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Re-Imagining Communities: Creating a Space for International Student Success.

In his seminal work Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983), Benedict Anderson, professor emeritus of international studies, Cornell University, maintained that "nations are communities that are 'imagined' in the sense that all members do not--and will not--ever know all of the other members" (Friedlander 2015). In fact, Anderson believed that people rarely knew one another across communities, and yet, "in the minds of each lives the image of their communion" (Anderson 1983). For Anderson, our knowledge of others and their cultural identities were accrued over time and the result of a printing press that disseminated books and other publications that highlighted "vernacular languages" and established a discourse of difference and community. In other words, community and culture were constructions of a vibrant, albeit, imaginary consciousness, and in order to analyze nationalism in any concrete way, one would have to return to this belief.

While Anderson's work on both nationalism and internationalism is duly noted, the process of immigration and the immigrants who have materialized in North America throughout generations share a common experience, in spite of the social, political, and psychic differences in each journey. For many immigrants, survival in a foreign land has been marked by reinvention. Such reinvention has historically included changes in name, marginalizing traditions and customs in favor of adopting new ways of living, language acquisition, and in best-case scenarios, enculturation through education. For some, though, this reinvention has been dictated solely by survival, and thus, educational advancement has not shaped this process in any way.

For example, while working through college, I befriended a man named Walter, a Jamaican immigrant in Canada, who worked as a janitor in the same complex where I worked. An avid cinephile, Walter and I would talk shop at the video rental store I worked at, and over the years, I learned more about Walter and his journey from Jamaica. A biochemist back home, Walter's educational dreams were deferred when he arrived in Canada and was faced with the stark reality that to further his education would be costly and challenging. Over the years, he had secured work as a janitor for a unionized company that provided benefits and a pension, as well as a livable wage. Walter was most animated when we talked school and where I was heading in my educational journey. And while I sensed a vicarious interest, Walter never lost sight of the bottom line that impacted his very existence as an immigrant in Canada. In order to supplement his wages, he also started a photography business, which was a labor of love and passion. He often shared beautiful landscape photos he took while traveling around Windsor, chronicling a life far from his Caribbean roots. As time passed, I would reconnect with Walter years later when he attended my wedding as a friend and photographer.

More recently, I spoke with Mira, a Bosnian immigrant and pedicurist at a local salon. Mira shared that she arrived with her husband in Canada as a refugee at the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, where she left family and friends in the war-torn region. She spoke of her three children, two who were in university, pursuing educations in architecture and engineering. With great pride, Mira described her children's educational pathways and her excitement at the opportunities that lay ahead. A physical therapist in Bosnia, Mira, like Walter, and countless immigrants who arrive in North America, had to reinvent herself as a spa worker in order to support her children and her family back home. Her husband, a former chef/restaurateur in Bosnia, now worked in a factory in Windsor in order to educate his children and support his family. What struck me most were Mira's candid reflections of what life in Canada had revealed for her years after the war. She said, "During the war, our neighbors, often Serbs or Bosnian Muslims, soon became our enemies. It did not matter that some of us attended school, weddings, and funerals together--the war changed everything. We could not trust each other. And yet now that I am in Canada, so many years later, would you believe me if I told you that my best friend is a Bosnian Muslim who came to Canada as a refugee same time as me? Even though in Bosnia we were forced to be enemies, here in Canada she is my neighbor and my best friend. We share memories and we speak the same language."

Walter and Mira are not exceptions to the rule in that reinvention defines their experience. They are the norm, and as a result, they share a common experience. My own father, who arrived in 1970 with my mother in Ellis Island, abandoned his dream to study philosophy, in order to establish a life for himself, his wife, and their three Canadian-born children. Instead, he found work at General Motors, and over time, a sense of camaraderie amongst his fellow workers. For my parents and others, North America offered a safe haven, especially for refugees and expatriates, and a proverbial economic land of opportunity. For some, the opportunity to advance their education surfaced; for others, economic imperatives took precedence.

Over the years, North American colleges have seen a rise in international students. In 2017, a total of 494,525 international students were enrolled in Canadian colleges, with a 119% increase in enrollment between 2010-2017 (Canadian Bureau for International Education). In the United States, in 2017, over 1 million international students also enrolled in colleges, contributing more than $36 billion to the United States economy (Institute of International Education). While the largest hub of international students arrive from China and India, countries in the Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia also generate thousands of international students seeking educational opportunities in this continent. In fact, most colleges in both countries have undergone a process of internationalization in order to meet the needs of this influx of students; for example, area colleges like the University of Michigan and Michigan State (among others) include recognized International Centers that highlight their educational programming and provide living accommodations for international students. Across the river, the University of Windsor has seen a steady increase in Chinese student enrollment, whose campus conveniently lies in the heart of Windsor's Chinatown-home to both Chinese immigrants and a large population of Chinese international students. However, even smaller campuses, community colleges in particular, have established international offices for purposes of recruitment and also to provide learning support services/intercultural programming.

For over two decades, under the former leadership of Josselyn Moore, professor of anthropology-sociology, Schoolcraft College's International Institute has strived to fulfill its mission to coordinate cross-cultural learning opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community. From a curriculum end, several faculty have internationalized their courses by including at least two weeks of global content in their courses. In fact, over 85 classes across 22 academic disciplines currently support the Global Endorsement--a certificate program designed to attract students to global education. Overseen by the International Institute, the program requires participating students to complete a minimum of 15 credit hours of classes designated globally endorsed. In addition, this internationalization of curriculum has been supported by Theo Sypris, Director of the Midwest Institute for International/Intercultural Education (MIIIE), at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC). For almost two decades, Schoolcraft College has been a member of the MIIIE and faculty have taken part in the annual summer workshops at KVCC which are designed to assist faculty in the creation of international curriculum modules to be piloted in their courses. The MIIIE has supported over 100 community colleges in the Midwest region committed to internationalizing their curriculum. Through summer workshops, Fulbright opportunities, and annual conferences, the MIIIE has aided Schoolcraft College in their mission to coordinate cross-cultural educational opportunities. With the help of the MIIIE, Schoolcraft College faculty members have traveled both to China for a Fulbright destination, and to Turkey, in previous years. This summer, Dr. Colleen Pilgrim, psychology professor, will be traveling to Indonesia to conduct research in the area of mental health, with the goal of bringing this fascinating research and experience to Schoolcraft College psychology students. Dr. Pilgrim will also have an opportunity to present her research to other faculty at the 2019 annual MIIIE conference in Tennessee.

