Hospitality in Academia: Perspectives and Experiences of International faculty
Higher education is characterized by the increasing presence of international faculty and students. At the same time, universities are focusing more on educating interculturally competent citizens and preparing graduates for careers in a globalized world. While international students and the effects of student diversity have received considerable attention from researchers, with the teaching and learning challenges being among the main areas in focus, the experiences, contributions and needs of international teaching faculty are under-explored. The need to further research their impact and experiences, including the extent to which they contribute to the transformation of the educational environment, appears timely.
The presentation will draw on contemporary articulations of cosmopolitan discourse with its close ties to the theory of hospitality, on which the argument for a better understanding of the experiences of international teaching faculty is founded. Today’s political and socio-cultural discourse of cosmopolitanism requires that we understand the world as inherently interconnected, multidimensional and hybrid, and that we question our traditional understanding of belonging. It is paralleled by the relatively recent discussion of the role of cosmopolitanism in the field of higher education research, which underlines the importance of creating and supporting inclusive teaching and learning communities, emphasizing critical thinking, contextualization, and dialogue. Cosmopolitanism points toward the need to engage more deeply with how we conceptualize and practice teaching and learning in the global context. Furthermore, cosmopolitanism underscores the importance of focusing on whether international faculty are included in the professional communities, on the opportunities for reciprocal learning among international and home faculty, and on international faculty’s impact on student learning.
The presenters’ intention will be to draw from cross-contextual, cross-cultural, and cross-disciplinary experiences in order to:
a) Address the gap in our knowledge about the international faculty experiences in US and European higher education; and
B) Understand whether, and to what extent, these communities are or can be characterized as hospitable or inclusive communities of practice from the perspectives of international faculty.
These are some of the specific questions that the presenters will address, focusing on faculty, institutional and societal perspectives:
How do international faculty members experience and perceive the educational environment at their respective institutions? What challenges and opportunities do they identify in relation to teaching in international contexts?
(How) are the experiences and potential of the international faculty to contribute to the internationalization agenda of higher education taken into account in their respective institutions?
What are some of the social, disciplinary, departmental, and institutional policies, programs and support systems that (could) genuinely value the diversity that the international faculty bring to campuses?
With the growing emphasis in the US universities of becoming ‘global’ and ‘diverse,’ what role do the international faculty have in creating, adopting and promoting institutional and cultural narratives?
How does academia, arguably the most progressive segment of our society, advance or react to today’s cosmopolitan ethics and rearticulate our traditional understanding of the rules and practice of hospitality? Is it (or can it be) a space that could be viewed as a model for our society’s transformative appreciation of inclusiveness and diversity? And, what role can we, those who inquire into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, play in this process?
The presenters will report on the results of interviews conducted with eight international faculty with teaching responsibilities employed at the presenters’ home institutions: Elon University in North Carolina (US) and Aarhus University in Denmark. Elon University is a small liberal arts institution with particular emphasis on education, specifically engaged learning and the development of students that are global citizens engaged with the world and capable of working in international environments. Although it strives to achieve more diversity, Elon’s student body is predominantly white, middle to upper class, and American. The four teaching Faculty members who participated in interviews come from the department of World Languages and Cultures and identify as international (foreign-born). Aarhus University is a major northern European research and teaching-intensive university with a strategic goal of fully internationalizing its research and teaching, including developing students intercultural competence for the benefit of all. Currently, about 25 percent of its faculty members are foreign-born nationals, and the student body consists of about 10 percent international students. The four international teaching faculty members who participated in interviews come from the Faculty of Arts and were chosen due to their relatively recent transition into the university teaching environment in Denmark (under six years of employment).
The interviews conducted as part of the study were predominantly oral, semi-structured, and audio recorded, lasting between one and one-and-a-half hours; although some chose to answer the interview questions in writing. Faculty members gave free and informed consent to participate in the interviews and were assured anonymity, in the US following the IRB (Institutional Review Board) requirements of the institution.
The researchers used an inductive approach to analyze the qualitative data in order to summarize the findings, find major trends in and links between the interviews, and to establish clear connections between our research questions and focus and interview results. In addition, the interviews have been analyzed from the perspectives of hospitality theory and critical cosmopolitan theory within the framework of higher education.
The presentation is part of an international research project that we are pursuing on the topic. By increasing and improving our knowledge of international academics’ experiences, values and beliefs and their impact on local and international teaching communities, we aim to point towards ways in which institutions will be better able to address the needs of international faculty and improve the international communities of teaching practice. Increased knowledge about international faculty experiences can also contribute to improved academic and intercultural learning among both national/local and international academics and ultimately students. The results will arguably also be relevant with respect to the professional integration of local faculty as they are equally as diverse a cohort and may experience similar issues. This knowledge will, in turn, help inform universities’ policies and practices as they move towards transforming student learning outcomes through deeper engagement with difference.
One of the major goals of the study will be to examine if and propose that higher education institutions function as transformative spaces where our society’s views about inclusivity, diversity and interdependence are rearticulated and where a different form of hospitality is practiced.
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