Internationalizing Higher Education: Capitalizing on Leadership, Citizenship, and Scholarship

by Wendy Williamson, Director of Study Abroad, Eastern Illinois University


As I was going through my files over the weekend, I found this great paper I wrote about 10 years ago. It won the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Roberta Christie Research and Writing Award in the year 2000. Surprisingly, it’s still apropos, so I thought I’d share an updated version once again. Enjoy!

The rise of affordable intercontinental transportation, international trade and investment opportunities, modern communication technologies, and the worldwide web, have moved products and services, once confined to nations, into the world. Higher education is no exception. In 2008/2009, 671,616 international students studied in the United States, an increase of 7.7% over the prior year, and in 2007/2008, 262,416 U.S. students studied abroad, a triple increase over the past two decades (IIE Open Doors Report, 2009).

More than expanding international education, U.S. higher education is ever-changing from within. These changes are partly due to the birthrates of ethnic minority groups and the influx of immigrants over the past century. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that by 2060, the present racial-ethnic minority population will exceed the White, non-Hispanic population in the United States. In fact, the most recent profile of the U.S. economy reveals that between 1997 and 2002, minority-owned businesses grew 31%, more than three times faster than the national average (U.S. Census Bureau). Subsequently, higher education should also gives people a better understanding of their nation’s diversity.

To maximize what international students contribute to the United States economy, to accommodate the various cultures on college campuses and in the workplace, and to prepare all students for a global future, higher education has been working towards internationalizing its entire makeup, including but not limited to its organizational structure, leadership, curriculum, programs, students, and educators (De Wit, 2002). According to De Wit, the internationalization of higher education is the process by which an institution integrates an international and intercultural dimension into its teaching, research, and service functions.

Traditionally, the primary responsibility of higher education faculty and staff has been to provide education, programs, and services that facilitate the development of college students. Today, however, we must also facilitate the development of college students into individuals who know themselves as well as others, who are engaged by diverse values and cultures, and who are able to function in a multicultural environment. This involves preparing college students to live and work within an increasingly interdependent world, by providing them with the leadership skills necessary to succeed in a global marketplace and helping them to understand themselves as intercultural citizens of the world.

Thus, this article advocates internationalizing higher education by using leadership, citizenship, and scholarship to help college students understand, appreciate, and effectively navigate the many cultural differences among the human race.


The first and most crucial step is preparation; before faculty and staff can internationalize their institutions, they should strive to internationalize themselves by developing intercultural competence. Those people who are interculturally competent are aware and knowledgeable of different attitudes, beliefs, values, religions, hierarchies, meanings, experiences, material objects, notions of time, relations of space, and concepts of the universe (Samovar & Porter, 1991). They have the ability to function for long periods of time in multicultural, national, and international settings and have the motivation to continually develop cultural identities tantamount to the term “globalism” (Diaz, Massialas, & Xanthopoulos, 1999).

Developing intercultural competence requires commitment and can take place in a variety of ways. Faculty and staff can seek to understand the international connections of their institutions and regions (Latham & Dalton, 1999). They can use their institution’s international programs to visit foreign countries, invite international colleagues to their institutions, and sponsor joint teaching and research projects with worldwide partners (Kruger & Dungy, 1999; Latham & Dalton, 1999). They can spend professional development time taking culture-related courses, learning foreign languages, working with international student organizations on campus, collaborating with international student offices on projects and programs, assisting with health and safety issues in study abroad programs, and participating in international orientations and events, amongst many other things.

Some of the most prevalent international opportunities for higher education scholars and practitioners, in particular, are the Fulbright Scholar Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State; and the International Faculty Development Seminars, sponsored by Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). The Fulbright Scholar Program is long-term, ranging anywhere from 3 weeks to 12 months and usually involves study tours, teaching and/or research and requires an advanced degree. It is an excellent opportunity for college staff, doctoral candidates, and faculty. On the other hand, the CIEE development seminars are more realistic for professionals with commitments at work and home.  CIEE’s development seminars are intensive short-term experiences designed to stimulate campus initiatives towards internationalization.

With some preparation, faculty and staff can work together to educate students for an interdependent world. Leadership, citizenship, and scholarship together form a comprehensive framework for the exploration of this ideal.


The purpose of higher education is to pioneer the future by preparing knowledgeable and competent graduates to lead the way. Because countries are becoming more integrated and dependent on each other, international understanding and leadership appears to be one of the most important skill sets graduates will need to move this country forward in peace and prosperity.

While peace comes by way of mutual understanding and cooperation, conflict is often the result of misunderstandings between people. A prime example is what happened in the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Everyday people, judged to be of Arab decent or Muslim, were stereotyped and targeted for harassment and violence. Although the attacks were acts of terrorism committed by fanatics, some people understood them to be fostered by the Arabic world’s hate against the United States.

