By: Jamie Leigh Broten
Students from around the world gathered to discuss the topic of education at the Global Panel event hosted by Whatcom Community College in the Heiner Theater on May 1, with around 100 community members in attendance.
Iris Anthony, Whatcom’s international housing coordinator and advising assistant, helped host the event.
“Education is always relevant,” said Anthony. “It gives an opportunity to look at different [educational] systems and have a conversation about it.”
The event was a combined collaboration of the International Programs, World Languages Program, and The
Programming and Diversity Board at Whatcom.
The panel was composed of eight students from Brazil, India, China, and the United States, with two students from each country.
Students had the opportunity to answer questions about the current state of education in their respective countries. This is the fourth successive year that a Global Panel event has been hosted, each year with a different topic such as governments and politics in foreign countries.
“The intention behind this event is to get people thinking in new ways,” said International Student Advisor Beth Robinson, who helps host the Global Panel event every year. “I hope that it opened people to different ways of seeing [education around the world] and the chance to think critically about education.”
Giving international students an opportunity to share their experiences with the Whatcom community was a major goal of the event.
“One of the opportunities of working with international students in higher education is engaging in the exchange of ideas and viewpoints,” Robinson said. “We have a vibrant community of international students on this campus and it is important to me to give students the chance to share their stories and the opportunity for Americans to hear their stories.”
International student Paulo Panazzolo, 22, said he was pleased to be on the panel to give insight on the state of education in Brazil, where he is from.
“Even though Brazil has become an economic world power, most people do not see the issues that Brazilians are dealing with. They just see Brazil as an ‘economic world power.’ Period,” he said. “Education in Brazil is facing serious issues. The infrastructure is bad and the teachers are badly paid.”
The event also featured a short film, “Two Million Minutes.” The film is named after the amount of time that an average student spends in high school and depicts how students in countries such as China and India have a strong focus mainly on academics, compared to education in the U.S. which emphasizes a mixture of social aspects and sports as well.
“It’s important to critically examine education in other countries and learn from their approaches,” said Anthony. “How people are educated says a lot about what we value.”
Many students in the film from the international countries had their parents choose their future career paths for them; this was not the case for the students on the panel.
Malu Marie Jacob from Brazil said, “I would like to compare our system of education to the U.S. that we are not forced to choose [a certain career path].”
Ashvi Johnson of India said that while her parents never forced her on a career path, she would still seek their approval because it is culturally appropriate.
Students also gave insight on other differences from the culture in the United States compared to their home countries.
“We spend more time in class than Americans…more time in class than assignments outside of class,” said Jacob.
Veipune Sarah from India also touched on the issue of gender, saying that in her country education is very expensive. Parents look at education as an investment, and most do not want to spend money on girls, she said.
“Sending girls to school is like giving away their wealth,” Sarah said.
In many countries such as Brazil, public education is free, yet there are other obstacles. “It is difficult to get in,” Panazzollo said. “You have to study.”
With around 260 international students attending Whatcom, Anthony said the college offers a lot of personalized student support by giving international students “one-on-one attention.””
Each of the students from India and Brazil are a part of the Northwest Community College Initiative program (NWCCI), which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. The program hosts international “young leaders” from around the world.
Community colleges participating in the area are Whatcom, Pierce, and Edmonds Community Colleges. Together, they have hosted 225 students, according to the NWCCI website. Housing, tuition and all benefits for students sponsored by the NWCCI are covered by the program so they have a greater opportunity to experience the U.S. culture and to focus on academics, Anthony said.
“The [NWCCI] students gain professional technical skills in their field of study, and improve their English language skills through their academic programs,” said Anthony. “But, more importantly they develop cross-cultural communication skills and become more compassionate and open-minded individuals. They are truly citizens of the world.”