For most of us, when we think of the ‘international’, we think of somewhere other to home. Perhaps, more than home, something we utilise to break from our reality, a privilege we are unable to undertake during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of us have found ourselves dreaming of being able to pack a suitcase, take a flight and explore. However, the longer we have not been able to do this, the longer I have been wondering; is being ‘international’ about more than just going to places?
In fact, when googling the dictionary definition of international, I found it can be summarised as ‘existing, occurring, or carried between nations.’ On a more widespread level this can be for the likes of trade, aid, conflict, organisations or even ideology. But on a personal level, the international is typically tied to travel. The ability to be someone ‘existing, occurring or carried between nations.’ Physically, experiencing a variety of cultures as opposed to solely our own.
When we break down the cultural elements that make our international experiences so magical, our minds divert to scenes of ourselves immersed in foods, histories or languages. With the tools of the 21st Century, laden with technology, we can break this down even more, to realise that such things can be experienced without taking a flight and physically moving from one piece of land to another. That due to technology, we have the means to explore culture without having to physically be somewhere else.
When the international is imagined this way, it becomes something that is no longer so heavily reliant on physical location and instead, possible to experience from home. Say, you dream of visiting China, what’s stopping you immersing yourself in the culture? Watch documentaries on Chinese history, download Duolingo and learn a little Mandarin or Cantonese, listen to some C-Pop or maybe watch a Chinese drama, attempt to make a hot pot with your housemates or family. Although these may not be completely authentic, they are all enriching activities which allow you to still have international experiences from home and, even more productively, have the potential to enrich your experiences once you are able to visit places. Bringing background knowledge, language and even developed interests with you to your destination.
Even here at the University of Kent, Kent Global Officers like myself are recognising the international is not just a location, organising global hangouts via zoom for students to celebrate cultural festivals, (available to all Kent students) as well as on our GOLD programme, sharing our own experiences with one another, attending workshops on topics such as cultural awareness, or focus groups encouraging the university to further embrace internationalisation. As Kent Global Officers during COVID-19 we are still managing to be international without a destination.
And so, I think the answer to my question is; yes, the international is about more than just going to places, so much so, the international is something which does not need a location in order to be justified, nor do you have to be someone who has travelled to be international. Being international is about engaging and understanding other cultures in its own right. A practice which can be cultivated from within your home, through learning and enjoying other cultures, gaining interest and respect for them, widening your own understanding of the world, or even widening the scope of medias, politics, and languages we surround ourselves with on our day to day. Perhaps, recognising this tells us that cultures are more than just destinations or escapes from reality that we so quickly rush to associate with travel and instead, a way of engaging with the world, a mindset which is present for more than just high days and holidays.
(to find out more about the University of Kent GOLD programme and its initiatives follow https://www.kent.ac.uk/global/engagement)