort of intangible benefit of global learning that makes it so meaningful.