International Education: A Personal Journey

November 10, 2011

In celebration of International Education Week (November 12-16), I am reminded of my own personal journey as an international student. It began when I was ten and the six weeks I spent one summer at the now defunct Stoke Brunswick School, in East Grinstead, England. With its original Tudor architecture dating back to the 14th century surrounded by lush green grounds, Stoke Brunswick served as a boarding school during the regular school year and a co-ed camp in the summer. This was my first time abroad and away from home and family. Home at the time was Tehran, Iran. I actually embraced leaving home for the summer and looked forward to spending it in a country that I’d learned about in school and from my own parents who too had studied abroad in England. It was at Stoke Brunswick where I met and made my first Scottish best friend Fiona Campbell whose mother served as our House Mistress. I met teenage boys and girls from Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, and Japan. We spent our mornings in classrooms led by university students teaching us conversational English and passed the afternoons sightseeing and visiting the country’s many castles, museums, and historic sites.

During my six weeks at the Stoke Brunswick, I had my first brush with such English culinary delights as sausage rolls, fish fingers, Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pie, baked beans on toast, bubbles and squeaks, and shepherd’s pie. I also learned to ride horses, play billiards (even winning a tournament and beating all the boys), sing Beatles tunes, perfected the art of letter writing (wrote letters home parsing out details of my adventures), and performed my first piano recital.

Returning to Iran, I was armed with an arsenal of worldly experiences and on learning that my school in Tehran had mysteriously closed, I urged my parents to enroll me in a boarding school in England. Though I was barely eleven, having proven my chops during my six-week sojourn at summer camp, my parents acquiesced and located Charters Towers School (CTS), an all-girls boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea, a sleepy seaside town in Sussex, England. For the next six years, I immersed myself in my studies, returning to Tehran during long holidays like Christmas, but mostly summers, and developed friendships with girls from the five continents. Our school was the quintessential melting pot of nations, so much so that each year on October 24th we celebrated United Nations Day where each person represented her country of origin by dressing in their national costume, preparing an ethnic dish (if possible) and even putting on a show (traditional dance, song, play, poetry). On any given year, we had more than thirty nationalities represented by the student population hailing from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Greece, U.S.A., the Netherlands, Belgium, Iran, India, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Jamaica, Sweden, Jordan, just to name a few. Through this rich exposure to different cultural backgrounds and traditions I learned to appreciate and respect our differences, be it language, religion, politics, or heritage. To see the world through this multi-cultural prism at an early age taught us to be curious, open-minded and tolerant. Here’s a wonderful link to a recent story on Miss McGarry, the legendary headmistress at CTS (who recently passed away) that captures the spirit of this cosmopolitan school:

Travel to countries which I’d never imagined possible was another benefit of being a student at CTS. When at thirteen I was invited to spend the Christmas Holidays with my English friend Anne Summers and her family in Nairobi, Kenya, I accepted in a heartbeat with the full backing of my parents. I was not going to let this rare opportunity slip me by. And it was while we were on a Safari that I had my ears pierced at a small clinic run by a proper English nurse, dressed in a crisp white nurse’s uniform. When she told me I was her first “patient” to have her ears pierced, I was unimpressed. But when she told me that prior to moving to Kenya, she had lived in Isfahan, Iran, I nearly fell off my chair. There in the middle of the African savannah was an English woman chatting with me in Farsi! Encounters such as this continue in my life to this day and I can only attribute them to having benefitted from the “international education” experience.

My journey as an international student brought me to the U.S. where I continued with my university education and earned the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and embarked on a career in international education, research and credential evaluation. As the founder of ACEI, I credit my career path in this field to my own personal experiences as an international student. I can now be of service to students and professionals from around the world who are interested in either studying or immigrating to the U.S. by helping them with the evaluation of their academic documents so that their educational achievements are duly recognized.

The list of international students who were educated in the U.S. and went on to positions of leadership is extensive. Here’s just a short list of world leaders educated in the U.S:

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia. Received a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore. Received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. Received an accounting degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico. Received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

For more famous individuals who attended U.S. universities, visit this link.

We can nurture international education by welcoming international students to our academic institutions. It’s a win-win situation. Not only will international students gain a better understanding of America but so will American students by sharing classrooms, dorm rooms and engaging in dialogue and participating in study groups and socializing. We can also continue our support of international education through our study abroad programs and encourage our college students to embark on a year overseas. Nothing is richer and more fulfilling than stepping out of our comfort zone.

Let’s celebrate International Education Week and the contributions of the international students to our society as well as ours to theirs, whether through food, music, art, literature, science and technology. I am who I am because of the rich and invaluable encounters and friendships I have had throughout the years with people who’ve touched my life in ways that words cannot express. I can, however, from the bottom of my heart say: Thank you!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
www.acei1.com

Photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “International Education: A Personal Journey

  1. Julie Vahdati

    I enjoyed reading your blog Jasmin… You brought back lovely memories of our years at CTS. Our experiences there did indeed have an enduring impact as we witnessed by listening to all the stories shared by the friends who we met up with at last year’s reunion. So many of our former schoolmates have gone on to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Keep up your good work in helping and encouraging others who are interested in undergoing similar life-changing experiences! Julie V.

  2. Thank you Julie. Those CTS, despite the bad food and dreary English weather, are some of my fondest childhood memories…and, of course, our friendship. Hope you’re well and please, if and when you’re in LA, don’t forget to give me a call so we can visit. Of course, I’ll do the same if I find myself in DC area.

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