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Trickle-Up Internationalization: a.k.a How I Hope to Lose My Job

By Robin Matross Helms | Published: June 16, 2016

Twenty years from now I hope to be out of a job.

Don't get me wrong – I love what I do. I work for the American Council on Education's Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE). As our title suggests, CIGE focuses on the “internationalization” of U.S. higher education, as well as how U.S. colleges and universities engage and collaborate with the rest of the world. I contribute to the design and delivery of CIGE programs that facilitate institutional internationalization such as the Internationalization Laboratory, conduct research on policy and related issues, and gather and disseminate “good practices” in these areas.

ACE's Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement works with colleges and universities to bring a global dimension to teaching and learning.

ACE's center for Internationalization and Global Engagement works with colleges and universities to bring a global dimension to teaching and learning.



According to our definition, “internationalization” is a “coordinated process that seeks to align and integrate policies, programs, and initiatives to position colleges and universities as more globally oriented and internationally connected institutions.”  My colleague at ACE, Barbara Hill, has set forth this definition as well: “Globalization is the movement of people, ideas, goods, capital, services, pollution, and diseases across borders – internationalization is higher education's engagement with that reality.”

While many colleges and universities have recognized the need to internationalize, doing so is rarely an easy task. In an era of budget constraints, increasing expectations for accountability, and ever-growing demands on faculty, marshaling the resources to infuse international perspectives into teaching and learning can be hard. At CIGE we have seen tremendous progress among the institutions that participate in our internationalization programs.  But often it's a long road with challenges and frustrations along the way.

What if the starting point were moved up? What if the task of preparing college students for success in a globalized world were easier because students were arriving on campus with many of the skills they need? 

This is where programs like Concordia Language Villages (CLV) come in. 

My nine-year-old daughter Helena is going to CLV for the first time this year. When I think about what I want Helena to accomplish during her week at Waldsee, the German Language Village, what comes to mind are the same skills and knowledge CIGE is working with higher education institutions to infuse into their curricula. At a nine-year-old level, these may take the form of excitement about discovering other cultures, openness to new foods and traditions, basic language skills, and a willingness to take risks in speaking a new language.  I have no doubt that she'll come home from Waldsee with all of this and more. 

Villagers at Waldsee
Young villagers at Waldsee are introduced to the German language and culture in fun and engaging ways. 

Imagine if all nine-year-olds developed these skills. Instead of starting from scratch with global learning when they get to college, they would be ready to build upon and hone their abilities. If global perspectives were already woven into their knowledge base, they would expect to find these perspectives throughout their college courses as well. 

And the really exciting thing is that colleges and universities would have to adapt. Internationalization would happen from the “bottom up” based on student expectations and demand, rather than “top down” as an administrative initiative. 

We need more programs like CLV that reach a lot more students. Curriculum internationalization at the elementary and secondary levels is a great place to start. Members of the CLV community are well positioned to advocate for and participate in these efforts. They can volunteer to speak about their international experiences in local classrooms, promote CLV's programs, and serve as champions of foreign language learning. They can make sure that their kids share their international experiences and global learning with friends and classmates, helping extend the reach and impact of CLV's work.

Students at Concordia Language Villages start early in building the skills they need for a globalized world.
Students at Concordia Language Villages start early in building the skills they need for a globalized world.

It may take a while for all of this to “trickle up” to higher education, but I'm confident that it's possible.  I'm looking forward to the day when I am out of a job, but for now, I'll revel in my CLV parenthood, and will keep working hard to make sure that colleges and universities are ready for our globally-minded villagers when they arrive on campus.

About the Author

Robin Matross Helms is a former villager at Lac du Bois (French Language Village) and El Lago del Bosque (Spanish Language Village) and staff member at Mori no Ike (Japanese Language Village), Sēn Lín Hú (Chinese Language Village) and El Lago del Bosque. She is now a villager parent with a daughter attending Waldsee (German Language Village). She has worked in the international education field for nearly 20 years, for organizations such as the Institute of International Education and CET Academic programs, as well as the University of Minnesota. Currently, Robin is director of the American Council on Education's Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement. She and her family live in Arlington, Va. She can be reached at

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