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A world of international opportunities

During International Education Week – Nov. 14-18 – the Gazette will feature several stories highlighting the activities and initiatives that are advancing Queen’s international priorities.

Queen's in the World

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).

Kathy O'Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International), speaks with PhD student Hasan Kettaneh during an International at Home event held at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in October. (Photo by Garrett Elliott)

“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 life-changing 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.

International @ Queen's
• Information on International Education Week activities Nov. 14-18 is available in the Gazette.
• More information on Queen’s international activities and the Comprehensive International Plan is available on the International website.

“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 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 (QUCIP) 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 international plan is helping the Queens’ community focus its 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 decision-making,” she says.

Highlights of the past year, and future goals

In the past year, the university has seen the number of undergraduate students participating in international exchange increase by nine per cent, while the number of international exchange students on Queen’s campus increased by 22 per cent. Several new international collaborative academic programs were initiated, including a dual-degree opportunity at the master’s level through Smith School of Business, with ESSEC Business School Paris-Singapore, a dual research degree in chemistry at the master’s level with the University of Stuttgart, Germany, and a “2 + 2” program, which will see undergraduate students from Beijing Normal University transfer to Queen’s for the final two years of their program in the field of biology.

“Our international recruitment team and our international exchange coordinators in the faculties have done excellent work to increase our international student population on campus,” says Ms. O’Brien. “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.”

"We want to seek more ways to engage and listen to our students about their international learning experiences – to inform our programs and services, and to build our international story."
—Kathy O'Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International)

Ms. O’Brien and her team will build on this momentum in the current academic year, placing emphasis on the need to keep increasing faculty and student mobility, to work collaboratively to highlight the BISC and its distinctive programming, and to find more ways to show the world how Queen’s international research collaborations are making a direct impact and contribution.

Over the past several years, Queen’s has focused on three regions to build partnerships and opportunities: China, the U.K., and the U.S. With progress being made in all those areas, Ms. O’Brien says there is now a strong desire for the university to broaden its scope and make efforts to find institutional collaborations with areas in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.

“We also want to seek more ways to engage and listen to our students about their international learning experiences – to inform our programs and services, and to build our international story,” she says.

International engagement and community-building

While the QUCIP is new, Queen’s international story – and its deep international engagement – is not, as noted by Principal Daniel Woolf in his introduction in the strategic planning document. 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 is 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 (noted in the QUCIP annual report, to be released in January 2017), and the momentum and enthusiasm around internationalization on campus, all 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 the university,” says Ms. O’Brien. “The positive conversations and exchange of ideas, the inspiring stories, the support advancing international education and research – it all makes me very proud.”