The Use of Artificial Intelligence in Critical Internationalization Research

by Radomir Ray Mitic, University of North Dakota, United States;Takeshi Yanagiura, University of Tsukuba, Japan; and Yukikazu Hidaka, Independent Researcher, United States

As critical researchers of the internationalization of higher education, we often face epistemological and methodological challenges when attempting to explain large-scale phenomena and challenge entrenched systems of power. The recent trend towards quantitative methods with a critical lens and a rejection of positivist paradigms with a purpose of transforming higher education practice has opened the door to large-scale empirical studies with a focus on uprooting the status quo (Tabron & Thomas, 2023). In particular, we argue that a quantitative approach to addressing issues of racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity, among other socially constructed systems of oppression, is expanding its available tools to conduct empirical research.

The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) on the world scene has been foretold through works of science fiction for decades. Whether it is the benevolent android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the evil supercomputer Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, these examples demonstrate the ability of artificial intelligence to reflect the best and worst of humanity. Because the algorithms programmed into these devices originate in the human mind with our own biases, we should be prudent to be careful when applying them in real world or empirical research situations. One need not look far to see the dangers of facial recognition in policing to see how systems of oppressions can be reinforced through AI (Buolamwini et al., 2020). In this Critical Voices piece, we lay out the current usage of AI in social science research and suggest how best to conceptualize and execute critical internationalization research with AI tools.

Using AI in Social Science Research

Because of the focus of critical research on deconstructing the dominant relationships in human affairs, we consider critical quantitative work that utilizes AI within a similar framework proposed by Kincheloe and McLaren (1994). We argue that an AI-based critical approach also must employ a theoretical or conceptual framework that pushes the research towards a liberatory purpose. In addition, criticality must be infused throughout selecting the topic and phenomenon of interest, the empirical approach, and the interpretation. In essence, AI is a tool, and its value hinges on the ability of researchers to give it a clear and meaningful purpose.

Rather than simply describe an object of interest, AI can help us to interrogate the barriers to a more equitable educational system rather than be neutral arbiters. As the title of Howard Zinn’s autobiography (1994) You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train suggests, chasing objectivity is neither achievable nor preferred. Similarly, critical, transformative, and liberatory frameworks in social science research aim to change structures that oppress communities. As we move into a new era of research using AI tools, we heed the call of Rios-Aguilar (2014) to engage in methodological self-reflection.

Conceptualizing AI Use in Critical Internationalization Research

Much like critical research in general, critical internationalization has taken a more qualitative approach. But as we ask research questions about topics such as racial hierarchy and whiteness in different higher education systems and Westernized notions of knowledge production, we find opportunities to use large datasets to address these issues. Once a study is grounded in a critical framework and engages communities of practice, we offer the following methodological and ethical considerations and recommendations surrounding trust, validation, and teamwork to help prepare researchers who wish to conduct research using AI.

Trust and Validation

Trust remains a hallmark of not only research, but human-AI interactions. For example, artificial intelligence in the form of a photo recognition program acts as a tool and as a contributor to the work. While we do not engage in the debate of whether AI merits attribution in scholarly work, we must recognize that the line between passive tool and active part of the research process is blurred. But how do we trust what the AI finds? Much like current attempts to establish trustworthiness in qualitative research or validity and reliability in quantitative research, research using AI must consider trust of self and the tool.

Thus, validating AI results is important. In particular, AI algorithms are susceptible to bias and sometimes make discriminatory decisions for individuals who belong to a certain demographic group (Mehrabi et al., 2021). As AI technology continues to advance, the learning cost of AI-based methods is anticipated to decline, making them more accessible to a broader range of individuals with varying skills and expertise, just as the past development of statistical software has lowered the barrier to conduct quantitative research for many social scientists. While more innovative research could possibly come out in education, it is not hard to imagine that careless or irresponsible application of AI will also increase. It is the responsibility of researchers utilizing AI to not only report the results generated by AI, but also to ascertain that the results are not biased. Numerous validation methods have been established, and researchers utilizing AI should possess a basic knowledge of how to validate AI’s findings. Additionally, since validating AI outputs often requires both time and resources, researchers should opt for AI models that are transparent about known biases and take measures to address them too (e.g., Kärkkäinen & Joo, 2019; Ding et al., 2022).

But such steps at validation should not end with technical approaches. Much like our colleagues who engage in qualitative research, practicing reflexivity through critical self-reflection builds on the validity of any study (Kleinsasser, 2000). Examining our own backgrounds, biases, and how we contribute to the systems we are studying is essential to conceptualizing a study as well as interpreting results generated by AI. Common approaches include analytic memoing and peer debriefing to bridge the gap between our ethical obligations to our participants and the rigors of empirical research.


The importance of having a diverse team cannot be overstated, as collaboration is key to successful research projects. No single person is likely to possess all the necessary skills to carry out all tasks alone. For instance, an AI programmer may excel at running a facial recognition algorithm but may lack familiarity with international education contexts to generate pertinent questions. On the other hand, international education researchers might know which questions are crucial but not possess the technical expertise to utilize AI to address those questions. Moreover, these two individuals may struggle to communicate effectively due to their different views associated with their disciplines, necessitating a third person who understands both domains enough to facilitate the conversation and bridge the gap between their perspectives. A well-rounded team is vital for conducting innovative research that leverages AI in international education.

Use of Findings to Inform Practice and Policy

Ultimately, critical internationalization research must have an emphasis in praxis where the findings are used to transform our educational institutions and systems (Freire, 1970). Having a critically-oriented team that utilizes advanced AI methods to address uneven power structures in education around the world is one way we can leverage this emerging technology. AI-informed research is one tool among many in the methodological satchel and should be complementary rather than in competition with other critical approaches that generally use qualitative approaches. Policymakers at institutional and national levels can be influenced by quantitative data that are contextualized and relevant to issues facing their constituents.


Buolamwini, J., Ordóñez, V., Morgenstern, J., & Learned-Miller, E. (2020, May 29). Facial recognition technologies: A primer.

Ding, L., Yu, D., Xie, J., Guo, W., Hu, S., Liu, M., Kong, L., Dai, H., Bao, Y., & Jiang, B. (2022). Word embeddings via causal inference: Gender bias reducing and semantic information preserving. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 36(11), 11864-11872.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

Kärkkäinen, K., & Joo, J. (2021). Fairface: Face attribute dataset for balanced race, gender, and age for bias measurement and mitigation. In Proceedings of the IEEE/CVF Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision (pp. 1548-1558).

Kincheloe, J. L., & McLaren, P. L. (1994). Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In

N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 138–157). Sage Publications, Inc.

Kleinsasser, A.M. (2000). Researchers, reflexivity, and good data: Writing to unlearn. Theory into Practice, 39(3), 155-162.

Mehrabi, N., Morstatter, F., Saxena, N., Lerman, K., & Galstyan, A. (2021). A survey on bias and fairness in machine learning. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR), 54(6), 1-35.

Rios-Aguilar, C. (2014). The changing context of critical quantitative inquiry. New Directions for Institutional Research158, 95–107.

Tabron, L.A., & Thomas, A.K. (2023). Deeper than wordplay: A systematic review of critical quantitative approaches in education research (2007-2021). Review of Educational Research.
Zinn, H. (1994). You can’t be neutral on a moving train. Beacon Press.

About the Authors

Radomir Ray Mitic is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of North Dakota. Dr. Mitic’s program of research centers on the equitable outcomes of higher education at the local, national, and international levels. He holds a Ph.D. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from New York University.

