By Maria English, Marketing and Admissions Officer (and WISS parent!)
你们是外国人吗？Ni men shi wai guo ren ma? Awkward pause. 15 years in China and I still don’t know how to succinctly answer this question. “Yes, but I’m also Chinese,” is my usual response. I hold a USA passport but I am ethnically Chinese. My parents are from Taiwan which is why my Mandarin doesn’t sound like a mainlander. But then, their parents (my grandparents) were actually from the mainland and so we are not native Taiwanese. I’m married to a Caucasian American (whose origin is English–hence our fabulous surname) so my children are mixed race. By the way, my husband’s reading and writing of Chinese is way better than mine. And yes, my children are USA passport holders but have never lived there. The poor questioner didn’t realise such a simple question can have such a complicated answer–probably regrets asking me!
In fact, my rather “complicated” background doesn’t even compare to some of the families I have met here at WISS. While our diversity refers to our nationality breakdown, we all know that it’s not so simple. Within our WISS community approximately 50% of our students come from families holding two and sometimes even three nationalities. This only scratches the surface. How many of us have immigrated to another country? Traversed the globe either for holiday or for our profession? How many of us have intercultural marriages as well as children born on different continents? This is why the IB exists. Educators saw the need for an international education which would address the skills and attitudes needed to succeed in an ever-diversifying world. The IB programme reflects the growing need for our children to be skilled in interacting with multiple cultures with understanding and respect.
Culture in a nutshell, is a way that we humans classify or organise ourselves into common thematic groups whether it be locale, ways of communicating, symbols, experiences, etc. Way back when, it was likely much less complicated, arguably, easier to distinguish and define compared to our interconnected, highly networked societies of today. Culture is no longer set by geographical or linguistic boundaries. In fact, just looking at our own community, we can see that culture is often constructed, blended, shaped, and changed in this age of 21st century technology and mobility.
“She is one of my friends and I wanted to know more about her,” says Grade 7 student Simone Kane. Grade 7 students recently finished a unit on cultural celebrations. Simone paired up with Jamila Castro Herrera, who had chosen Ramadan as the celebration she wanted to further investigate. Jamila was curious to know more about her own religion. When Simone approached her about working together, Jamila reacted enthusiastically, “I was like ‘Wow, yeah sure!’ I was very happy that she wanted to learn about my culture.” This mindset of what Simone and Jamila are sharing is what is known as International-mindedness. They are sharing and exploring life experiences with one another. The IB mission “promotes intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century,” gives us an understanding of the international-mindedness approach to learning which has high value in today’s global perspective.
Being internationally-minded is an attitude or an approach to life. This can be modeled in prescribed ways such as studying culture celebrations, but, arguably, it’s just the day-in and day-out friendship that Simone and Jamila share which actually shapes their attitudes. I recently spent some time meeting with WISS alumnus Masashi Tanigaki, currently a 3rd year student at Temple University Japan campus. He reflects about how he learned to inquire, “to be curious” at WISS, how he discovered his passion for music, the caring teachers who were passionate about his success and most influentially, how he learned to interact with different cultures. “WISS gave me better understanding of human behavior in a social context because of the diversity at the school. My time at WISS taught me about how not to discriminate, what to say or what not to say around people who were different than me. This can’t happen in a monoculture environment,” reflect Masashi.
The nature of our diverse school allows our community of learners to truly experience the IB Mission of “promoting intercultural understanding and respect.” We are in a time and place where international-mindedness is gaining value globally and the importance for future generations to understand how to engage and respect people who come from various life experiences cannot be underestimated.