Moreover, Schoolcraft College has hosted two MIIIE conferences over the years, which have attracted hundreds of community college faculty interested in global education, and currently, we hold an institutional spot on the board of directors. Schoolcraft College's process of internationalization, which by no means is complete, has been fully augmented by the leadership and guidance of Sypris, who continues to seek international education partnerships with several National Resource Centers such as the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Partnerships such as Michigan State's American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS) and University of Illinois' Center for Global Studies have provided Schoolcraft faculty training and support in their international research endeavors.

The desire to attract international students is strong and certainly on the radar of all community colleges and institutions of higher education. From a fiscal stance, international student enrollment generates tuition, as international students pay higher fees than domestic students. From an educational standpoint, international students represent diverse populations, thus fulfilling the mission of many colleges to increase diversity on campus. While these are all viable reasons to support internationalization on campus, are we equipped to see a steady rise in international student enrollment? And more importantly, what can we do to support our existing international students?

The last few years, I have haci a unique opportunity to interface with international students in my role as co-chair of Schoolcraft College's International Institute, but also as a faculty member who has noted several international students in my courses. What I have discovered during this time is that international students make up a unique, yet small population on campus, whose experiences are marked by collective challenges. One student, a leader amongst international students on campus, described the obstacles he faced in pursuing financial aid. Because of international articulations, financial aid is not available to international students, and therefore, finding means of support can be difficult. Another common dilemma communicated by international students, is the dilemma of isolation. Several of my students have shared stories indicating their sense of loneliness, exclusion, and apprehension about life in America. While several students have been eager to make friends with their American classmates, the language and cultural barriers have prevented them from reaching out and initiating these relationships. Last semester, I spoke with a student from Vietnam who attended various campus events like School Daze, in hopes of making some American friends. In his writing and face-to-face conversations, he disclosed that while he was too shy to connect with students this year, he hoped by next year to join a student club and take part in the campus culture at Schoolcraft College.

While we hope to see an increase in international student enrollment as well as underrepresented students at Schoolcraft College, support must be available and visible. Right now, International Advising, Learning Support Services and Student Activities have provided opportunities for international students by way of academic advising, language and writing support, educational tutoring, and student club representation like the International Student Organization (ISO). While these opportunities are extremely valuable, there is more work to be done. Aside from support, we need to increase international student visibility so that faculty and domestic students can welcome international students and create a space of inclusion. One of the ways to achieve this is by expanding our internationalization process, not only in recruitment of international and under-represented student populations, but by continuing to expose students to global issues and offering international/intercultural programming on campus. One of the most successful initiatives to date on campus includes the Multicultural Fair. An annual event, Schoolcraft College's Multicultural Fair continues to attract thousands of visitors on campus who come to witness the celebration of diversity as represented by the array of country tables, often hosted by international students themselves, and the other international/intercultural performances showcased at the fair.

In addition, the Schoolcraft College International Institute Focus Series also promotes cross-cultural learning by introducing students and community to different regions of the world, along with thematic topics such as immigration, environment, and spirituality, to name a few. Over the years, the Focus Series has offered international speaker series presentations, cultural exhibits, and film festivals, highlighting the diverse cultures of the world. In tandem with the Focus Series and the International Institute, the International Agenda, our official magazine of the Institute, led by Randy Schwartz, professor of mathematics, has also advanced the mission by providing a campus-wide forum for the exchange of information and perspectives related to international and intercultural education.

These opportunities help students gain a broader perspective, and better prepare them to work and co-exist in a global environment. Additionally, we should look beyond our domestic student population to address the needs of international students, along with underrepresented students, in order to ensure their academic and social success. As mentioned, for international students, attaining a North American education is a process that all too often is impacted by challenging factors. And yet, we would be remiss to ignore the extraordinary achievements some of our international students attain. For example, last year, my former student from Albania, Elis Sholla, was awarded the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship--a $40,000 scholarship which allowed him to pursue his studies in quantum computing at the University of Michigan. An international student leader, Elis was visible on campus where he tutored in the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program and worked with other students in the International Student Organization (ISO). However, Elis was one of the few international students who fully acclimated to our campus environment.

Nevertheless, we cannot only highlight the success stories of a few, remarkable international students. In order for students to truly reap the benefits of education in a globalized world, we must find valuable ways to connect all students--domestic, international, and underrepresented--within the campus community, and re-imagine our spaces of inclusion to encompass all.


Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism. New York, New York: Verso.

Acheson, K. (2017, October 6). International students in the U.S.: Fall 2017 trends. In International Institute of Education. Retrieved from

Canada's performance and potential in international education (2016, June 14). Canadian Bureau for International Education. Retrieved from'potential'in-international-education/.

Friedlander, B. (2015, December 15). Benedict Anderson, who wrote 'Imagined Communities,' dies. Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved from

Helen Ditouras is Co-Chair of the International Institute and an Associate Professor of English at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan.
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Title Annotation:At Issue
Author:Ditouras, Helen
Publication:Community College Enterprise
Article Type:Essay
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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