What does it mean to practice International Education?

Being married to an attorney (now retired after many years), I’ve had many conversations about the concept of “practicing” one’s profession. According to the American Bar Association, “the ‘practice of law’ is the application of legal principles and judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person that require the knowledge and skill of a person trained in the law” (ABA, n.d.). If we extrapolate this to the field of International Education (IE), our practice can be understood as the application of principles and judgements with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person, or program or institution or other body (i.e. government), that require the knowledge and skill and awareness of a person trained in IE. In other words, practice of our field is about understanding both foundational theory that includes research, issue explorations, policy statements, and more, as well as practices that reflect how they can be applied in various settings. Of course, the reality is more complex, but this basic conceptualization is of interest to me as I have spent years considering what it means to be an international educator and how to best share my understanding of the field with my graduate students, training participants, readers, and others.

On a parallel note, I recently came across advice by Brené Brown to “write what you don’t know” (Brown, Dare to Lead). In her exploration of the value of staying vulnerable even when charged with leadership responsibilities, Brown encourages writers to engage with the very topics about which they want to know more, as the process of preparing for writing will bring new knowledge and awareness. What a great way to embrace the notion of life-long learning, to publicly own one’s desire to continue to embrace the unknown! And, how utterly necessary for those of us who are educators, a term which, for me, includes both administrators and teachers, given that both work to facilitate learning. While today the term “life-long learning” may be more broadly used, the inference involves the same principle as Brown’s encouragement to write about what we don’t know, i.e., that we can constantly expand our knowledge, our awareness, our skills, as international educators, as writers, as teachers and administrators, as sojourners, as learners. Even if we have decades of experience, the moment we think we know everything is the moment we must revisit our assumptions and remind ourselves that things are always in flux, that our world is incredibly dynamic, and that if we default into stasis, we are bound to fail our students and participants, our colleagues and institutions, and ultimately, ourselves.

With this backdrop, I was honored to be asked by Bryan McAllister-Grande, founder and director of GlobalEd, to contribute periodic pieces to this new International Education resource. I’ve spent much of the past year considering my next writing projects and so, the timing was serendipitous, to say the least. (Lesson: Be careful what you ask for as the world is usually listening and often will deliver it!) By way of introduction, I am a professor of Global and International Education at SIT Graduate Institute. I’ve been involved with international education consistently since high school, volunteering and participating (to Bolivia!) with AFS International Programs, working with my undergraduate study abroad office and spending my junior year abroad (in Colombia!), and studying exchange program management for my master’s at SIT in the mid-1980s. Since then, I’ve worked in England, Chile, Mexico, Nepal, and the United States for various lengths of time, serving as a resident director for graduate study, program manager for programs both into and outside of the United States (my home base), and program administrator for U.S.-government funded training and exchange programs. I completed my doctorate in Cultural Studies, defined as “. . . the study of cultural processes under the conditions imposed by the global capitalist system” (GMU, 2022) and for me, leading to a study of my family history as immigrants finding their new home through President Roosevelt’s Planned Communities Program of the New Deal. Professionally, I spent 20 years managing various international exchange and training programs, and then 18 years teaching with SIT. My professional base is in Vermont and my personal base is in West Virginia, 500 miles and several cultures away :). I share all of this to be transparent about my background as of course, it has influenced how I work, how I understand the world, and how I identify in various ways. And while I’m doing more writing, speaking, and training in this part of my career, I continue to question how it all fits together, most recently via a women’s somatic leadership program (Guts & Grace Coaching & Mastermind Program), in which I’m (re?)learning the connections between my mind, physical presence, and emotions, and how to use that information for higher-level effectiveness, both personally and professionally. (More on that in a future column, as it relates to my upcoming research on women’s leadership in the field of International Education.) I am also thinking a lot about the balance between my professional and personal lives (see LinkedIn blog All of Me Includes My Work), the nexus between our physical and mental health, and even what might come in the future as I contemplate the later years of my career.

Looking forward, I plan to use this space to explore the practice of International Education at various levels and in various spheres. Future columns will revisit and update some of the themes introduced in Careers in International Education: A Guide for New Professionals (co-authored with Dr. Amir Reza and published by NAFSA, 2019), including crafting a professional identity, getting started in today’s COVID-influenced world, the variety of careers in the field, how to build one’s skillset, and planning for future study. I also look forward to exploring questions around leadership such as how women’s leadership differs from men’s (and how women’s leadership experiences differ from men’s), skills that are valued by leaders, and paths to leadership. (These are questions I am currently pondering with Dr. Anne D’Angelo, Assistant Dean, Carlson Global Institute, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, as we begin conceptualizing a project on the topic.) Other ideas include working through change, the impact of the “Great Resignation” on entry- and mid-level professionals in our field, lessons learned from recent interactions with corporate leadership, and musings in honor of International Education Week (November 14-18). My goal is for this column to be both practical and thought-provoking to those practicing in this amazing field. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas, questions, or thoughts at Sora.Friedman@sit.edu and together we’ll continue our practice.


References & Further Reading

American Bar Association. (n.d.) Model definition dictionary. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/task_force_model_definition_practice_law/model_definition_definition/.

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts. Vermilion.

Friedman, S. (2022). All of me includes my work. Accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/posts/sorafriedman_all-of-me-includes-my-work-activity-6941143859884150784-Fohy?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop.

Friedman, S. and A. Reza. (2019). Careers in international education: A guide for new professionals. NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

George Mason University (2022). About cultural studies. Accessed at https://culturalstudies.gmu.edu/about/about


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