Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: US Nationalism

aiea-2017-logo

I will be participating in a session, along with Ryan Buck, Texas State University, and Lee Lambert, Pima Community College (AZ) on US nationalism as an obstacle to the development of global citizenship at the 2017 AIEA (Association of International Education Administrators) annual conference, which takes places from 19-22 February in Washington, D.C.

Nationalism stands in the way of creating global citizens, but it is the subject few involved in international education in the United States want to speak about.  This session focuses on an essential yet neglected facet of international education, as it applies to both US American and international students: a mindset that transcends competencies and skill sets, how to overcome nationalism in pursuit of global citizenship.

Lee has been Chancellor of Pima Community College since July 1, 2013. Before coming to PCC, Lee was President of Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, WA. He also has served as Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs at Centralia College in Centralia, Wash., and as Special Assistant to the President for Civil Rights and Legal Affairs at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.

Ryan is Assistant Vice President for International Affairs at Texas State University.  Before joining Texas State University, he served as the Executive Director of International Student Affairs at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His portfolio included International Student and Scholar Services, International Education and Global Engagement (study abroad), international marketing and outreach, international admissions, the American Language Academy, and international partnerships, agreements and programs.

The 2017 AIEA Annual Conference focuses on the interplay between boundaries and connections in internationalization. International education leaders must negotiate boundaries due to cultural differences, wide-ranging institutional structures, divergent motivations and meanings, and distinct resource allocations – all of which vary from institution to institution, and nation to nation.

Boundaries create silos which, as Gillian Tett explains (in The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, 2015, Simon & Schuster), present both problems and possibilities for advancement. Silos can create blinders and tunnel vision, discourage progressive thinking, reinforce status hierarchies, and foster skill sets that are epistemologically static and difficult to expand.

On the other hand, utilizing and sometimes repositioning silos can be productive by encouraging strategic thinking and avoiding inward looking approaches and proprietary impasses. (Source:  AIEA website)

MAA

 

US nationalism – The elephant in the room

Nationalism stands in the way of creating global citizens, but it is the subject few involved in international education in the United States want to speak about.

Follow this link to read my latest article published by University World News, entitled US nationalism – The elephant in the room.  In a nutshell, it’s about nationalism, patriotism and the former as a barrier to the development of global citizens.  My perspective is probably one you’ve rarely, if ever, heard.

The responses to this article will likely fall into one of three categories:  1)  silence; 2) nationalists of various levels of commitment who go on the offensive; and 3) people who want to engage in a meaningful dialogue about this important issue.  It is the latter that I value and most look forward to.

MAA

UWN US Nationalism

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Well-Educated, Your Wealthy…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883

Courtesy of AlterNet
Courtesy of AlterNet

It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment.  My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo.  I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night.  (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)

I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled 9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies.  I highlighted point #3.  (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans.  If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)

3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015

No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.

A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus:  I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of.  At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list.  (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.

150 Million Adults Worldwide Would Migrate to the U.S. (April 2012)

Nearly 700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently (PDF)
U.S. tops desired destination countries  (Data collected between 2007 and 2009)

I agree – how the world sees the US does matter.  That’s a mixed bag, to say the least.  For example, the international community views the US as the greatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd.  US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is.  That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly.  But i digress – kind of.

Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.

The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.”  There are many different reasons and circumstances.  I list seven (7) below.  There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread.  My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.

1)  Misperception Trumps Reality.  You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.)  Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.

2)  International Students Who Emigrate.  As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens.  They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc.  Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.

The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.

3)  The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare  Every year, more than 100,000 foreigners go to the US to do menial work under the auspices of the H-2 visa program.  No streets paved with gold for many of these tired and poor people, just day after agonizing and gut-wrenching day of exploitation and abuse.

4)  The House Slave Syndrome.  “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.

How many recent immigrants fall into this category?  Let’s use Vietnam as an example.  If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country.  That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.

5)  Simple Logic.  Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country.  You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there.  (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.)   I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days.  (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997.  During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.)  The main reason?  So that his children could get a better education, which they have.  Future plans?  This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown.  Good deal all around, I’d say.

photodune-3821722-female-soldier-saluting-flag-m (dhs)6)  Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI).  Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name.  Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website:  The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.

Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil.  If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen.  Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically.  My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak.  (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military.  Got to feed the ravenous beast!)

7)  Give Me Your Wealthy.  Yes, the rich are different.  You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor.  Cost:  $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances.  This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home.  So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.

There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article.  (What did I overlook?  Point #8, anyone?)  Your thoughts?

MAA

P.S.:  Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.