Takeshi Yanagiura is an Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, specializing in the application of AI, machine learning, and causal inference methods to address challenges in higher education. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Yukikazu Hidaka has a Computer Science from the University of Southern California. He has been working as a Machine Learning Engineer in tech companies. His research interests include fair and robust applications to education, healthcare, trust, and safety domains.

New Book Tackles the Topic of Sustainability within the Field of Education Abroad

by Pii-Tuulia Nikula and Karen McBride

The edited volume, Sustainable Education Abroad: Striving for Change, was published by The Forum on Education Abroad in March 2023 (McBride & Nikula, 2023). It belongs to the Standards in Action book series which highlights some of the challenges the field of education abroad is facing and proposes practical actions for the field to reinvent itself for the future. All of the books in this series address critical but under-explored perspectives, such as those associated with decolonization, inclusiveness, and the perspectives of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) within the education abroad field (The Forum on Education Abroad, n.d.).

The fourth book in this series, Sustainable Education Abroad: Striving for Change, explores the intersection of education abroad and sustainability. Climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and other environmental issues need to be urgently addressed. For instance, the climate crisis is already causing and contributing to the loss of lives, livelihoods, and properties around the world, and we can expect the negative effects to become more destructive with the continued heating of the planet (IPCC, 2023). Nevertheless, the intersection of environmental problems and international education is still not a prominent topic, and something that is only rarely prioritized in international education design. 

This book, Sustainable Education Abroad: Striving for Change, features scholars and practitioners from around the globe that analyze these issues. The editors are hoping to convey both urgency and a sense of hope and opportunity. We are aware of the many challenges that the field is facing, including the practical realities which often make environmental sustainability a niche issue or a ‘nice-to-have’ perspective. However, we can all contribute to and drive the change towards a more sustainable education abroad sector. 

To our knowledge, this volume is the first of its kind on this critical topic. We see it as a way to accelerate the debate and help readers to lead change by providing insights into proven solutions.  The book has five sections: Sustainability in Curriculum; Sustainability and the Student Perspective; Sustainability in Administration; Sustainability and Program Design; and Travel and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Most of the chapters within these sections contribute to multiple themes, but the aforementioned section headings highlight the key aspects that the education abroad field should consider. The chapters deliver evidence-based analyses with clear practical applications and recommendations. Cultivating lasting change requires many actions. We need to be practical, but ambitious.

The book has its own limitations, and we invite others to continue the debate by offering new perspectives and issues not captured in this book.  Our hope is to see more advanced contributions towards sustainable education abroad in the years to come.

We believe that our book encourages education abroad providers to go beyond approaches that are more superficial to critically evaluate all aspects of their education abroad operations using an environmental sustainability lens. We would like readers to consider ways to lead change within their own institutional contexts, whether it be at private or public organizations, or through teaching, research or administration focused roles. 


The Forum on Education Abroad. (n.d.). Standards in Action Book Series.

IPCC (2022). Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. 

McBride, K. & Nikula, PT. (Eds.). (2023). Sustainable Education Abroad: Striving for Change. Carlisle, US: The Forum on Education Abroad. In Press.

About the Authors

Pii-Tuulia Nikula is a Principal Academic at Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand. Most of her research is focused on exploring sustainability issues within the field of international education. Pii-Tuulia is also one of the co-founders of CANIE (Climate Action Network for International Educators).

Karen McBride is a career international higher education professional with 18 years of experience cultivating international academic opportunities for American college students as well as visiting students and scholars from abroad to the U.S. She specializes in multi-faceted partnership development, education abroad programming and intercultural training. She is now focused on reconciling environmental sustainability, as well as issues around Climate Action and Climate Justice, with these endeavors, is the Past Chair of NAFSA’s Education Abroad Knowledge Community as well as a member of the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps.

Can a decolonizing university exist within the colonizing one?

by Marisa Lally, Boston College

I agree with la paperson’s (2017) provocation that “within the colonizing university also exists a decolonizing education.” la paperson offers the concept of a third university that, although it is created from the “scrap material” of the colonizing university, aims to decolonize and move toward Indigenous sovereignty. The author asserts that projects with decolonial desires “may be personal, even solitary; they may be small working groups of like-minded university workers, research centers, degree programs, departments, even colleges” (ch. A Third University Exists within the First). In this essay, I explore several contemporary scholars’ approaches to decolonizing higher education. Then, I provide several examples of what scholars consider to be decolonial practices or movements in higher education.

Conceptual Approaches to Decolonizing Higher Education

Tuck and Yang’s (2012) article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” prompted educators to reconsider their use of the word “decolonization.” They argue that educators had superficially adopted the term “decolonization” to describe other civil- and human-rights- based efforts within schools and societies without mentioning Indigenous peoples and their struggles for sovereignty. Rather than using the term decolonization to describe any and all tracks toward the liberation of oppressed peoples, Tuck and Yang (2012) assert that decolonizing must be “necessarily unsettling, especially across lines of solidarity” (p. 7). Furthermore, these scholars call attention to the concept of “settler moves to innocence” (p. 28), or, pursuing social justice to relieve feelings of guilt and divert from the idea of giving up land, power, and privilege.

Bhambra et al. (2018) complicate Tuck and Yang’s (2012) claim that decolonization is exclusively about the repatriation of Indigenous land by arguing that their perspective limits decolonization to be a project only legitimized in settler colonial contexts. In their 2018 book Decolonising the University, Bhambra et al. claim that colonialism should be understood as a global project beyond settler colonialism, inclusive of commercial imperialism and financialized neo-colonialism in contexts like South and Southeast Asia. They also assert that the Western university is a colonial institution because theories of racism were developed by colonial intellectuals and provided justifications for colonial domination. While they agree that the political project of decolonization must be active rather than metaphorical, these scholars extend their conceptualization of the goals of decolonization to include dismantling colonial and imperial logics within institutions of higher education around the world.

Mignolo and Walsh (2018) use Quijano’s (2000) foundational definition of coloniality to understand decolonization. Mignolo writes, “in my own decolonial conception, there is no proprietor or privileged master plan for decoloniality” (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018, p. 108). The idea that there are many approaches to decolonization further supports the argument that there is indeed a decolonizing education within the colonizing university since decolonizing efforts are not wholly agreed upon nor universal. Mignolo and Walsh (2018) describe the triad of concepts offered by Quijano of modernity/coloniality/decoloniality as an option to explore the question of decolonization because there is no need for decolonization without colonial logic nor the fictions offered by modernity. Coloniality refers to the systems of power that colonialism has purposefully created and maintained through knowledge production, labor, and culture, that manifest through constructions of race, gender, and class (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018; Quijano, 2000). The term coloniality demonstrates that modernity (a term that refers to the celebration of technological innovation and a certain “modern” way of thinking and governing society) does not exist without the coloniality of power and the systems of oppression that uphold power (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018). Therefore, in this triad, decolonization refers to an option for dismantling colonial logics and the fictions of modernity (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018). 

These scholars assert that many colonized nations have already endured the process of revolution and subsequent decolonization, yet colonial logics remain in their societies. Institutions of higher education around the world continue to privilege Eurocentric ways of knowing and often refuse to acknowledge the harm done to Indigenous and enslaved peoples under the guise of research and innovation (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018; Smith, 2012). Through this lens, Mignolo & Walsh (2018) advocate for “epistemic and emotional (and aesthetic) delinking” which describes the process of creating social formations that serve life rather than institutions. 