Such misunderstandings prevail where international understanding and cooperation is lacking. International education can alleviate cultural misunderstandings; prevent stereotyping, racism, and hate crimes; and create leaders who value cultural diversity and foster an environment of tolerance. In fact, educators and politicians seem to agree that international education is equally or more important now than it was before the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

The U.S. government, in particular, has and continues to acclaim the importance of international education to leadership. The Fulbright Program (1946), the Peace Corps (1961), and the National Security Education Act (1991) were established to increase mutual understanding between the people of foreign countries and the people of the United States, to strengthen the viability of the U.S. economy in a global marketplace, and to enhance international security and cooperation through leadership. The National Security Education Program (NSEP) awards between $25,000 to $450,000 a year to U.S. higher education institutions to increase and enhance the study of cultures and languages critical to U.S. national security and to develop and expand a cadre of future leaders with substantial knowledge of languages and cultures that can be used to deal with global issues.

In 2000, former President Clinton signed an executive memorandum to fortify the government’s dedication to internationalize U.S. citizens through education and to lay the groundwork for an international education policy. In his memorandum, Clinton directed the heads of executive departments and agencies to (a) partner with others to increase not only the number, but also the diversity of students who study and work abroad, and (b) take the appropriate steps necessary to attract qualified international students to the United States.

In fact, every president since 1954 has had something positive to say about foreign exchanges and international education programs (NAFSA: Association of International Educators, 2001). In observance of International Education Week 2001, even President George W. Bush said, “The relationships that are formed between individuals from different countries, as part of international education programs and exchanges, can…foster goodwill that develops into vibrant, mutually beneficial partnerships among nations.” International understanding comes by way of communication, and communication is built with trust, unity, and peace between nations (Bush, 2001).

While there are many ways of developing international leadership skills in students, foreign exchange and study abroad programs are two of the most effective. Students develop international leadership skills by studying or working abroad and exposing themselves directly to foreign cultures. Through this exposure, they typically develop a superior understanding and appreciation of other people and learn how to constructively deal with cultural differences. In addition, they acquire other leadership skills such as maturity, communication, flexibility, adaptability, ingenuity, independence, and eagerness to thrive in new and/or challenging environments.

Another very effective way of developing international leadership skills in students at home may be through challenge education (Smith et. al., 1992). This type of education involves outdoor adventure trips, high and low ropes courses, or other complex activities implemented in small groups of diverse students, within an institution or through the partnering of institutions. One purpose of these activities is to place culturally and nationally diverse students in situations where they must rely on each other to complete challenges. In this way, they not only have the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultural norms and values, they can learn to interrelate diplomatically, much as they do through international exchanges.

A typical challenge education activity used to facilitate the learning of international leadership skills involves a group of culturally diverse students and a twelve-foot wall. The students are asked to work together to get everybody in their group over the wall without using anything but their bodies. After they finish the activity, a trained challenge education facilitator then asks the students to reflect, describe, analyze, and/or communicate what they experienced. He or she may ask a variety of questions to help them process the experience. More often than not, assumptions, beliefs, stereotypes, personal defenses, inner fears, trust issues, communication patterns, and behavioral problems arise. It is during this process that students begin to learn and grow because they are challenged to work together in a multicultural environment, and to analyze and communicate their feelings about it. Through this activity, and other challenge education activities, students develop cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy, which translate into leadership skills in an interdependent world.


Higher education institutions do more than educate students for careers; they help prepare them for responsible citizenship. According to most dictionaries, citizenship is the quality of a person’s response to his or her membership in a community and is measured by various forms of community involvement. Without citizenship, there would be no community or social order; thus the teaching of citizenship is crucial. College campuses are designed to solicit purposeful, open, just, disciplined, caring, and celebrative community involvement from students, so as to facilitate the growth and development of students into responsible citizens (Boyer, 1990).

In the United States, citizenship can be conceptualized as a mélange of democracy, capitalism, and multiculturalism. Far too often, however, the ideals of democracy conflict with the realities of capitalism and leave people with a disjointed sense of what being a citizen really means. On the one hand, people are led to believe that the United States is a land of equality for all, while on the otherhand, they are confronted with the reality that it is based on an economic and social system which essentially treats members of society unequally (Dudley, 1998; Cornwell & Guarasci, 1997). This dissension is exacerbated by the globalization of the U.S. economy and the implied expectation that people will be involved in both their social and political communities (Cornwell & Guarasci, 1997).

In 1949, T. H. Marshall clarified the concept of citizenship by separating it into three areas of obligation: civil, political, and social (Torres, 1998). He defined civil obligations as individual freedoms, political obligations as local and national elections, and social obligations as economic welfare and security (Torres, 1998). While this definition of citizenship still applies, it has shifted from a national to an international level. Hence, intercultural citizenship may be a more fitting term; it equates civil obligation to human rights, political obligation to global leadership, and social obligation to international growth and development. The term also helps to sort out any dissension about citizenship because as intercultural citizens, people can promote capitalism in favor of global competition, and democracy in favor of multiculturalism and equality, without detracting from their national identity and pride (Cornwell & Guarasci, 1997).

