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Three Challenges to Consider When Internationalizing Your Campus

The EvoLLLution | Three Challenges to Consider When Internationalizing Your Campus
Internationalization is more than creating study abroad opportunities for students; it’s about bringing the world to the campus.

Last week, as our small bus drove through the 1,000 hills of Rwanda, it struck me how fortunate I was to be part of the ever-growing emphasis upon internationalizing higher education. As we surveyed the land and the people, we watched before our eyes an incredible story of perseverance as the Rwandan people lived their daily lives with what appeared to be satisfaction and quality of life. It is an incredible 21-year-old story and I consider myself fortunate to have learned about this small country who has learned to independently excel in a global world.

And yet that is what internationalization is all about, right? Viewing the world through the eyes of others, learning and respecting cultures other than your own, engaging with global citizens in addressing global realities and feeling an obligation in some way, to take action. And it was with this spirit that TCU embarked upon Discovering Global Citizenship (DGC), a $2.8-million plan to instill comprehensive internationalization on our campus. DGC was designed to bring the world to TCU and transform learning at TCU by infusing international perspectives throughout the institution. TCU’s approach is grounded in the philosophy that global citizenship is an individual choice and an institutional imperative. Six different initiatives have been added to the current global opportunities at TCU enabling students to approach sustained international and comparative experiences that will enable them to become citizens of the world.

For example, Virtual Voyage facilitates conversations through technology and interaction with countries such as Haiti, Rwanda, and countries in the Middle East. Global Innovators brings leaders from countries such as South Africa, Egypt and Haiti to TCU allowing extended face time between the innovator and students followed with a $25,000 grant to sustain a collaborative project. The TCU Global Academy is a transdisciplinary academic program that engages students, faculty and community leaders in addressing global issues such as sustainability, and is also funded through study abroad scholarships dedicated to students studying in underrepresented countries at TCU. Visiting Scholars brings grassroots leaders to campus to model for students how they can make a difference with global issues and is often complemented with local/global efforts to demonstrate the relationship between global and local communities.

The initiatives are enriching as supported by qualitative assessment and yet straightforward in terms of design, and are therefore replicable. The various initiatives may be customized to fit the culture and mission of an institution. For example, an institution can adapt Virtual Voyage to foster communication with their alumni working globally, sustain engagement with partners, and bring faculty research into the classroom through technology. Study abroad scholarships can be tailored to countries that are underrepresented at their home institution and local/global is designed to engage with one’s own international community without “going away.”

Recognized in 2015 by the IIE Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Campus, TCU continues to work towards ingraining internationalization into the very ethos of who we are as a member of the global community. In keeping true to the definition of comprehensive internationalization—“A commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education”[1]—TCU has committed to implementing a five-year plan consisting of six initiatives (we are in the third year) with full-scale comprehensive internationalization implemented by 2020.

When considering your approach to comprehensive internationalization, there are three challenges that stand out as important considerations for your institution:

  1. Understanding Comprehensive Internationalization

Like many U.S. institutions, TCU has long been involved in study abroad. In the past three years, the number of TCU students going abroad has increased by 38.2 percent. And yet, we knew that in order to be an authentic player in the international community we must do better. It was this search for a higher purpose that led us to investigate the meaning of comprehensive internationalization (CI). A critical, yet fundamental step is to educate your institution through campus-wide discussions as to the meaning of CI. Even today, we find it a challenge to make sure our internal and external campus community understands what is meant by CI. For most, the immediate association with CI is study abroad which is an important piece, but certainly not the thrust behind the movement.

For TCU’s purpose, Hudzik’s definition worked for our campus culture and not because it was a natural fit. To the contrary, “infus[ing] international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education” challenged us to change our campus culture. TCU held town halls to discuss the meaning of CI and explain why it is a critical step and central to our university mission. We ensured that we heard from every academic and co-curricular unit and TCU administration their views and understanding of CI. Comprehensive internationalization does not discriminate or create hierarchy between students, faculty, and staff. Authentic CI means that internationalization touches every member of your institutional community. While undergraduate education is the primary goal of Discovering Global Citizenship, it is only a first step in embedding CI into TCU’s campus. The full-scale comprehensive internationalization plan is called Purple Passport: Discovering Global Citizenship and includes measurable learning outcomes for all students, faculty and staff. While TCU is initially focused upon six initiatives to initiate change and CI, the full plan includes 11 initiatives which also provide international opportunities for faculty and staff so that international thinking is a way of life on our campus.