Decolonizing Education Within the Colonizing University

Student Movements: Rhodes Must Fall

The Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa began as an effort to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes on the University of Cape Town’s campus, a statue that had been erected more than 100 years prior (Ahmed, 2017). By focusing on the statue, students demanded that the university acknowledge the sterilized way that Rhodes’s historical role in the university and the nation were represented (Gebrial, 2018). Movements like Rhodes Must Fall are worthy projects because they are an effort to dismantle the modern fiction (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018) that the White European values of reason and objective knowledge are sole and privileged truths. Although the Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town was rooted in local history, the movement spread to universities throughout South Africa and to Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where students also called for the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue and an acknowledgement of the university’s role in colonialism (Ahmed, 2017; Gebrial, 2018). These movements often begin with a physical representation like a statue but gain momentum to demand some reforms such as curriculum reform and increased representation of Black students and faculty (Ahmed, 2017). 

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi

la paperson (2017) asserts that Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi “might be the clearest example of a decolonizing university formation” (ch. A Third University Exists Within the First) because of its explicitly decolonial aims. Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi is a university in Aoteroa (or New Zealand) that includes components of a Western or colonizing university (i.e., it collects fees from students, grants degrees, it is related to the nation-state through laws and funding) (la paperson, 2017), but also centers Māori knowledge in its educational programs (Smith, 2012). The Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi website describes a decolonial goal: “We take this journey of discover to reclaim our sovereignty, and to ensure that Māori intellectual tradition is seen as equal to the knowledge base of others” (Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, 2022). This effort is especially evident as a building for a research center housed by the university was repatriated and reopened in 2011, “after over a hundred years of alienation from the iwi1” (Smith, 2012, p. 131). The goal also aligns with Mignolo and Walsh’s (2018) conceptualization of decolonization as delinking from colonial logics that privilege Eurocentric ways of knowing over all others. 


Contemporary scholars of universities conceptualize the practices of a “decolonizing education” in multiple ways. The examples presented in this essay demonstrate that a decolonizing education is possible within the colonizing university, especially when considering solitary or small formations that consider local histories (la paperson, 2017; Mignolo & Walsh, 2018). Therefore, I agree with la paperson’s assertion that a decolonizing education can exist simultaneously if decolonization is considered both a process and a goal. 

1 Iwi is a Māori term that describes Māori people’s “geopolitical, inter-generational indigenous institutions and relationships that are connected to place, history and shared cultural protocols” (Smith, 2012, p. 131)


Ahmed, A.K. (2017). #RhodesMustFall: Decolonization, praxis and disruption. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 9, 8-13. 

Bhambra, G.K., Gebrial, D., & Nişancıoğlu, K. (2018). Introduction: Decolonising the
university? In G.K. Bhambra, D. Gebrail, & K. Nişancıoğlu (Eds.) Decolonising the University (pp. 1-18). Pluto Press. 

Gebrial, D. (2018). Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and movements for change. In G.K. Bhambra, D. Gebrial, & K. Nişancıoğlu (Eds.) Decolonising the University (pp. 19-36). Pluto Press.

la paperson. (2017). A Third University Is Possible. University of Minnesota Press.

Mignolo, W., & Walsh, C. E. (2018). On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Duke University Press.

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Neplantla: Views from South, 1(3), 533–580.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. (2022). Story of Awanuiārangi. Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. Retrieved from:

Tuck, E., & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40. 

About the Author

Marisa Lally is a doctoral student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development. Her research interests include national identity, educational diplomacy, and history of education.

Reflections on “Unsettling the University” and Its Call to Responsibility 

by Dr. Sharon Stein

Last month, my book Unsettling the University: Confronting the Colonial Foundations of US Higher Education was published by Johns Hopkins University Press. The book traces how US universities were built on and continue to reproduce settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy, in material and epistemic ways. The common rituals of a book release tend to center and celebrate the individual author, which is something that makes me extremely uncomfortable in general, but especially so in the case of a book like this. I recognize the tensions of writing about the persistence of racial and colonial violence as a white settler. When I name these things as a white person, I tend to get a very different response than my Black and Indigenous colleagues, who are often silenced, ignored, or punished when they do so. When I receive negative responses, not only are they generally less intense, but my systemic advantages also buffer me from the labour and exhaustion of facing this vitriol on a daily basis. In some cases, I even receive praise for being a “champion” of justice.

As Sara Ahmed (2012) observed, those who name the problem of racism are often treated as if they themselves are the problem – especially when those doing the naming are not white. Thus, as part of our colonial debt, white settlers have a responsibility to take on much more of the labour of identifying and interrupting harmful colonial patterns as they manifest in ourselves and in our institutions. When we don’t do this work, it falls on Black and Indigenous people who are already exhausted from fighting these battles for over 500 years. White people will also need to figure out how to do this work in ways that do not centre ourselves, nor attempt to speak on behalf of Black and Indigenous people, but instead attempt to amplify their concerns, interrupt ongoing harm, and enact repair and restitution for the harm we have already caused. 

With Unsettling the University, I have tried to write a book that invites white settlers like myself to face and accept responsibility for the fact that, as Nelba Marquez-Greene famously said, “White supremacy is not the elephant in the room, it is the room.” Only if we confront our colonial past and present will we have a fighting chance for shifting our course toward futures that are not premised on colonial harm. This is a lot to ask of a book, of course, and I do not mean to overstate its potential impact or suggest that I have succeeded in this intention. In fact, I know that failure is inevitable in this kind of work. Yet we cannot allow fear of failure to immobilize us. Instead, we must learn to see it as an opportunity for further learning and unlearning, following the principles of honesty, humility, and hyper-self-reflexivity. At the same time, we must be aware of and accountable to those who pay the costs of our learning.

Confronting the colonial foundations of US higher education

What I want to do for the remainder of this piece is clarify the invitation of the book, so that those who are looking for it–like I was as a graduate student–might find it. One book cannot do everything, and this book certainly does not pretend to be a definitive account of US higher education; it is as provincial as any other. What it does do is invite readers to consider that many of the most celebrated moments of higher education history were not only accompanied by but were actually enabled through racial, colonial, and ecological violence. Specifically, it focuses on three moments: 1) the founding of the original “colonial colleges,” 2) the Morrill Act of 1862 that founded “land grant” universities, and 3) the so-called “Golden Age” following WWII.

Despite its focus on the past, the book emphasizes that these violences are not just historical or mere “traces” of the past that will inevitably recede with time; they are stubborn and enduring, constantly shapeshifting into new formations in response to changing contexts and resistance to these violences. These violences continue to structure and subsidize everyday life in US higher education institutions. This is true even in an era of growing commitments to “equity, diversity, and inclusion” (EDI), especially given that EDI initiatives often mask the underlying continuity of inequity and oppression, a phenomenon known as “equity-washing.”

It’s important to note that while this book is grounded in decolonial critiques, it is not a book about “decolonizing” higher education. I do not know if it is possible to decolonize existing universities, which would require them to paradoxically “right the wrongs that brought them into being” (Belcourt, 2018). In any case, we are a long way away from this. White settlers continue to overestimate our preparedness to address racism and colonialism, and underestimate the magnitude and complexity of the work that needs to be done. We still haven’t learned to sit with the truth about our individual and institutional complicity in systemic, historical, and ongoing harm. We might listen, we might nod, and we might even take a few steps to address what we have heard. Ultimately, however, for many white people, there is a strong enduring investment in the continuity of colonial business-as-usual – specifically, an investment in the promises that we are entitled to moral and epistemic authority, to unrestricted autonomy, and to serve as arbiters of universal justice and common sense (Machado de Oliveira, 2021). In other words, white settlers maintain an indulgent and harmful fantasy that we can transcend colonialism without giving anything up (Jefferess, 2012).