A graphic illustration of the practical effects and outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is but one component.
A graphic illustration of the practical effects & outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is part and parcel.

Happy 5th Anniversary, An International Educator in Vietnam!

5YearsOver 500 posts and five (5) years of relative online freedom of speech after four (4) years of working for an employer that had a pre-approval policy for its employees’ outside writing and speaking activities.

Coincidentally (?), my first post on 16 November 2009 was about a book chapter I co-authored entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam,” which appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, edited by Darla Deardorff.  (The contributors to this book, including the editor, are some of most outstanding scholars and practitioners in the field of intercultural communication in the world.)

handbook of ic competenceThis chapter was mildly censored by my former employer, whose slogan, ironically, is Opening Minds to the World.  That process gave me additional insights into the control of information and knowledge by an organization with close US government ties in a country that pays lip service to the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of speech. Sadly, post 9/11 America is not your grandfather’s (or grandmother’s) America.

As a side note, I have continued to grapple with issues related to nationalism/patriotism and intercultural competence/global competence both here and offline.  They are what I call the elephant in the room of the international education profession in the US.  To ignore them, especially in the US context, is to ignore what is arguably the most daunting barrier to the development of global competence and citizenship.

I began writing An International Educator in Vietnam for myself  – writing as sharing, writing as advocacy, writing as therapy – but it has since become a resource for people who have an interest in international education in Vietnam, US-Vietnam educational exchange and/or Vietnam.  It has been a labor of love and, I believe, has lived up to its three “Is” subtitle.  Thanks, dear readers and followers, for your interest and your feedback.  Raise your glasses to another five years of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue!

MAA

Keynote Address: “Intercultural Competence as a Cornerstone of Innovation”

banner

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at the recent annual Conference of Business Innovation, organized by the FPT Leadership Institute.

First, a word about the parent company.  FPT, Vietnam’s leading technology company, was founded in 1988 as The Food Processing Technology Company.  Its first contract was  to provide computers for the Russian Academy of Sciences in partnership with Olivetti in 1989, which laid the groundwork for its IT department.  A year later, the company was renamed The Corporation for Financing and Promoting Technology and the rest, as they say, is history.  In addition to its dominant market position within Vietnam, FPT’s operations are global in scope, with clients or rep offices and companies in 16 foreign countries, including Laos, Cambodia, America, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Myanmar, France, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, United Kingdom, the Philippines, Kuwait, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Keynote Address

Since my topic was Intercultural Competence (IC) as a Cornerstone of Innovation (Mối giao thoa văn hóa là nền móng cho sự sáng tạo), I started off with some comments about innovation, which is a hot topic in Vietnam.  Just in the past week or so, I’ve seen media references such as “Vietnam Needs More Innovation:  Experts” and “Vietnam Needs to Foster Innovation to Sustain Growth, Report Says.”  I added that Vietnam needs innovation to foster sustainable development, which is more far important than growth in the long-term and for quality of life.  While there are many examples of innovation occurring in Vietnam, including at FPT, a copy and paste mentality is still prevalent, including in my industry.

conference graphic

During the remainder of my allotted time, i.e, one-hour, including 20 minutes for Q&A, which turned into a half hour, I briefly defined the concepts of innovation, culture, intercultural sensitivity (a mindset) and intercultural competence (a skill set), introduced the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), a framework that describes the different ways in which people can react to cultural differences organized into six “stages” of increasing sensitivity to difference, and offered an overview of a related tool that measures intercultural competence, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).  I also mentioned foreign language proficiency as an integral component of IC, discussed ways in which people can develop IC, referred to some recent research that proves overseas experience makes us more flexible, creative and complex thinkers, pointed out some ways in which the US and Vietnam differ within this context (i.e., to Vietnam’s credit and advantage) and shared some useful resources.

The US and Vietnam:  A Study in Cultural Contrast

handbook of ic competenceIn discussing the contrast between Vietnam and the US, I drew from a co-authored book chapter entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens – The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam” (with Dương Thị Hoàng Oanh), which was published in 2009 in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (Darla Deardorff, editor).  One of the points we make is that nationalism, which is predominant in the US, is a cognitive and affective barrier to developing intercultural competence and global citizenship.  In Vietnam, where national identity is rooted in patriotism, it is easier to create globally competent citizens.  In general, young people here are more open, interested and curious about the world beyond their country’s borders and are not burdened by a nationalist worldview, or ideology, which exalts one country above all.

