Today everyone at API is honoring and remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through service and personal reflection. Some of our U.S. staff members spent part of their work day volunteering as part of the MLK Day of Service. In addition, Christie Johnson, our Vice President of University Relations, Outreach & Diversity, has put together some reflections on the day’s meaning and purpose, and how it’s impacted our industry of international education. Read more below!
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY: REFLECTIONS ON THE MISSION OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
Across the United States today, Americans are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his contributions to society, which cannot be overstated. Dr. King was a champion for the underserved, underrepresented, the mistreated and the misunderstood. He believed in the goodness of humankind, in spite of evidence that would suggest the contrary. Few people in history have ignited such passionate discourse while still remaining true to the mission of peace and greater understanding.
As I reflect on a reality that still looks so different from that which he envisioned in his infamous “I have a dream” speech, sometimes it’s hard to find beauty in this world. Glimmers of hope are rare, when so many people are still struggling so intensely, when hatred is splayed on the news rather than moments of kindness and peace, and when some aspect of one’s identity is not celebrated as a unique and beautiful quality, but rather, is used as a reason to view another human being as inadequate or even evil. But yet, there are moments of light even in the darkest hours, and I am honored to work in a field that’s core mission is to unite rather than divide, and that is committed to breeding cross-cultural respect and learning.
Among the multitudes of profound statements that Dr. King made, the following speak to the work of those involved in the field of international education:
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
Why do we do what we do? In my estimation, in this field we believe fundamentally that by exposing students to a new culture, complete with different values and mores and cultural norms, we are changing their world for the better.
As Dr. King stated, what we see is colored by that which we haven’t seen… so one’s sphere of understanding shifts when stepping out of the “home” environment. International travel and intercultural interactions are breeding grounds for reducing conflict across borders, as one learns that “others” are more like us than we imagined. In what has become an intensively divisive political landscape, as hate speech and clashes of ideology play on the forefront of our newspapers… what we do on a daily basis is critical to mitigating the negativity that is bred from ignorance and hate. It’s easy to believe you are right when you’ve never seen something from another perspective. It’s easy to believe others are wrong or evil until you’ve walked in their shoes. The broader one’s experiences, the harder it is to justify bigotry. So while we may not be standing behind a pulpit, and we may not be quoted for years to come as sage and infinitely wise thought leaders… what we do on a daily basis provides students with a chance to change their worldview, and hopefully a chain reaction will ensue that results in those with whom the student interacts seeing things differently as well.
To all the students who have taken the leap of faith to participate in an API program: thank you for having the courage to explore a new culture and to learn from those who may differ vastly from you.
To all of the families who have supported their students on these experiences: thank you for giving them the confidence to take this step and for encouraging them to seek out life changing opportunities that have lasting impacts that go far beyond the classroom.
To all my fellow international educators, who have advised countless students to pursue opportunities abroad and who have worked long hours to make these experiences possible and these dreams attainable: thank you for making a difference, every single day, in the lives of the students and their communities on campus, at home and abroad. Thank you for your continuing contributions to the mission we all believe so firmly in. While we may be sitting in a small office and the impact of our work may seem intangible at times, please know that your sphere of influence expands well beyond the path you walk each day to your desk. Each student who leaves the walls of our campuses (and the borders of our country) to interact with those who do not view the world through the lens of those in our immediate community is made better by their experiences.
Each student who finally has the chance to see their home society from afar gains perspective that can only lead to greater cross-cultural and interpersonal understanding. To travel or live abroad is to reduce the expanse of the unknown, and allows each individual to walk outside the shadow of what they previously could not see.
-Christie Johnson, Vice President for Institutional Relations, Outreach & Diversity Initiatives