Although the focus of the book is on higher education “at home,” the implications exceed national borders and have significant relevance for contemporary forms of internationalization. Indeed, white supremacy and coloniality are global phenomena (Shahjahan & Edwards, 2022), although they manifest differently depending on the particular context. True to their colonial roots, US universities are increasingly looking abroad for new sites of expansion, extraction, and exploitation. 

Recently, I learned that Vanderbilt University is collaborating with American University in Baghdad to create a US-style College of Education on the palace grounds of Saddam Hussein. In a press release, Vanderbilt stated, “Through the partnership with AUIB, Peabody College hopes to contribute to rebuilding the education system in Iraq. Conflicts and severe teacher and school shortages, compounded by the difficulties from COVID-19, have reduced the amount of time that Iraqi children spend in school to just four years by the time they reach age 18. Iraqi educators are in urgent need of training and support to promote student engagement, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and community building.” The layers of coloniality here are many–from the vague and euphemistic description of the US invasion and occupation and their long aftermath as “conflicts,” to the paternalistic imposition of US-style education in another nation being framed as a form of benevolent aid. 

This example illustrates that whiteness and coloniality continue to live and thrive in US higher education not only “at home”, but also in our operations abroad. And these local and global colonialisms are entangled. As Jodi Byrd (2011) has observed, “The continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands provides the United States the economic and material resources needed to cast its imperialist gaze globally” (p. 58).

Developing stamina for the long haul

By tracing the origins and endurance of racism, colonialism, and imperialism at US colleges and universities, the book also reminds people that things can always be otherwise. But this is not guaranteed, and it won’t be easy or painless to get there. Hence, apart from examining the past, the book also invites fellow white settlers in the university – students, staff, and faculty – to accept our responsibilities in the present, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. This is not the usual work of “fixing” things with simple, feel-good solutions; the layers of coloniality in higher education are entrenched, complex, and multi-layered and therefore, largely immune to these kinds of solutions. Rather, it is the life-long work of learning to identify and interrupt the violence of colonial domination within and around us, especially when this is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and challenges our benevolent self-images, and our investments in progress and the continuity of existing systems and privileges. 

For white settlers, just confronting the truth about our institutions and ourselves is difficult, and that is only the first, baby step in a lengthy, complex, non-linear process of repairing harm, including through restitution for stolen lives, lands, and livelihoods. Thus, we will need to develop stamina and endurance for the long-haul, while continuing to ask: What is the next, small, most responsible thing I can do in my own context to reduce harm?

The book also invites US colleges and universities themselves to go beyond the pattern of tokenistic apologies and conditional forms of inclusion toward deeper institutional commitments to material restitution and relational repair, including reparations for the descendants of peoples enslaved by universities (Garibay, Mathis, & West, 2022), the rematriation of the Indigenous lands that universities occupy (Ambo & Beardall, 2022), and appropriate forms of redress for imperial educational entanglements abroad (Chatterjee & Maira, 2014). Indeed, more critically engaged students, as well as social movements, are demanding this. However, because it is such a significant deviation from the habits and infrastructures in which we and our institutions currently operate, we cannot know in advance exactly what the work of reparation, rematriation, and redress might look like, and where it might lead. For this reason, the book cannot offer the certainty and solutions many people crave in this kind of work.  

Some people, especially white people, will weaponize this uncertainty as an excuse not to do the work at all. But for those who decide to read the book, I will close with one final invitation. As you read, try to notice your own intellectual and affective responses, in particular any thoughts or feelings of perceived entitlements that emerge, such as entitlements to comfort, certainty, control, security, and self-affirmation. Then consider: Where are these responses coming from? Where are these responses leading to? What possibilities are being foreclosed by these responses (and do I even know what these possibilities are)? What am I learning about myself, and the colonial habits of being I still need to unlearn, by observing these responses? 

Given the extent to which colonialism has colonized our imaginations, it may be that more responsible higher education futures are unimaginable from where we currently stand, and can only become possible once we have given up the search for universal answers and guaranteed outcomes. There are no guarantees with this approach, either. But I think we owe it to each other to try. 

You can read the introduction and Chapter 1 of the book for free here.

About the author

Sharon Stein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia, and a Visiting Professor with the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation at Nelson Mandela University. She is the founder of the CIS Network and a founding member of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Her latest work is focused on confronting colonialism in various fields of study and practice, and catalyzing critically-engaged approaches to climate education.

Works Cited

Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press.

Ambo, T., & Rocha Beardall, T. (2022). Performance or progress? The physical and rhetorical removal of Indigenous peoples in settler land acknowledgments at land-grab universities. American Educational Research Journal.

Belcourt, B. (2018). Material for worldbuilding. Articulation Magazine. Retrieved from:

Byrd, J. A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. University of Minnesota Press.

Chatterjee, P., & Maira, S. (Eds.). (2014). The imperial university: Academic repression and scholarly dissent. University of Minnesota Press.

Garibay, J. C., Mathis, C. L., & West, C. P. (2022). Black student views on higher education reparations at a university with an enslavement history. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1-22.

Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. (2021). The gifts of failure.

Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective (2019). Why I can’t hold space for you anymore.

Jefferess, D. (2012). The “Me to We” social enterprise: Global education as lifestyle brand. Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, 6(1), 18-30.

Machado de Olivera, V. (2021). Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism. North Atlantic Books.

Shahjahan, R. A., & Edwards, K. T. (2022). Whiteness as futurity and globalization of higher education. Higher Education, 83(4), 747-764.

The Hidden Curriculum and Internationalization in EFL: A Call for Heightened Criticality

by Dr. Charles Allen Brown

The notion that English as a foreign language (EFL) education is instrumental in fostering internationalization and intercultural competencies is widespread. Governments around the world often make such claims. For example, the Taiwan Ministry of Education touts the value of English in helping Taiwanese people to become “global citizens” (Republic of China Ministry of Education, 2022). Such a stance has great intuitive appeal: Those acquiring English ability certainly are poised to expand chances to interact with others outside their own sphere. Ironically, though, ample research reveals how the hidden curriculum within EFL materials can favor powerful social groups, actually hobbling just internationalization. In light of the likelihood of such a hidden curriculum in EFL materials coupled with the power of EFL overall, I argue that habitual criticality is needed to cogently trouble EFL materials. 

The hidden curriculum is defined as unintended information conveyed via educational practices and reflecting the biases of those who create them. EFL is susceptible to containing a hidden curriculum in the depictions of social groups because including social group information in EFL materials is difficult to avoid. Materials may be designed to inform students about world locales and those inhabiting them. Visual illustrations of people are often included simply to enliven lessons. Even dialogs intended to serve as models of spoken language often include oblique information about those speaking. This sets the stage for relations of social power to come to the fore. For example, in my own research, an analysis of the names used for dialog characters in EFL materials from Japan reflected a strong bias toward stereotypical “Anglo” names such as Mary and John, while other ethnic groups were rendered invisible. One notable example was that the name Muhammad was virtually missing, despite the popularity of the name not only around the world but within the traditional English-speaking societies as well. In the U.K., for example, Muhammad is now likely the top male baby name. Such biases are even the more troubling when juxtaposed against the explicit claim of the Japanese government that a rationale for English study is internationalization and intercultural awareness. 

