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Why there is more reason than ever to celebrate International Students Day in 2020

17 November 2020

November 17th is an important date for international education. Designated International Students Day, it is marked around the world as a non-political celebration of international students.

This year, of course, international students across the globe have faced unprecedented challenges. Those who have travelled thousands of miles to study have found themselves facing a pandemic far from home and their usual support structures. They have had to adapt to blended and online learning, gain support in new ‘bubbles’ in their accommodation, and some students have still only met their peers and tutors virtually.

Yet we can and should celebrate the determination of international students to find new ways to pursue their dreams of overseas study, rather than cancel them altogether. After all, being an international student always takes an element of courage. It requires the spirit to venture beyond the known with the confidence that expanding your horizons and learning with others from around the world will bring benefits impossible to achieve by sticking to the familiar.

International students think globally and they are ambitious for their future ability to pursue their studies at the best universities the world has to offer, and then to use what they have learned to secure rewarding work, which makes a difference in their own lives and for others. They want to be equipped to thrive as adults and we know that we help them on this journey, one which makes a better world through education.

The problems our students and societies will face in the years to come will require a global perspective.

  • How can countries and regions work and trade together cooperatively and with understanding of one another’s perspectives?
  • How will we respond to the challenges of inclusive economies, changing demographics, healthcare, and climate change?

Finding solutions to these problems will require the talents and expertise of people who can look beyond their immediate experience and work in global teams, whether as politicians or scientists, business leaders or medics.

Fortunately, the world has a tremendous resource in international graduates who have received both an excellent education and been exposed to others ways in their formative years. They have learned how to work together across national, ethnic, religious and gender identities. They are used to being challenged and creating diverse teams. They have felt the rewards of taking a step beyond their comfort zones.

Those of us who work with and support international students recognise the huge importance of this work, and learn from our students as we teach. We are privileged to play our part in this global tool for positive change.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” But this is a weapon of peace-building rather than of war. It is a cause for celebration and hope, as important today as it has ever been.

Emma Lancaster is the Chief Executive Officer of Study Group, a leading provider of international education celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020.

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