The Success of an International Student: Three Competing Perspectives

Every culture identifies characteristics that lead to success. In some cultures, success is identified with wisdom and knowledge; in others, success is identified with income and a large house; in others, it’s talent in the arts or in sports. Education is no different. Each system has its own qualities that it tries to instill in its students. In the international school system, there are three competing philosophies which drive a school’s view of a successful international student. Though there are a few similarities between the concepts of international mindedness, international literacy, and global competency, each is vastly different from the last in its mission and drive.

International mindedness is perhaps the oldest of the three concepts, as it was the driving force behind some of the original international schools. International mindedness emphasizes a student’s ability to examine critically their own culture in relation to the world around them. An internationally minded student is supposed to be able to make connections to their culture and others, examine their differences, articulate their ideas clearly, and use their knowledge to help people from other backgrounds solve their nation’s problems. It does not always necessitate that students engage with other cultures. Instead, international mindedness focuses on the intellectual aspects of critically examining each culture and communicating those ideas. Through this critical thinking practice, it is theorized, a student will be able to engage effectively. The critical thinking is the primary means by which a student engages with the other cultures, and respecting differences the primary tool of applying these practices. International mindedness can be used solely as a means of examining one’s own culture, as well – of creating change in one’s own nation by examining other cultures and the practices therein, and advocating for different practices in one’s own culture. (Sriprakash, Singh, Jing).

International literacy, on the other hand, necessitates engagement with other cultures. An internationally literate student is so fluent in another culture that s/he can function completely in that culture as if they were native to it. They understand and accept the subtleties of the culture’s body language and use that to effectively communicate with people from that culture. Understandably, then, a student will not be internationally literate if they have no means by which they practice these skills. While helping create change is a secondary goal of this practice, the primary goal is that each student is capable of adapting to new surroundings and living in different places around the world. (Hayward).

Global competency is sort of a combination of the two previous mindsets, but with a focus on problem solving. The globally competent student uses its knowledge of other cultures and practices to communicate their thoughts on issues of “global significance”. The international literacy of being able to function in other cultures, then, is paired with the international mindedness of critical thinking and problem solving. Global competency, however, does not have the goal of creating students who move to and adapt in other cultures, but merely students who use their knowledge in effective cross-cultural problem solving for global issues. Globally competent students will predict the difficulties other cultures will have with their ideas and will find ways to effectively communicate those perspectives to the other cultures. (Mansilla and Jackson).

To summarize, let’s look at a diagram comparing the three perspectives.

Comparing IM, IL, and GC - Page 1


Successful educational practices are defined differently around the world. International education has its own definitions of success that are different from the nationalistic perspectives of the nations they serve. Internationally minded students can critically think about their culture and the cultures around them. Internationally literate students can communicate effectively and live in a variety of different cultures as if those cultures were their own. Globally competent students can use international mindedness and international literacy to solve global issues by effectively thinking about and communicating about these problems. These all have a place in international education, but the practices to develop these skills are greatly different from each other. As globalization causes growth and shifting in educational thought in national schools, so too it causes growth and shifting in thought in international schools. Over time, it will be interesting to watch these thoughts change, and to see how it impacts beliefs surrounding success in the future.


Hayward, Mark. From International to Intercultural. Journal of Research in International Education.

Arathi Sriprakash, Michael Singh, Qi Jing. A Comparative Study of International Mindedness in the IB Programmes in Australia, China, and India. 2014.

Veronica Mansilla, Anthony Jackson. Educating for Confidence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. Asia Society. 2011.


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