One of the most thoroughly discussed forms of bias in English materials among scholars is the dominant position afforded to the traditional English-speaking societies, or what sociolinguist Braj Kachru referred to as the “Inner Circle” of English (Kachru, 2005). EFL materials typically focus on these countries and their inhabitants in a lingering outgrowth of the colonial legacy of English. This bolsters the power of these locales and sends the message that these places and the people within them represent the rightful “owners” of the language. To the uninitiated, focusing on the Inner Circle and the English spoken there might seem appropriate. Yet most speakers of English neither hail from these contexts nor speak these varieties of English. The undue focus upon them cements the learner’s position as eternal aspirant to full English competency rather than fostering the feeling that they too can make the language their own. Overall, beyond the Inner Circle (and Global North) focus, research into the hidden curriculum in EFL materials indicates that they convey the idea that the people who count are Anglo, young, well-to-do, urban, able-bodied, hetero, light-skinned, Christian (e.g., Baleghizadeh & Motahed, 2010; Brown, 2021; Paiz, 2015).

This is not to suggest that such problematic social group depictions necessarily represent an intentional agenda on the part of materials creators. Instead, the phenomenon seems to be due to a combination of implicit beliefs of materials creators who inhabit the same socio-cultural milieu as other actors, the push to appropriate materials to use in language learning from the mainstream media ecosystem in the name of language “authenticity,” content currency, and learner appeal, and the broader “mediatization” of social life so as to make commercial materials marketable. Intended or not, there is ample evidence for the impact of problematic social group representation upon learners. First of all, English education is powerful and ubiquitous; it is a required subject of study around the world. Also, great trust is placed in English education. English courses are typically perceived to represent neutral sources of language skills immune to politics and ideology. Finally, media studies amply document the role of media as a powerful socialization force, especially among the young. Witness the deleterious impact of illustrations of people in the media upon perceptions of desirable body image and the accompanying incidents of eating disorders, some fatal (not to mention the popularity of practices such as cosmetic surgery and the use of skin whitening products). Yet mainstream media images of people are routinely appropriate by EFL teachers to decorate their own worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials.

I see much of the social group content associated with EFL as confirmatory rather than transformative: It reinscribes students’ preconceptions rather than disrupting them as education should. EFL students often do associate names like John or Mary with English speakers, Australia or Canada as locales from which “real” English speakers hail, and Christmas as universally celebrated among them. While it may be understandable that commercial educational materials must pander to the consumer by refraining from challenging stereotypes, government-sponsored and typically mandated education cannot be excused. This is especially true when the entities responsible make such robust claims about EFL as a force for intercultural empowerment, and for education overall as a public good. This is particularly ironic in light of the claim among many policymakers that one overarching curricular goal is the promotion of “critical thinking” among students. 

Troubling the hidden social curriculum of English language teaching should be one integral dimension of the broader critical stance toward internationalization. The challenge is difficult, though. The issue of undue focus on the Inner Circle has been a topic in English teaching scholarship for decades now. The other issues I have mentioned have long been within the purview of critical media analysis as well. Yet, little attention is paid to them in ground-level English teaching practice. In a recent project in which I analyzed assessment frameworks for evaluating English teaching materials, attention to these issues was scant. Some considered the strength of textbook bindings and the quality of the paper but not potentially harmful social group depictions within the bindings and printed upon the pages (Brown, in press). Rose (2019) has spoken of the disconnect between the “ivory tower” of English education academe and ground-level practice. The issues discussed here appear to represent one more manifestation of this phenomenon. 

As it stands, then, EFL practice itself often promotes social injustice through depictions of the social world embedded in its materials. Responses could include training in critical media analysis for materials creators and teachers, sensitivity toward these issues in ELT materials assessment schemes, and instructing developmentally ready learners themselves how to engage in critical reads of ELT materials as historically and politically situated and infused texts. Troubling English education in this way seems to me to represent one important activity for those embracing the paradigm of critical internationalization.


Baleghizadeh, S. & Motahed, M. (2010). An Analysis of the Ideological Content of Internationally- Developed British and American ELT Textbooks. The Journal of Teaching Language Skills (JTLS), 2(2), 1-27.

Brown, C. (2021). Symbolic annihilation of social groups as hidden curriculum in Japanese ELT materials. TESOL Quarterly, 56(2), 603-628.

Brown, C. (in press). How well do materials evaluation schemes empower users to detect problematic social group portrayals within ELT materials?: A corpus analysis. IARTEM E-Journal.

Kachru, B. (2005). Asian Englishes: Beyond the canon. Hong Kong University Press.

Paiz, J. (2015). Over the monochrome rainbow: Heteronormativity in ESL reading texts and textbooks. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 4(1), 77-101.

Republic of China Ministry of Education (2022, February 14). Seizing the opportunity to become global citizens—The Program on Bilingual Education for Students in College (BEST).

Rose, H. (2019). Dismantling the ivory tower in TESOL: A renewed call for teaching-informed research. TESOL Quarterly, 53(3), 895-905.

About the Author

Charles Allen Brown, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange (PLaCE) Program at Purdue University. His work has included training pre-service teachers in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. His major research interests pertain to the portrayals and roles of various social groups in English language teaching in East Asia with a focus on Japan and Taiwan.

“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part III)

by Dr. Kalyani Unkule

This three-part article series aims to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa and Keating’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.” Part II outlined specific interventions that stem from positing reconciliation as in-betweenness and study abroad as building bridges back to ourselves. In the third and final part, we conclude our exploration of the links between higher education internationalisation and transitional justice by imagining international higher education as a just institution. 

Textbook definitions of globalization, to the critical mind, were always vulnerable to the circularity and idiosyncrasy of history. But today they are up against a precipitous decline in faith in the promises of modernity. Just as we were beginning to figure out how to prepare students to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the job market, educators were sent to work from home on disciplining labour for a jobless future to be available for 24/7 work in isolation (see Ovetz, 2021). As noted in Part I of this series, when reconciliation is grounded in falling apart, we deal with the root cause of regimes of exploitation rather than obsessing over polarization, which is the mere symptom. Going to the root of the problem has thus far been admirably attempted by practitioners committed to critical perspectives on internationalization who appreciate that “if individuals and institutions become increasingly interconnected, but power and resources are not redistributed and inherited patterns of relationship are not reimagined, then this may intensify existing patterns of inequality within an already uneven global higher education landscape” (Stein, 2021, p. 1773). The next step is to formulate concrete strategies and actionable proposals. 

Kanu’s (2014) paradigm of describing-informing-confronting-reconstructing – proposed in relation to hybrid postcolonial curriculum development – has the potential to trouble existing inertia within practice of study abroad and make strides towards intentionality. Describing involves articulating the principles and assumptions behind current practice, for instance, the entrenched belief that learning in/from some contexts is more valuable than that based in others. The next step, that of Informing, calls for unravelling and explaining the contradictions that emerge from articulation of current practice. For instance, the supposition that learning is unequally distributed around the world generates categories of sending and receiving regions, directly undermining any possibility of authentic exchange, which study abroad programmes expressly claim as their ambition. Informing also necessitates an avowal of forces that cause practitioners to operate in the ways that they do, inviting an examination of impacts of institutional contributing factors such as credit-completion requirements or hidden curricula and sectoral contributing factors such as accreditation, assessment, and rankings processes. Confronting, the third step, redirects practitioners to taken-for-granted social visions and instruments used to maintain constraints on what is possible. Preconceived ideas in the minds of study abroad participants about programme objectives and the nature of experience sought might be a clear manifestation of said social visions. Unexamined attributions to study abroad such as gaining of “cultural competence” or indeed mistaking homogenization for “best practice” have hampered innovation through their preponderance in practitioner parlance and ultimately starved authentic exchange. Provided they are motivated by desire for change, the three steps of Describing, Informing, and Confronting, as outlined above, lay the groundwork for reconstructing study abroad practice as the embodiment of a more just vision of International Higher Education. 

