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“Education for international mindedness values the world as the broadest context for learning, develops conceptual understanding across a range of subjects and offers opportunities to inquire, act, and reflect.” – IB Handbook 

An overarching construction related to intercultural understanding, global engagement, and multilingualism—international-mindedness (IM) lies at the core of the IB’s educational policies and programs. 

Denoting a diverse set of associations, international mindedness is a dynamic concept that takes a lot of effort to unravel. IM can also be challenging for schools to develop, due in part to the fact that overlapping notions such as global mindedness, global citizenship education, and development education have faced scrutiny in recent years. 

The pandemic has only served to complicate the matter further, and, thus, it is more important than ever that we approach such ideas thoughtfully. We believe they are worth grappling with, though, as a more in-depth investigation of multifaceted concepts, such as international mindedness, provides a clearer understanding of the IB’s value and how it helps students develop critical thinking skills to question and evaluate existing beliefs and assumptions. 

Seek understanding of others, not mere acknowledgment

A helpful summary to begin unpacking the notion of international mindedness is— an ability to put things into a global perspective that enhances empathy and compassion for others. It is an active awareness that other peoples’ opinions and experiences can be different from our own and that understanding the reasoning behind these differences has value. 

This process is not necessarily intended to encourage us to abandon what we already believe in. Instead, it is rooted in making us realize and engage with the fact that there are more world views than our own.

Recognize both differences and similarities 

As eloquently summarized in a 2016 publication from the University of Bath, the foundation for international mindedness tends to “converge on three philosophies. First, IM is relational because it is about reaching out to how we perceive and interact with others from diverse cultures. It then becomes intra-personal or reaches in to better understand ourselves with respect to those who may be different. 

Above all, IM is a process or a journey, and that this process is more important than any fixed definition.” Acknowledging the procedural quality of IM allows differences that initially seem distinct to become less rigid with time. As our awareness expands, the more able we are to relate to others. 

Maintain a relative outlook 

Indeed, the fluid nature of IM is part of what makes it so difficult to define. It is also crucial in understanding the challenging place it holds as an attribute to be acquired by students and an educational philosophy for schools. 

By their nature, school communities are diverse, impermanent, and subject to the local and national culture’s expectations. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize that individual IB schools will interpret IM according to their unique circumstances or adapt it to suit their cultural setting. 

International-mindedness and COVID-19

“Going global without going anywhere.”

Another way of thinking about it is that IM can be applied to any context at any moment. Therefore, its cultivation need not be reliant on direct or physical exposure to other geographical places or cultures. This is especially helpful to remember when our lines of international connection have been altered dramatically. Of course, we see immense value in travel at CAS Trips and celebrate all opportunities to experience and learn from a new culture firsthand. 

That said, our philosophy has always been to find a variety of nuanced ways to engage with the communities we visit and encourage students to take the lessons they learn through exposure to other places, people and situations to enact positive change at home. It is true that when traveling, we encounter many things that at first seem strange, but that we are better able to understand by changing our perspective. Facing a pandemic, we have a similar opportunity now. 

Despite having kept us from physically visiting other places, the coronavirus has also made evident just how contingent and interconnected our lives really are. This recognition offers the potential to generate a more robust embodiment of IM, be that through strengthened environmental commitments or more vigorous opposition to human suffering. 

When approached with a desire to understand on relative terms, encounters with opposing ideas and cultures, despite the discomfort they may initially cause, can leave a person humbled and eager to make a connection. Nowhere have we at CAS Trips witnessed this more readily than during the student breakout discussions during our Virtual CAS Conference series.

The hope is that, when this wave of tragedy recedes, an ongoing commitment to fostering the multifaceted offerings of IM can help guide us forward. As the IB Learner Profile states, “The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”