10/10/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Connecting With the World

As I walked across campus the other day, I met three students from China. They are among 32 Chinese students who are studying at Nazareth this year as a result of partnerships with schools in China. They were excited about their classes and deeply appreciated the opportunity to live and study in the U.S.

The brief encounter again reminded me of the importance of international experiences for students from abroad and for our domestic students as well. One of the critical challenges for higher education-especially those committed to a liberal arts education-is to ensure that our students have the skills and understanding to live and work in what one author calls the "conscious presence of difference." The world may not be any more diverse than when I went to school decades ago, but technology makes that diversity much more apparent and very much part of our daily lives. Because of the growing interconnectedness of the world, it is more important than ever that we expose students to different cultures.

It is interesting to note that both parents and employers recognize the need to prepare students to engage with people who are different from them. A few years ago, Eduventures conducted a national survey of parents and found that 72 percent identified the ability to "communicate with different people" as an "absolutely essential" outcome of a college education. In a recent survey, 96 percent of employers stated that it is important that job candidates are comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. A number of years ago, in upholding the University of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policy, the Supreme Court found that the benefits derived from student body diversity "are not theoretical but real, as major businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse cultures, ideas, and viewpoints."

Recognizing the importance of cross cultural experiences, Nazareth College has greatly expanded the number of our students and faculty traveling to other countries. We now have partnerships with more than 30 institutions around the world.

At the same time, we increased the number of international students who study here at Nazareth. This past summer we had 123 students from 19 countries attend our American Language Institute. During the current semester, we have students from 32 countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Butane, Zambia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey, to name a few.

Jonathan Sacks wrote, "Difference has not become part of the texture of daily life. At work, in the street and on the television screen, we are regularly confronted with people whose faith, culture, accent, skin colour, and customs are unlike ours. That can be an enriching experience or a threatening one."

We in higher education have an obligation to ensure that our students see strength in these differences and leave us with the ability to live and work meaningfully with people who are different from themselves. Our international experiences create opportunities to attain that goal.