Self-reflection that acknowledges the co-existence of both marginality and privilege within us has the potential to lead us to the “uncomfortable level of self-implication” (Jones, 2010, p. 122). The attendant risk is the falling apart of the myth of innocence of international higher education as an untarnished, uncontested good. The transition from self-reflection to self-implication is key to expanding our accountability from self to others and self – a relational accountability, in other words, without which international higher education’s claims of positively contributing to the intercultural encounter are utterly unconvincing (see Jones, 2010). Stein (2021, p. 1777) has described what is called for simply as the ability to “stay with uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and equivocal authority,” yet this would require a shift away from the quest for “intellectual certainty and moral authority” (ibid) as the very aims of education. 

By diluting the intercultural engagement that may ensue to varying degrees during the course of study abroad into a matter of “skill development for employability,”      international higher education has opted for competence which is “internalization of normative rules, processes, procedures, relationships, and laws” and “completion of isolated fragmented tasks” over learning, which is “about making connections” and “presupposes critical thinking, exploration, analysis, intellectual growth, and self-awareness” (Ovetz, 2021, p. 1071). For practitioners, reflexivity can be a generative standpoint to gain fresh perspective on how systemic factors influence our subjectivities over time. It has the potential to open our eyes to the progressive standardization pervading all aspects of education, even as we hesitate to drop the façade of individualised and personalised learning (see Ovetz, 2021). For students, the flaneurship model discussed in Part II of this series makes room for refusal of standardisation, instead allowing their reflexivity to be the light that charts the course of learning. 

Even as we reimagine international higher education as a just institution, we must be mindful that excessive institutionalisation is counterproductive and risks reinforcing top-down strategies. There are inevitable limits to the transformative potential of any given paradigm/framework and the same is true for how far a thick conception of transitional justice and reconciliation can inspire a vision of international higher education grounded in justice. As Sharp (2019, p. 571) aptly stated, “The gap between ambitious critical theory ideals and incremental realities has the potential to produce an unwarranted sense of pessimism, disillusion, and failure, even as overall empirical assessments of the field suggest meaningful if modest impacts in many contexts.”  This series, I hope, will be received as encouragement to more practice-led scholarship which outlines actionable proposals for (and documents context-specific examples of) incremental steps towards the original purpose of higher education internationalisation: building bridges back to oneself via intercultural dialogue. 


Anzaldúa G.E. and AnaLouise Keating (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation, Routledge, New York

Jones R.G. (2010). Putting privilege into practice through “Intersectional Reflexivity”: Ruminations, Interventions, and Possibilities. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 16(1),122-125.

Kanu Y (Ed.). (2014). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations, University of Toronto Press 

Ovetz R. (2021). The Algorithmic University: On-Line Education, Learning Management Systems, and the Struggle over Academic Labor, Critical Sociology, 47(7-8), 1065–1084, DOI: 10.1177/0896920520948931

Sharp D.N. (2019). What Would Satisfy Us? Taking Stock of Critical Approaches to Transitional Justice, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 13(3), 570–589,

Stein S. (2021). Critical Internationalization Studies at an Impasse: Making Space for Complexity, Uncertainty, and Complicity in a time of Global Challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 46 (9), 1771-1784, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1704722

Serving international students beyond teaching them cultural differences?

by Suhao Peng

Over the past several decades, especially since the beginning of the 21st century, universities worldwide have expanded their international reach by welcoming inbound international students and sending students abroad. I have been an international student in Swedish and Finnish tertiary institutions over the past decade. In most cases, universities offer orientation programs for international students, especially those who are newcomers, to “help” international students adapt to the “new” learning environment by teaching and informing them of cultural differences. For most of us, this practice seems natural because individual experiences abroad are usually articulated or described as challenging and intercultural/international adjustment and/or adaptation can be problematic. However, this practice has extended to the point that international students are viewed as culturally deficient in the host environment and are often treated as a homogenous and exotic population. By uncritically creating the domestic-international dichotomy, “cultural difference”, “cultural shock” and “cultural clash” fixate and reduce local Self and foreign Other into an us-them separation (Holliday et al., 2010) instead of seeing both groups of students as strangers (Mendoza et al., 2022) who are equally simple and complex, equally similar and different, experiencing both success and failures during their stay on campus. As a result, such differentialist bias misleads both international and domestic students to an obsession with how they are different from each other, rather than adopting a universal continuum of differences and similarities for a more inclusive praxis (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2006). This bias manifests in many orientation programs and guidelines that teach international students how to behave in the host environment. For example, the orientation program offered for exchange students at my university describes Finnish people and Finnish learning culture (e.g., silent, honest, individualistic, responsible for their own studies), as well as exotic Finnish traditions and customs (e.g., sauna); the student housing company allocates almost all exchange students into three locations that are furnished and provides them with a list of dos and don’ts for international students, suggesting that cultural differences are problematic and difficult.

         In line with Dervin’s (2016) idea of diverse diversities, we need to acknowledge that every individual is diverse and has multiple identities, no matter whether they are local or international. For example, like the housing company’s practices mentioned earlier, listing dos and don’ts not only imposes unitary identity in an either-or manner (i.e., local or international) that separates international students from domestic students, but also compiles simplistic stereotypes instead of encouraging all university members to take risks and explore complex human conditions and diverse interpersonal interactions. In other words, international student programming is often superficial and uncritical and represents an unsustainable way of transmitting knowledge about a new culture without focusing on the inter- (i.e., to go across) of intercultural learning, which empowers reciprocal dialogues, mutual learning, equal treatment, and introspection of self with critical reflexivity rather than acquiring information of otherness and overgeneralizing cultural differences. The transformative nature of international education and intercultural learning is not guaranteed when these programs reinforce a Self-Other distinction because the starting point for self-transformation is subjective but not universally the same among a (national) population group. It is important for international educators to rethink how to redesign programming for international students to promote authentic and meaningful intercultural learning.


Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (2006). Interculturalism as a paradigm for thinking about diversity. Intercultural Education, 17(5), 475–483.

Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. Palgrave Pivot.

Holliday, A., Hyde, M., & Kullman, J. (2010). Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book for Students (Second edition). Routledge.

Mendoza, C., Dervin, F., Yuan (袁梅), M., & Layne, H. (2022). “They Are Not Mixing With Others”: Finnish Lecturers’ Perspectives on International Students’ (Mis-)Encounters in Higher Education. ECNU Review of Education, 5(1), 89–115.

About the author:

Suhao Peng, M.Sc., is a doctoral student at the School of Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, Finland. His research interests include international education, critical interculturality, academic mobility. 

“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part II)

by Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Part II

This three-part article series aims to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa and Keating’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.” Part I discussed some of the challenges that reconciliation as a modality of transitional justice shares with higher education internationalization. Prominent critiques of standard practices deployed to achieve post-conflict reconciliation point to the need for embracing in-between-ness as the liminal space between discord and harmony, rather than an effort to arrive at standardized narratives in service of moving on, while leaving unexamined the dominant paradigms and systems linked to conflict. Part II will draw out specific interventions that stem from positing reconciliation as in-betweenness and study abroad as building bridges back to ourselves.

Study Abroad and Reconciliation

Over a decade’s worth of scholarship has diagnosed the lopsided growth of International Higher Education using a variety of frameworks including globalization studies, political economy, migration and mobility, cosmopolitanism, and neo-liberalism and its discontents. Yet, despite the systemic shock dealt by COVID-19, we see little evidence of this scholarship permeating state and institutional policies – an indication of the need to build that bridge between critical discourse and practice. Study Abroad remains a mainstay of the higher education internationalization portfolio and in the sections that follow, I revisit experiential learning and cultural competence – key concerns of study abroad – in light of foregoing engagement with the concept of reconciliation. 