While the concept of intercultural citizenship can be easy to grasp, it may be difficult for college students to actuate in their lives. Most college students have a basic understanding of citizenship, but they may not have the ability to look beyond their national identity and see themselves as viable members of a global community. By helping students grasp intercultural citizenship, colleges and universities are essentially preparing them to become active members of an increasingly interdependent world (Cornwell & Guarasci, 1997). Moreover, by bringing students to understand their place in an interdependent world, we are helping them to better understand themselves as members of a multicultural community (Hanson & Meyerson, 1995).

While there is little research about how to develop students into intercultural citizens, service learning is a form of education commonly used by colleges and universities to develop students into responsible citizens. Service learning fosters growth and development because it allows students to put theory into practice and solve real problems in communities. In much the same way, service learning is used on an international level to develop students into intercultural citizens. Bringing students in contact with the social, economic, and political struggles in other parts of the world allows them to put theory into practice and solve real international problems.

International service learning can be implemented on domestic campuses also. Programs that pair international and U.S. students in various orientations have proven to be successful in helping international students adjust to American culture and get more involved in their campus communities (Abe, Geelhoed, & Talbot, 1998). They have also been useful in helping U.S. students get more information about studying or working abroad. More importantly, the pairing of international and U.S. students helps all students develop intercultural citizenship through volunteerism and international relations.

Beyond service learning, any program or setting that unites people from different cultures, through community involvement, is one that promulgates intercultural citizenship. International houses, team sports, student organizations, speaker’s bureaus, fairs, symposiums, and festivals are just a few examples. Obviously, the more diverse the student population on college campuses, the easier it is for us to purposefully create opportunities for intercultural citizenship development (Boyer, 1990). Students with different national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, peacefully involving themselves with each other, are good signs of intercultural citizenry on a college campus.


The funnel of knowledge by which higher education institutions facilitate the development of college students into leaders and citizens is scholarship. Without scholarship, there would be no manifestation or passage of knowledge as information; without knowledge as information, there would be no need to develop and apply it in order to gain wisdom; and without wisdom, there would be no competent leaders or citizens to contribute to civilization, as humanity knows it today. Thus, scholarship is critical to higher education and to the world.

Aware that the U.S. economy is becoming more and more integrated with the economies of the world, educators from all different fields have called for the internationalization of scholarship (Johnson, 1998). Since U.S. higher education is already an international commodity and facing competitive external pressures of globalization and international approbation (Slaughter, 1998), hundreds of colleges and universities have joined counterparts abroad in collaborative research efforts to create global scholarship and solve worldwide problems (Riley, 2001).

The globalization of scholarship requires a multifaceted approach because the concept of scholarship is made up of discovery, integration, application, and teaching (Boyer, 1990). It requires scholars and practitioners alike to think about developing new theories, techniques, applications, and models that are relevant in today’s global society. Global scholarship comes in a variety of ways, including but not limited to international connections through institutions, student and faculty exchanges, visiting scholars, foreign language training, corporate partnerships, and development projects.

When developing scholarship for a global society, it is impossible to accommodate all cultures, as there are so many of them; it is possible, however, to recognize the cultural limitations of a theory or model and not mistake it for universal reality. For example, different cultures hold to different value systems. Some cultures put persons before groups, and value self-efficiency, autonomy, and responsibility above all, while other cultures put groups before persons, and value harmony, collaboration, and interdependence (McGoldrick, Pearce & Giordino, 1996; Ting-Toomey, 1999).

When it comes to developing theories for a global community, it is inappropriate to assume that all people will buy into a sole objective of autonomy and/or responsibility. The objective must either be changed to be more inclusive of other worldviews or directed towards and used only with those cultures that have individualistic worldviews. Likewise, it is inappropriate to assume that all people will buy into a linear system when more than half of the world views systems as circular. The “theories” should either be changed to accommodate the worldviews of more cultural groups or directed towards specific ones. Uncovering cultural differences in scholarship takes a great deal of cross-cultural understanding, but it is good practice for the future.

There are many ways that higher education scholars and practitioners can work together to develop new globalized scholarship. Higher education is in need of theories, applications, and models that (a) recruit and retain multicultural students and faculty from around the world; (b) teach students about diversity, multicultural, and international issues; (c) provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to live and work with people and cultures different from themselves; (d) train students and educators how to manage cultural differences in their personal and professional lives; (e) internationalize the curriculum in higher education departments and programs; (f) modify campus culture to increase inter-group harmony and decrease conflict; (g) exhibit how higher education institutions can function effectively across national boundaries; and (h) promote social change to reduce various forms of inequality and discrimination (Paige, 1996). These theories, applications, and models, as well as others not mentioned, will contribute directly and indirectly to the development of international leadership and intercultural citizenship in students.


Colleges and universities can no longer afford to define themselves or their institutions primarily by local missions. Preparing students to lead and serve in a global community is more than an ideal; it is an ethical obligation for all educators. Consequently, international leadership, citizenship, and scholarship are essential for higher education. University of Phoenix financial aid can help students get there.


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Submitted by Wendy Williamson, Director of Study Abroad, Eastern Illinois University

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