Irish Pub Talk: An International Education

“You’re American, aren’t you? You’ve got some explainin’ to do.”

The teasing remark came from an old, avuncular Irishman at The Wellington, a corner pub near my apartment that I’ve dubbed my premier pint-sipping, people-watching venue in Dublin. The man then launched into an expressive critique of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. He caught his breath momentarily before expounding on the political dysfunction that had shut down the U.S. government that week. And here I thought I wasn’t living in Washington, D.C., anymore.

I’ve experienced some form of this interaction many times during my first two months living in Dublin. In many ways, the Irish stereotype rings true: Warmth, charm, and humour have been cast my way whether I was gallivanting through Dublin’s bustling streets or strolling through Wicklow’s serene backdrops.  But I’ve been amazed at the Irish’s grasp of world affairs and enlightened by the stimulating conversation. Admittedly, a few pub anecdotes are not enough to make a definitive statement about an entire country, but these interactions have caused me to reflect on the value of cross-cultural exchanges and how they apply to my studies in higher education.

One of the reasons I applied for the Mitchell Scholarship was a desire to live abroad after foregoing that opportunity in my undergraduate years. The benefits of living in another country are incalculable. Leaving our homes and routines can challenge our assumptions and re-frame our world views. And as we return home, these lessons endure – informing our approach to work, learning, parenting, and other aspects of life.

This is one of the reasons why internationalization has emerged as a principal topic in higher education. Globalization and technological innovation have opened borders to students from around the world.  Universities are no longer just competing for students in their regions but also from distant shores.  Although this is largely driven by a wish for more revenue – many international students pay their own way — the impact on higher education is potentially far reaching.

Nevertheless, the percentage of international students at many U.S. universities remains small, meaning most American students’ encounters with them are limited. The out-of-pocket costs of studying abroad can be high and a lack of basic foreign language proficiency deters many U.S. students from pursuing overseas scholarships.

However, with global conversing accelerating over the Internet, there is promise that internationalism can flourish and be better integrated into college classrooms. Massive Open Online Courses seem gimmicky now, but some experts predict this trend will build into a disruptive phenomenon that changes the nature of higher education and keeps shrinking the world of learning. In the future, cultural exchanges will not only occur sporadically in foreign pubs but also daily in classrooms. For now, I think I’ll retreat back to The Wellington.

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