Truth-seeking/Learning With

To adequately address the gap between nominal cultural diversity and genuine expression of cultural difference in learning spaces is to raise the question: What are the hidden curricula or tacit protocols or internalized expectations about presenting, re-presenting and suppressing embodied knowledges? Such probing invites rethinking into the role of program design in influencing student beliefs about worthy learning outcomes and may entail scrutiny of our program evaluation practices which, intentionally or not, set expectations around terms of engagement among collaborating institutions. At the heart of this inquiry is the question whether study abroad is meant for “learning about,” “learning from” or “learning with.”

The idea of two-eyed seeing (Bartlett et al., 2012) helps us reconceptualize peer-to-peer learning during study abroad. Two-eyed seeing refers not only to combining Indigenous ways of knowing with modern science but is at the same time a profound acknowledgement that both our intellectual and our spiritual nature must be invested in knowledge seeking. The instrumental conception of study abroad concerns itself solely with learning about. A more engaged view emphasizes learning from, but this ultimately risks hierarchizing worldviews. Learning with is a way of formulating study abroad that makes room for intentional peer-to-peer engagement. Unfortunately, contemporary institutional practices of organizing study abroad seldom include home students as an integral element of learning journeys of the visiting student. In addition, the deficit view of international students – especially those pursuing degree studies at western institutions – have entrenched paternalism in international educational practice.

Ways of Being/Experiential Learning, Meet Experiential Ontologies

Citing Sherene Razack, Robin DiAngelo spotlights the “knowability” of colonized peoples as an essential feature of progressive liberal attempts to contend with racism. In response, she proclaims that the need of the hour is not to teach white people about black people but “to teach White people about ourselves in relation to Black and other people of color” (DiAngelo, 2021, p. 4). In DiAngelo’s insistence on personal transformation, there is a recognition that systemic transformation often places the burden of fighting for change disproportionately on the emotional labor of the disadvantaged. The ascription of “knowability” should not be confused with a desire to understand the other in their context. Intended here is an instrumentalized knowing which seeks to turn the barbarian into a “reformed recognisable other” as Dei and Doyle-Wood (2014, p. 160) put it. This “knowing” for the sake of first denying and ultimately expunging other ways of being is the grounds on which the education by mimicry project has thrived.

Elaborating on the concept of education in pre-colonial Sierra Leone, Yatta Kanu (2014, p. 208) recalls that “because every education is for entering adulthood, […] Objective or abstract knowledge is not imparted as such because it is not believed that people first develop theoretical understanding of things and events and then apply this knowledge in making judgments and decisions; rather, the quest for understanding is conditioned and constituted by reflection upon how to act wisely in concrete situations.” The de-emphasizing of “objective” and “abstract” knowledge here is first and foremost an unmasking of the pretense of objectivity that often accompanies abstract knowledge. In study abroad, we have hastily instated “experiential learning” as the panacea, without adequate attention to the constructs and prejudices through which new experience is filtered. Here, I propose learning by flâneurship, a wandering which is “casual but not aimless” (Unkule, 2019, p. 147). A wandering which permits the novel to be novel rather than a superior/inferior version of the known, thereby freeing up the flaneur’s wanderings from the baggage of experience. The flâneurship model is the surrender of obsession with categories before an openness to content. If there is an ultimate aim for such a process, it is that of emancipation from one’s own conditioning.

In Part III of the series, we will conclude our exploration of the links between higher education internationalization and transitional justice by imagining international higher education as a just institution.


Anzaldúa G.E., & Keating, A. (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation. Routledge.

Bartlett C., Marshall M., & Marshall A. (2012). Two-Eyed seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331–340. DOI: 10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8

Dei G.J., & Doyle-Wood, S. (2014). Is we who haffi ride di staam: Critical knowledge / multiple knowings – Possibilities, challenges, and resistance in curriculum/cultural contexts. In Y. Kanu (Ed.). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations (pp. 151-180). University of Toronto Press.

DiAngelo R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Penguin Books.

Kanu Y. (Ed.). (2014). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations. University of Toronto Press.

Unkule K. (2019). Internationalising the University: A Spiritual Approach. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

​​“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part I)

by Kalyani Unkule

Part I

This three-part series of articles draws on critical engagement with the concept of reconciliation and its discontents as part of the author’s on-going work via the Employing Study Abroad for Peace and Reconciliation Project (under the Commonwealth Peace and Reconciliation Challenge Grant, Association of Commonwealth Universities). Transitional justice is laden with the same vocabulary of “addressing institutional gaps” by exporting “best practice” and ultimately “building capacity” that plagues parlance in international higher education. Since these terminologies uphold a hegemonic standard expected to be emulated by all, in both fields “catch-up” for some seems always aspirational, never realized. Transitional justice scholars and practitioners, like their counterparts in international higher education, are looking for ways to nourish their fields with plurality by making room for context. Both fields, in recent memory, have initiated the process of confronting entrenched interests and the monocultures of practice that eclipsed their worthy original goals. Anzaldúa’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without” is channelled to outline an alternative paradigm of international education grounded in justice. Part I of this series surveys critiques of experiments in reconciliation conducted around the world to find that they have left continuity of hegemonic worldviews and sociability unchallenged. The aim is to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.”

Anzaldúa’s Nepantla is the dialogic space of in-betweenness between discord and harmony. At the epistemic level, in-betweenness (Nepantla) reconstitutes borderlands as the refuge of the critical gaze. In lived experience, perhaps, it is a form of resistance to semiotic foreclosure, thereby being eminently transferable to self-assessment of learning through study abroad. Nepantla inspires the quest for that stranger which resides within us, thereby problematizing facile modalities of othering. My aim here is to explore why this could be a way to attempt reconciliation beyond simply discovering relative truths. I examine the implications of reframing study abroad and international education as building bridges to that which is unknown about ourselves and our contexts, through contact with diverse situations and scenarios, as a departure from the commonly encouraged purpose of knowing about “others.”

Reframing Reconciliation as In-betweenness

Transitional justice is concerned with rebuilding of institutions in the wake of violent conflict and other major disruptions. Reconciliation or restoring trust in social relations is an important component of this process. Since “anti-colonial struggle was written out of transitional justice from its very beginning” (Kurze & Lamont, 2021, p. 158), reconciliation has chiefly been attempted as a conservative enterprise in burying the hatchet. As a result, “transitional justice scholarship operates at a positivist level, or trying to explain certain, and desired, outcomes rather than destabilizing and unsettling unequal power relations” (Kurze & Lamont, 2021, p. 155). Yet, in its thick conception, reconciliation entails opening up to other ways of being. In this sense, it has the potential to bridge the anti-oppressive and decolonial perspectives, which Stein (2021) regards as two separate strands of critical discourse on higher education internationalization.

The epistemological agenda of the anti-oppressive strand is to ensure institutions of learning emphasize equality in all areas of learning. By implication, this strand’s ontological concern is with valorising and rewarding other ways of being (see Stein 2021). The decolonial strand, at the level of knowing, problematizes ascriptions of universality to western modernity. Where knowledge creation and dissemination are concerned, the decolonial paradigm, particularly influenced by Indigenous approaches, grapples with boundary questions about how far the remit of positivist science even legitimately extends. Reconciliation is ultimately about being together but the varied experiences of attempts at achieving it surveyed here and in subsequent parts remind us of the real issue at stake: are other ways of being accounted for in reimagined futures or is reconciliation the vehicle for ossification of the hegemonic worldview?

