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Speaker series highlights international students' experiences in classrooms around the globe

by Allie Pitcher / Apr 12, 2013

For the past seven months, a group of international graduate students from the College of Education has coordinated a program titled "Understanding Educational Diversity Around the World" to showcase education systems in various countries.

The program consists of weekly presentations by graduate students who speak on the education systems in their respective home countries—countries such as Palestine, Senegal, and the Philippines, to name a few.

The series is led by Nicole Lamers, visiting assistant professor in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership; Mauricio Pino and Xiuying “Sophy” Cai, both Ph.D. students in Global Studies in Education.

Last fall, Lamers was approached by Pino and Cai, who expressed interest in bringing awareness to and sharing the unique experiences that international students in the College bring to the University of Illinois. They especially saw an opportunity to share the similarities and differences of their home country educational systems.

“The idea for the project came from a meeting with people from Global Studies in Education,” Pino said. “I was with all of these people from all over the world and I realized that I didn't really know about their education systems.”

From there, Lamers, Pino, and Cai developed the idea of having presentations from each country to educate people in the College about education systems from all over the world.

“One of the goals of this project is to encourage understanding among differences, as a crucial starting point to learn more about ourselves and others… We thought that it would be really important for the international students in the Global Studies in Education program to share their own experience here,” Pino said. “We believed that this knowledge of the different cultures in the University would help further the future teachers here.”

Although there is a large population of international students at the University, Cai says that there aren't many opportunities for international students to share their perspectives and experiences about their home countries.

Cai said she understands the importance and impact of learning about the educational systems of another country as an educator, and that is what motivated her to get this series rolling.

“As a student leader at my international university in China, I worked with many international students. Working with them exposed me to experiences outside of China,” Cai said. “With this presentation, we are trying to help our students know more about one another and as a result, we believe that their teaching will have a culturally relevant path.”

For each presentation, Pino and Cai are in charge of coordinating the presentation and working with the presenter to ensure their speech emphasizes their own experiences in their international system of education. The two work with presenters like Elizer Jay Yague De Los Reyes, a graduate student in Global Studies in Education from the Philippines.

“I decided to join the project after I attended a presentation in the series and I realized how huge the impact of the presentation would be and how important it is for my county to be known by my fellow students,” De Los Reyes said.

De Los Reyes talked from personal experience about the changing education systems from his home country and disproved common misconceptions about education in third-world countries.

While the idea of the project was to target it toward College of Education undergrads, Lamers, Pino, and Cai hope that it will reach a wider audience and will have an impact on the campus as a whole.

“We hope that people outside the College will come and listen and make connections to what they are hearing, and to their own experiences too.” Pino said.