  1. Changing Campus Culture

Comprehensive Internationalization will require change. It is a new way of thinking, working and infusing international perspectives into the very core of an institution. In order to facilitate change, TCU took three steps. First, in order to change our campus culture to be more international, we knew we had to ask the tough question—what are we not doing? The answer to this question was the most impactful impetus for change. We learned that while over 30 percent of TCU students study abroad, we did not know of all the types of international experiences, if any, that existed for the other 70 percent of the student population. TCU knew the paradigm must immediately shift in order to graduate globally minded students prepared to address the global realities that they will unquestionably face. We also determined that it will require international perspectives for all faculty and staff to come together in preparing our students for the immediate future. It was this fundamental yet critical finding that led us to design Discovering Global Citizenship around the central theme—bringing the world to TCU. We achieve this through initiatives such as Global Innovators, Visiting Scholar, Global Academy and Virtual Voyage. This way, every member of TCU’s community is at least exposed to international perspectives and it reinforces that CI is not about study abroad—it is also about international collaboration on your home campus.

Secondly, we determined that all of us had to understand that CI is not about our own units. Integrating campus-wide internationalization is not just about study abroad, international students coming to TCU or international exchanges. We all agreed to take any hidden agendas off the table. We made a commitment that we were all behind CI and existing structures had to be minimized to allow for meaningful collaboration between units. This step fostered teamwork, deep respect for each others’ work and perspectives, and dialogues on internationalization that otherwise would not have happened.

Third, we determined if indeed we were going to change the campus culture through CI, we were going to have to go outside of TCU to seek assistance. We hired a team-building and strategic expert to train the CI implementation team, commissioned an external marketing and communication company to tell our story in a new way that exemplified to our community TCU was about to change, and professionally produced a video that was distributed via social media that explained our institution was committed to comprehensive internationalization.

  1. Embracing Fluidity and Nimbleness While Staying the Course

There are so many different ways for an institution to approach comprehensive internationalization that often it is a challenge to be tempted by the work of other institutions. This can result in fragmentation and lack of a cohesive plan for implementation that is best for your institutional goals. At the early stages of planning for CI, we often had to regroup our thinking and focus upon being true to the definition of CI, and staying the course in terms of our plan. Defining the 11 initiatives of the full-scale plan was intensive and took several months to flesh out. Honing in on the first six to implement was even more challenging. We constantly reminded ourselves of our goal and purpose so that we could stay on course for implementation.

However, once the path begins, an institution must be nimble and fluid enough that new ideas and unexpected outcomes are embraced. You will most likely find with the implementation of CI connections between initiatives will naturally emerge building even stronger support for CI as well as cross-disciplinary work. And as we hoped, once the momentum takes root and new courses of action sprout, the journey to comprehensive internationalization is one of the most rewarding and pivotal experiences in higher education.

This article focuses upon three main challenges when internationalizing a campus—being true to the definition of comprehensive internationalization, stepping outside of your campus culture to define your strategies, and embracing unexpected ideas and outcomes. Financial commitment is also very important and deserves a few comments. Discovering Global Citizenship is TCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for SACS accreditation. This accreditation requirement therefore was going to receive university funding. To determine the amount that was needed we worked directly with financial officers in equating our goals to money. Three to five years of speeches by our chancellor, TCU’s strategic plan and “cardinal principles” and our Board of Trustees’ priorities were analyzed so we could demonstrate the number of times internationalization was presented as a goal at TCU, thereby equating priorities to costs. And although the TCU financial team has demonstrated long-term commitment, we also know that we must pursue external funding through foundations and grants in order to sustain and expand our work beyond 2020.


Just last evening I was having espresso with my colleague and we were reflecting on last week’s experience in Rwanda. The conversation was all about this fact. If it wasn’t for comprehensive internationalization at TCU we would have never had meaningful international conversations and collaborations, which are now a natural and integral part of our work. When we began the CI journey in fall 2013 we believed we would create change. However, we didn’t realize all of the unexpected outcomes that have emerged. We traveled to Rwanda to learn more about a country that has sent 10 students to TCU. We didn’t predict that we would be meeting a student who just finished high school at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda and will be at TCU this fall. We didn’t realize that my colleague’s international film series would lead us to bringing to TCU’s campus the three UN attorneys (representing four Rwandan women) who won the case of declaring rape a convictable war crime nor did we know that Rwanda would hold its annual youth conference of over 800 Rwandans in the U.S. on our campus. Haiti is another example where unpredicted outcomes emerged including a TCU economist working with Haitian Secretary of State, Integration of People with Disabilities on a microfinance project. We simply had no idea that these kinds of new connections and outcomes would evolve.

It is these kinds of unexpected events that will emerge if CI is working on your campus and your community—faculty, staff, and students are taking ownership. It is an amazing journey.

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[1] John K. Hudzik. “Comprehensive internationalization: From concept to action.” NAFSA Association of International Educators, Washington, D.C. (2011).

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