Reconciliation at its core is about acknowledging reciprocal truths with the idea of leaving injustices behind to secure continued coexistence. On a broader level, reconciliation entails reparative justice with interventions focused either on individual or collective grievance. These interpretations of reconciliation are problematic because: a) they make reconciliation contingent upon the goodwill of the state/the dominant group/those responsible for wrongdoing and b) they ultimately contribute to strengthening existing structures via co-option of the aggrieved. Hence, reconciliation in a profound sense must be about re-establishment. Not only does this understanding fully acknowledge the indispensability of self-determination, but it also goes to the socially constituted and systemically perpetuated nature of harm. In Anzaldúa’s (2002) own words:

“Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. (…) Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. […] living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling.” (p. 1)

Thus, Nepantla underscored the need for a mindful approach to this intended transition.

Reconciliation, thus reframed as in-betweenness, is undertaking brick-by-brick the arduous work of building bridges back to ourselves. In earlier work (Unkule, 2018), I have reimagined study abroad as an undertaking in studying one’s own context rather than an exercise in further essentialising and particularising the other (in a bid to attain “cultural competence”), ultimately enabling us to see all beings as oneself. According to Anzaldúa (2002, p. 2), where once the struggle was about recognition of difference, “today we grapple with the recognition of commonality within the context of difference.” The idea of witnessing may be deployed to clarify the operative, tactical, and pedagogical aspects of enabling such learning and transformation through study abroad. Nagy (2020, p. 221) sees potential in the discomfort produced by survivor testimony – akin to the unsettling that in-betweenness triggers – not merely “reckoning” but beyond that for “transformation of Indigenous-settler relationships.”

Correspondingly, study abroad practice must step away from a comfort zone erected around facile associations of experiential learning with development of intercultural competence, unexamined hypotheses about diversity automatically ensuring expression of diverse viewpoints, and the conflation of training to develop a tolerant (woke) manner without fundamentally recognising the politics of knowledge creation. What the practice needs, in other words, is an epistemic and cognitive break – a falling apart – driven by the realization that learned superiority and inferiority need to be unlearned before intercultural dialogue is attempted – just as international higher education can assume a reparative stance only after divesting from systems that perpetuate extraction and exploitation as the first step.

Part two of this series will outline three possibilities for reconstituting study abroad with an emphasis on reconciliation understood as in-betweenness.


Anzaldúa G.E. and AnaLouise Keating (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation. Routledge.

Kurze, A., & Lamont, C. K. (2021). Breaking the Transitional Justice Machine: Exploring Spatiality, Space Travel, and Inbetween Spaces in Research Practice, Political Anthropological Research on International Social Sciences (PARISS), 2(1), 155-178. doi:

Nagy R. (2020). Settler Witnessing at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Human Rights Review, 21, 219–241.

Scott C & Tuana N. (2017). Nepantla: Writing (from) In-Between, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 31(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.5325/jspecphil.31.1.0001

Stein S. (2021) Critical internationalization studies at an impasse: making space for complexity, uncertainty, and complicity in a time of global challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 46:9, 1771-1784, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1704722

Unkule, K. (2018). Seeing All Beings as Oneself: Internationalizing Higher Education for Universal Harmony. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 30(1), 33–41.

About the Author

Kalyani Unkule is Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University in India. Her research complements her practice in intercultural dialogue and impact-driven projects in higher education internationalisation and spiritual learning. She can be reached via email at 

Decolonizing higher education in the classroom: Reflections from a graduate student

By Marisa Lally,  Doctoral Student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development

I recently guest taught a session in a Diversity of Higher Education course that focused on the decolonization of higher education as an approach to imagining the future of higher education. As an early doctoral student, this guest session was my first experience teaching master’s students in a higher education program. I used Stein et al.’s 2021 Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People as the central text of the course session. This workbook is aimed at non-Indigenous scholars and practitioners of higher education like myself and the students in the course. In this essay, I reflect upon my experience leading this class alongside the students of the course as a group of non-Indigenous educators. I hope that my reflections can serve as a resource or conversation starter for other educators who may approach the topic of decolonial approaches with students in the future. 

The Bus Within Us

One of the aims of the workbook is to support people invested in reforms toward decolonization in higher education to develop the stamina to do so. The authors acknowledge that the process of decolonization is non-linear and will require ongoing self-reflection and self-critique that may cause uncomfortable feelings. 

I myself encountered this experience during the class. A student asked me if I had posed the discussion questions that I had created for the class to any person from an Indigenous community whose land my university continues to withhold. In the moment, I felt “affectively overwhelmed” (Stein et al., 2021, p. 10) and made excuses to the class – I want to learn by reading first before asking for the labor of Indigenous people; my personal research focuses on neocolonialism rather than settler-colonialism; I am new to this learning about decolonization as an approach. I am in the wrong, but I chose this workbook for non-Indigenous people. I am wrong, but we are all complicit. Yes, but, yes, but, yes, but… 

I also began to question if I was committing harm by agreeing to guide a course session on decolonization rather than inviting an Indigenous scholar or community member to do so. Although I have begun to educate myself on the topic by reading, how long can I use this excuse before I take action? Is the students’ exposure to these ideas an action in itself? Is it, through the lens of the ‘Approaches to Reform’ offered in the workbook, no reform or minor reform to include decolonial approaches to higher education in a classroom if the Indigenous voices are only on the page and not in the room? Am I performing a “settler move to innocence” Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 9) (i.e., an action to appease my own guilt) by leading this course and by offering this reflection? These are the questions I left with when our session was over. 

The workbook offered some answers to my questions through the bus metaphor. The contributors to the project invite the readers to “become familiar with, and accept (without endorsing), all of the passengers within ourselves: ‘the good, the bad, the ugly, and the broken’” (p. 10). Not only was I able to begin the process of knowing these passengers through written reflection, but I was also able to prompt students to begin to become familiar with these passengers through the guidance of the scholars in the workbook. I was also reminded that many passengers can be on the bus at once, and I can challenge the dualistic thinking to which I am accustomed. 

Using Examples 

Another strategy for introducing approaches to decolonization beyond prompting self-reflection through the bus metaphor was to offer some examples of potentially decolonizing efforts in higher education and to ask students to reflect on the examples’ place within the “Approaches to Reform” and “Layers of Accountability” offered in Chapter 2 of the workbook. Some of the case examples included the university website of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (a Māori institution of higher education), the mission statement of the Rhodes Must Fall student movement in South Africa, and a variety of land acknowledgments from institutions in the United States. These case study examples were especially helpful in guiding students to consider what makes decolonization a distinct and specific effort from other social justice approaches. Students specifically noted the focus on land, ecological sustainability, and the commitment to historical redress. 

In small groups, the students discussed where they thought the case may lie within approaches to reform and layers of accountability. They were also given the opportunity to discuss what the passengers of their bus (i.e., their layered affective responses) were doing as they considered these examples, as well as what such efforts would look like in their own professional contexts. The students shared feelings of overwhelm, discouragement, and optimism as we debriefed their various considerations of the case study examples. 

Concluding Thoughts 

I hope that, by offering these approaches to working with students who hope to begin careers as higher education staff, non-Indigenous educators can at the very least encourage a wider ripple of reform efforts, including greater inclusion and celebration of Indigenous perspectives, more equitable redistribution of resources, and, ultimately, begin the process of returning institutional land to Indigenous communities on a large scale. I express my endless gratitude to the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective for creating the workbook, and I encourage those who use the workbook to donate to the GoFundMe campaign listed on its first page. 


Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., Elwood, J., Andreotti, V., Valley, W., Amsler, S., Calhoun, B. & the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. (2021). Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People. The Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Retrieved from:

Tuck, E. & Yang, W. (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40. 

About the author:

Marisa Lally is a doctoral student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development.