The Ingroup and Outgroup of ‘Internationalization at Home’

Being commonly comprehended as an ‘added cultural dimension’, internationalization in higher education has long been misinterpreted as an embroidering flavor diversifying the so-called “international classrooms”. A collection of research has dramatically been engaged in this prevalent topic, mostly categorizing identical entities of international students. This fancy article done by Neil Harrison and Nicola Peacock (2010), on the contrary, pulled their scope from internationals to the body of home students and their corresponding perspectives. As suggested in their essay, mutual understanding could predicate the sense of empathy within this intergroup interaction, therefore the views of home students should be equally cherished as that of internationals. It is much praised for these two researchers to strive to positively incorporate the ‘Integrated Threat Theory’ in their critical discussion, and its four components (‘Realistic Threat’, ‘Symbolic Threat’, ‘Intergroup Anxiety’, and ‘Negative Stereotype’) might lend some revelation to unroot the issues deeply embodied in our contemporary internationalization process.

For the ‘Realistic Threat’ part, many home students indicated that, if integrating international students into their in-class groups, “the group’s marks would suffer as a result” due to their language unproficiency, which is harmful to their own. And much more frequently, they will have to, if attempting to collaborate with international students, invest more efforts in endeavoring to counterbalance the disadvantages brought by their international peers. To be sure, this is a common encounter for the majority of home students, no matter in the UK or USA. However, it is equally arguable to blame these home students more than their teachers, and actually it ought to be the responsibility of the tutors to curve the final marks in accordance with the international factors. Internationalization is never with ease, and it equally makes no sense to judge a male by how he acts like a female. Besides, language skills are indeed essential in higher education but only as a tool to communicate or express ourselves unless in linguistic majors, and it is the contents and thoughts that constitute what we are here at universities for. In other words, we are here to be trained for what we were unable to do, rather than to present our ingrained ability or to impress others. Otherwise, it is the theater or TV shows where we should pursue to go. Correspondingly, the teaching staff should also pick up their duty to promote the goodwill of internationalization to abate the anxiety of home students, unless they are willing to enjoy the further divisions of ingroup and outgroup in their managed classrooms.

As for the ‘Symbolic Threat’ to home students, the international values different from their own that those incomers are holding vividly depicts the in-depth concerns. These values, to which they might have never been exposed, might intensify the anxiety of home students, and compel them to be increasingly vigilant against any potential transgression. Once again, the higher international tuition payment and finite duration of study contribute to the sense of ‘otherness’ for internationals. Different approaches towards the drinking culture might as well be factored into the big picture, although it is critical to assert its righteousness. Probably impacted by the contemporary global context, the unwanted ‘political correctness’ overwhelms the campus, on which students, home or international, who should be trained to open their minds to anything they are curious about yet unfamiliar with, narrow their views conversely by over-political advertisements. Ever since the establishment, universities played their roles throughout the longitudinal history till our contemporary societal context as more of a philanthropic affair to train the youth for the betterment of the national future (or global projection in contemporary senses) without much of the so-called “cultural distance”, unless they operate in a mode of enterprise chasing for profits in favor of someone(s). Freedom and democracy were and will constantly be the top priority of these modern universities, where any culture, except for the cultish ones, should be housed without much prejudice. Unlike the arrogant proposition of “they’re going to have to accept it or they are going to be isolated” by some home students, universities as a whole should take the entire parts and prepare their students for global citizenship as whatever they would like to be instead of ‘manufacturing’ a mode of human beings.

In terms of the ‘Intergroup Anxiety’, some home students complain that they are consistently ‘exhausted’ by the language barriers and the ‘mindfulness’ in their interaction with international students. Paradoxically to say, it is to the deed that they initially embody themselves in higher education to be exposed to a stranger culture. It is inevitably a challenge that might cause discomfort yet prepare themselves for the ability to adapt to the even more intricate kinks they will have to encounter when stepping into the actual societal settings. Contrariwise, it is attributed to the lack of motivation both inside and outside of the “international classrooms”. Namely, the home students currently observe no benefit or motivation to engage or cooperate with the school-promoted internationalization unless they want to work abroad. Both the final marks of their course and the salary of their projected job have nearly nothing to do with internationalization, yet this so-called internationalization causes more trouble for them than its worth. Thus, it’s rather understandable of human nature to chase for ease at their own goodness. And perhaps, this is what the solution to this problem is rooted in.

For the last, ‘Negative Stereotype’ can be one of the most ingrained problems most home students feel reluctant to be faced with. Cultural presumption or collective unconscious called on by Carl Jung has been deeply plowed into our educational soil. People are consistently stereotyping others whiling being stereotyped, and it occurs not incidentally among international students, but essentially everybody. Psychologically speaking, it is close to impossible to entirely comprehend someone without stereotyping them, even for the affiliated kinks. And it is significantly outstanding for the cases involving work-orientation, language skills, and collective culture of Eastern internationals, though not always being hostile. I believe the key to our hope must rely upon the positive collaboration between three parties, politics, schools (faculty and home students), and international students themselves. For the political parts, the governments should lift their hands from the educational affairs of universities and allow for their opted developments devoid of ideological impacts and discourses. Within higher education, we are going ultimately for the truth, but not the truth of someone(s). As for the universities including home students and their faculty, the impression of empathy might be the sole approach one could take to break the ice – faculty should instruct not only their ingrained knowledge, but also love, duty, and empathy the students should be equipped to be a fully established adult; whereas the home students could potentially integrate internationals into their social clubs or friend-circle initially for fun and empathy (it is empathic to pet a cat even though it cannot speak, why not human beings?). Eventually, the international students, should they want no stereotyping, must actively expose themselves to the exotic culture despite some coincidental embarrassment or awkwardness. One belief should be firmly erected in their confidence that nobody should and will laugh at those who try their best to perform well but fail to do so, even for the greatest. The most intimidating devil dwells in our cowardice, and we are here abroad to defeat it, not to nurture it.

Overall, I would persist on the optimistic track for the projection of internationalization. We are currently stuck inside an increasingly globally interdependent world where no one could live by oneself, disparity is an ideological discourse of politics, but not a canonical theorization of higher education. We are having enough evidence to assume that educational internationalization will no longer be an illusion shortly, simply with more comprehension and empathy.


About Tianming Zhao

As an ongoing PhD student at CAUS (College of Architecture & Urban Studies) of Virginia Tech, I am currently engaged in the track of architectural history & theory study. My preliminary research interest correlates to the undefined affinity and serendipity between the engagement of Frank Lloyd Wright in his organic thinking and East Manuscripts, specifically Chinese, which he might have directly or indirectly referred to in philosophical, architectonical, and cultural senses, based initially on his unexplored visit to China. Deeply appreciating Wright's organic legacy, the ongoing research is expected to add to the diversity of Wright-associated study and to complete the puzzle for this "Master of World Architecture" called on by architectural historian Vincent Scully Jr. Upon graduation, I am intended to pinpoint my professional career on the instruction of architectural history and theory, and will preferably expand my research interest to the modernization of Chinese Architecture situated in the landscape of Modernism and Postmodernism, and to interpret its up-and-down in terms of the contextualized interactions with multiple Western art movements.
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