The Fries Center for Global Studies will host a variety of events celebrating International Education Week (IEW) from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20. While all events will take place over Zoom, students will have the option to register to watch them in-person at Fisk Hall.
The U.S. Department of State created IEW in 1999, with the hope that the program would take place on university campuses nationally. Nearly 700 students attended the University’s IEW programs in 2019, according to Director of International Student Services Chia-Ying Pan. As with most events this year, the University had to adapt the program to follow COVID-19 safety regulations and remain accessible to all students.
The Fries Center is working with a number of partners for this year’s program, including the Gordon Career Center, the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, the Resource Center, the Shapiro Writing Center, and the Office of International Student Affairs. Each day of the week, events ranging from an information session on study abroad to a forum on social protests around the world will be held to promote international education.
Additionally, international students have been involved in organizing some of the week’s events. For example, one event focuses on a number of issues relevant to the international student community, including ways to secure internships in the United States.
Assistant Director of Intercultural and Language Learning Natalia Román Alicea explained that the focus of the week has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to a virtual format.
“The theme of this year is basically to use IEW as a space for students to share new social norms, new social realities created during this time, and potentially find spaces for dialogue, for self care, for healing, and to just find ways to stay connected with the campus,” Alicea said.
Alicea also acknowledged how IEW influences campus culture and the perspectives of the University’s community. Alicea’s view echoes the event’s shift in focus to go beyond surface cross-cultural learning.
“At the end of the day, regardless of the status of our country and the potential for international education, it is still important that [this year’s event is] not just a placeholder, but it’s an opportunity for organizations to do something that acknowledges how important it is to have members of the global community be members of Wesleyan, and for members of the Wesleyan community to have access to the world through a mutual exchange,” Alicea said.
Pan noted that the program can serve as a way to affirm and demonstrate the contributions the University’s international students make while also providing them with learning opportunities.
“I think it’s very important for international students to know that you come with a great deal of knowledge and skills and stories to share,” Pan said.“I don’t want international students to feel that they’re always the taker in the community. Their contributions make this campus very different, and by different, I really mean much better. So I think it’s important for international students to know that they can be the receiver, but they also can be the contributor.”
While Pan recognizes that previous levels of student engagement with IEW will be difficult to replicate online, she prioritizes the positive impact the programs will have on individual students rather than mass participation.
“If you feel empowered, if you feel that you have learned something, if you feel that you didn’t waste your time, if you feel that you had a good time, then I think the event is successful. That’s how I will look at it, especially in the year of 2020,” Pan said.
As students prepare to leave for Thanksgiving break, IEW organizers hope that the program will serve as a time for campus connections and reflection.
“What I hope happens is that [IEW] serves as an opportunity for this semester’s students that are on campus to be able to connect a little bit with Wes before they totally disconnect,” Alicea said.
Orly Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org