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IV. Advancing Your International Perspective in Your Research

Nov 01, 2016 by Kathryn Kleypas

The first blog in this series cited examples of university mission statements. All of the examples emphasize the universities’ desires to bring an international perspective to their campuses. There are clear research benefits from such international perspectives and that is inherent in these mission statements. Countless disciplines in the humanities and social sciences require fluency in a second language in order to be able to read texts in their original languages or to conduct research on site. But it also may go deeper than that.

Cultural literacy adds tremendously to the quality of research. When I did my PhD in a department of Comparative Literature at a university in the US, there were students from the Middle East, Asia, South America, and Europe, as well as students such as myself who were born and raised in the US and had done some travel and study abroad. Each of these international students spoke and could read and write at an academic level in at least two other languages and some of them in four or five beyond English. They brought understandings to their reading of theoretical and literary texts, which were simply beyond me. The international students would often bring the original text to class and refer to it alongside the translation. They were able to read the literary texts in their original language far more often than the students raised in the US. It often went beyond linguistic skills though. There was a quality to the contributions that the international students made in the class discussions, a global perspective that added layers of depth to the texts and the concepts.

In the STEM fields the increasing numbers of international scholars in U.S. institutions in recent years has coincided with a period of great innovation. Their international perspectives have generated rich research environments, challenged prevailing research paradigms, and encouraged global collaborations.

While international students may feel insecure about their English speaking and writing skills, I would offer this advice: Don’t allow yourself to feel inadequate if your English skills are not native level. Your fluency in a language or languages other than English and your intimate understanding of a culture or cultures outside of the United States will enrich your research in ways that you might not even be able to imagine right now. Your presence in the classroom, in the lab, on the stage, and any other place you engage with people on your campus and in your discipline is immeasurably enriched by the global perspectives that you bring.

Discussion Questions

In what ways can an international/global perspective enrich scholarship in your discipline?

In what ways will your own research be enriched by embracing a global perspective?

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