A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team

A “bonus” was an overview of a case study about Sir Ernest Shackleton, a Anglo-Irish explorer, who participated in four expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century, of which he led three:  A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team.  The story is as much about leadership as it is about leading a multinational team.  While Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17 failed, he succeeded in that he and his entire team survived the tragedy. (Source:  “Intercultural Competence in Business:  Leading Global Projects,” Robert T. Moran, William E. Youngdahl, and Sarah V. Moran; The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, ed., Darla Deardorff).

pm-1 (maa)
Making a point. Photo: Hoàng Anh Tuấn

In Conclusion

Among the conclusions were:

  • IC gives you the ability to work successfully with clients around the world
  • IC can play a valuable role as a catalyst for innovation, including with multinational teams
  • IC can give you a competitive advantage in working with foreign clients and partners

Participants ask a number of excellent questions, including some of my impressions of Vietnam after living here for nearly 10 years, ways in which Capstone Vietnam been innovative, some related to IC, others not.  I was gratified to see so much interest in IC on the part of FPT.  It’s not surprising, given the company’s international operations and its focus on innovation.  Just as FPT has been a trailblazer as Vietnam’s leading ITC company, it’s exciting to think that perhaps it will be a trendsetter in this area as well.

Article in Vietnamese:  ‘Giao thoa văn hóa thúc đẩy sự sáng tạo’ (29.11.14)  If you don’t read Vietnamese, just use a service like Google Translate to get the gist.

MAA

idi-cultural-competence-continuum

When Nationalism and Militarism Become One

homepageNote:  This HuffPo blog post is not related to Vietnam, at least directly, but is directly related to the field of international education, especially in the U.S.

fatigues & flag1 (resized)This image, captured in a Macy’s Department Store, is a not-so-subtle appeal to American consumers’ national pride (read nationalism) and respect for the military in a nation in which mindless mantras such as “Celebrate the USA,” “United We Stand,” and “We’re Number One!” are commonplace.  (Celebrate what, exactly?  “United We Stand” against what, whom, and why?  “We’re Number One!,” in what respects?, one is tempted to ask.)  Perhaps nowhere in the world are national symbols — the flag, its colors and the bald eagle — more ubiquitous.  The fawning over the military, the widespread use of the flag and various nationalistic rituals have catapulted the U.S. into a league of its own, especially in recent years.

Follow this link to read the rest.

MAA

US Nationalism

As the 4th of July approaches, I thought it would be a fitting time to share something I’ve noticed in my statistics:  US nationalism frequently ranks among the top ten search engine terms that lead many people to my blog.  By entering this term in Google, Yahoo or wherever, they’re obviously interested in learning more about the topic.   They’re also on to  something.   

If you were to ask US Americans if they are nationalistic, most would give you a quizzical look, say “No” and perhaps add a reference about love of country.  The reality is quite different based on survey research, anecdotal evidence and government (e.g., foreign) policy.  If there were global rankings based on nationalism, the US would surely rank among the top five.

Since An International Educator in Vietnam focuses mainly on issues related to US-Vietnam educational exchange, it’s not exactly a treasure trove of information about US nationalism.  I do have a mid-March 2012 post entitled Talking Nationalism, Patriotism and Global Citizenship with US Students in Vietnam that scratches the surfaces.  In it I discuss the key differences between patriotism and nationalism, and the resulting implications for the development of global competence and citizenship. 

According to a standard dictionary definition, the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is clear. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country.”  This is generally thought of as a benign, sentimental, and inward-looking form of national pride. As such, it does not exclude an openness to and even embrace of other cultures, their values, and the concerns and needs of their members.

In a 2003 essay titled A Kinder, Gentler Patriotism, the late U.S. historian Howard Zinn speaks of the need to redefine patriotism and notes that “if national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade—we call it globalization—should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity? Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.” Patriotism, as defined above, does not preclude the globalization of compassion and generosity.

In contrast, nationalism is described as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.  It is the second italicized part that distinguishes nationalism from its less strident and bellicose cousin, patriotism. Exaltation of one nation over another automatically assumes a degree of cultural superiority, a lack of openness and objectivity, and the assumption that “others” wish to be like us and, by extension, the desire to mold them in our image (i.e., missionary nationalism). 

By the way, if you’re interested in seeing what a political manifestation of US nationalism looks like in its purest form, check out the website of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world…  (PNAC offers up a blueprint of the neoconversative vision of the world that resulted in the  US invasion and occupation of Iraq.) 

Send me an email, if you’re interested in having a dialogue about this important issue.  I’d also be happy to send you an English or Vietnamese PDF of a related book chapter I co-authored entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam” (with Duong Thi Hoanh Oanh), which appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (2009). 

Happy 236th Birthday, America, a mortal nation among nations (with thanks to Anatole Lieven)!

MAA