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Community-building on an international scale

Community-building on an international scale

International students gather for a photo before a Queen's campus tour. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

In her role as head of Queen’s international portfolio, Kathy O’Brien gets to hear many stories from students, both Canadian and international, as well as faculty members, who tell her how their international experiences have shaped and changed their lives, or their research direction. The stories they share are tales of self-exploration and transformation.

“I remember, particularly, being in China and speaking to a student who had studied in the biology field program at Queen’s University Biology Station (QUBS),” says Ms. O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International).

“The program is not long, just a couple of weeks, but this woman told me how the experience had allowed her to expand her thinking and gain insight into herself, something she had not been able to experience prior to coming here. She said it made her a more confident person, and more curious about the world. I was really struck by the strong impact such a short international learning experience had on her. I also felt very privileged to hear such an intimate story and it made me think about the connection between all of us – despite the size of the world, we are all deeply connected.”

It’s this strong impact – the capacity for lifechanging experiences on a personal level and transformative intercultural collaboration on the research and academic levels – that drives international education at Queen’s, and is pushing it to new levels across the university’s faculties and programming, and at a central administrative level “The opportunities for intercultural learning have never been more widespread as they are today,” says Ms. O’Brien. “Students at Queen’s have a multitude of ways to shape their international experience – on campus in Kingston, at our study-abroad campus, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in the U.K., or with one of our trusted partners around the world. I encourage everyone to seek out new educational experiences, and ways to expand their intercultural awareness and learning.”

When Ms. O’Brien took on the international portfolio in late 2013, creating the first comprehensive plan to support the institution’s international goals was top of her list. Released in 2015, the Queen’s University Comprehensive International Plan (CUPIC) provides quantitative measures across four pillars – International Research Engagement, International Mobility, International Enrolment Management, and International at Home – to guide the university’s goals for the next several years.

The capacity for lifechanging experiences drives international education at Queen's.

“The international plan is helping the Queen’s community focus their international efforts and work towards shared goals. I frequently hear from the community about how much people appreciate having this plan and how it’s driving their decisionmaking,” she says. “Our international recruitment team and our international exchange coordinators in the faculties have done excellent work to increase our international student population on campus. Our deans, faculty members, and faculty international officers are developing new and creative academic programs in collaboration with our international partners, and encouraging our students to go abroad.”

As Principal Woolf notes in an introduction in the CUPIC, the plan is new, but the university’s deep international engagement is not. In fact, Ms. O’Brien says every day she learns about a new international research initiative, an international faculty member visit, or an international student experience.

“That’s one of the challenges – it is difficult to know the breadth and depth of the existing international collaborations and to recognize everyone who is contributing to the progress of our international plan. Another challenge is how to position Queen’s globally. Our education and research are exceptional but we need to determine what specific areas Queen’s wants to be known for internationally. There are choices to be made.”

Despite the challenges, the solid international foundation at Queen’s, the positive progress on performance indicators (as indicated in the first interim update on the QUPIC), and the momentum and enthusiasm around internationalization on campus point to a strong future.

“The community-building that is happening at Queen’s around internationalization is like nothing I have ever experienced in my 13 years at Queen’s,” says Ms. O’Brien. “The positive conversations and exchange of ideas, the inspiring stories, the support for each other trying to advance international education and research – it all makes me very proud.”


Read an expanded version of this interview with Kathy O’Brien.

To learn more about Queen’s international activities and the international plan, visit queensu.ca/international.

The November 2017 issue of the Review will feature stories of student exchange at Queen’s. If you had a transformational international experience while at Queen’s, either as an international student or as a Canadian student studying abroad, email us: review@queensu.ca.

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 4-2016]