International Education Week is celebrated nationwide, but a robust emphasis on promoting global citizenship and a passionate international student community makes it an especially meaningful event at St. Lawrence University.
When Coordinator of International Student Services Tsewang Lama ’10, M’15 considers International Education Week (IEW) at St. Lawrence, two things come to mind.
“I think of education but also celebration,” she says.
And there’s a lot to celebrate, including a robust off-campus study program, an active and passionate international student community, and a 100-year history of commitment to engagement with global issues. In 2018, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, awarded St. Lawrence the prestigious Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. This honor recognizes the University’s excellence in integrating international education throughout all facets of campus life, and its mission to expand Laurentians’ understanding of and critical role in the world around them.
IEW, which takes place nationwide from Nov. 16-20, is a joint venture between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. Officially, it is considered part of larger efforts to promote leadership and global engagement through study abroad and exchange programs. International education takes on a broader meaning at St. Lawrence.
“We celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide, but I would also say that the IEW at St. Lawrence is the opportunity to celebrate diversity, languages, and cultures from all over the world by our international students, students that have studied abroad, and also students of foreign languages and literatures,” says Marina Llorente, Charles A. Dana Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Hanson Associate Dean of International and Intercultural Studies.
IEW programming is a collaborative effort between Llorente's team, which includes Director of Off-Campus Programs Karen Smith, and Lama's, including International Student Advisor Megan Putney.
Though study abroad and exchange opportunities are tentatively on hold due to the pandemic, Llorente asserts that the University’s commitment to global citizenship is not. That’s because it starts in classrooms on campus.
“The curriculum is always key. Experiences you have abroad must be supported by the curriculum in the classroom,” she says. “There’s an international focus in every single department, in every single area.”
Llorente’s office continues to work hard to ensure St. Lawrence’s emphasis on global engagement remains a priority outside of the classroom, and in lieu of opportunities to study off campus in the fall and spring, CIIS plans to offer virtual global internships for students whose plans were canceled.
“[These] are great opportunities for students to remain engaged with global issues and to offer career development,” says Llorente.
"International students on campus have traveled miles and miles to be on here. They inherit memories and culture of their home and bring all that knowledge and color to the campus community." —Aseman Bagheri '22
St. Lawrence also benefits from an involved and thriving international student community, which is a core focus of IEW on campus. Over the past few years, the University has seen a steady increase in the number of incoming international students. They comprise 10% of the Class of 2024 and represent 33 countries around the globe.
“I think of International Education Week as an opportunity for us to educate the community about international education and learn from each other, but also a way for us to celebrate the different cultures and different knowledge that we have on campus,” says Lama.
Aseman Bagheri ’22, a neuroscience and mathematics double major from Tehran, Iran, agrees. She is also the Thelomathesian Society Chair of International Affairs and vice president of A.S.I.A Club, among multiple other roles on campus.
“International students on campus have traveled miles and miles to be on here,” she says. “They inherit memories and culture of their home and bring all that knowledge and color to the campus community. In classes, they bring international views. Outside class, almost everyone is involved in contributing to campus through activities and events that enrich the community.”
Members of the international student community play a critical role in planning and organizing IEW programming and events. This year’s schedule includes 15-minute language sessions, an international trivia night, and a virtual polyglot prose and poetry party.
Throughout the Fall 2020 semester, they’ve kept the exchange of cultures alive through programs held virtually and safely on campus. Two of Aseman’s favorites include an educational and interactive anti-cultural appropriation event that took place before Halloween, and the “SLU-lympics,” held outdoors on the Brush Quad earlier this year.
“The fruition of both of these events was a product of creativity and positive spirit,” she says. “What made both these events successful was international students’ commitment to bringing a diverse and engaging collection of events to our campus.”
Though COVID-19 has its obstacles, the need for increased virtual capabilities makes gatherings more accessible to those who can’t be on campus. It helps to foster and further close bonds--many of which last far beyond graduation day. This is the case for Mathilde Perrault, an exchange student who spent the 2018-19 school year in the North Country and still considers herself a member of the University’s international student community.
On Friday, November 13, she took part in a virtual teatime from her home in Bordeaux, France, with her friends still on campus. She recalls her time at St. Lawrence fondly and has one group in particular to thank.
“Without a doubt, the greatest part of my SLU experience was the international community. Not only did I learn about the American culture, but also about so many cultures from around the world,” she says.
According to Aseman, these enduring connections and exchanges are essential, especially right now, for the support, comfort, and joy they provide: “Traditions and commitment to participating in and engaging with our community are what really hold meaning and promote an atmosphere of positivity and optimism in these uncertain times.”