My campus doesn’t have international students. How do I teach global competence? - National Council of Teachers of English
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My campus doesn’t have international students. How do I teach global competence?

From NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship

This post was written by NCTE member Lisa Pelkey, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

In the classroom, students can bring forward for consideration incidental intercultural learning from life experiences or co-curricular activity and learning from past academic experiences. It should be a place where [people] can receive scaffolded support to try new ways of thinking and practice new behaviors about perceived differences in people. (Krebs 2020)

As a committee member and a teacher of English language arts (ELA), I’ve come to appreciate the significance of intercultural communicative competence or global competence. This competency is instrumental in equipping students to thrive in our globalized society. However, not all educational institutions are fortunate enough to have a large international student presence, which makes it challenging for students to immerse themselves in diverse perspectives. In today’s interconnected world, the ability to navigate diverse cultural landscapes and communicate effectively across borders is a crucial skill (Krebs 2020). So, what can universities and educational campuses do to bridge this gap and cultivate global competence among our students?

The Challenge of Limited International Interaction

Many universities and educational campuses face the challenge of having very few international students on campus. In such an environment, it can be difficult for students to engage with peers from diverse cultural backgrounds and develop the skills necessary for global competence. This challenge calls for innovative approaches, and one such response is the Internationalization at Home (IaH) movement (Crowther et al. 2000).

The IaH movement recognizes the importance of foreign language proficiency and experiential education as means to internationalize the campus and enhance intercultural learning. It acknowledges that even in the absence of a significant international student population, universities and educational campuses can still provide valuable global experiences (e.g., foreign language study) to their students. In my state (Kansas), the vision of the Department of Education’s World Languages Committee is that “each student will be proficient in a language other than English and be able to communicate successfully in a global setting” (KSDE 2020). As a secondary ELA teacher and professor of educators, this integration remains a top priority in my courses.

The Interrelationship Between Global, International, and Intercultural (GII) and Disciplinary Learning

One of the strategies employed at my university is the integration of GII competence into the curriculum across the disciplines. At one point as a secondary teacher, I co-taught a combined social studies and ELA integrated course where this competency was the top priority of the course. When faculty of K–12 and higher education start seeing how GII competency goals fit within their disciplines, the integration becomes easier or more authentic. Faculty who see value in GII competency are finding creative ways to infuse GII content into their teaching. For instance, they frame discipline-related issues as opportunities for students to explore diverse perspectives through discussions with peers from culturally different backgrounds within local areas (e.g., religion, ethnicity). Guest speakers from diverse backgrounds might also be invited to provide unique insights and broaden students’ horizons (e.g., inviting speakers via Zoom from across the globe).

Moreover, pedagogical approaches that promote intercultural communication skills are proving to be crucial. Activities such as thoughtful discussions, inquiries into the life experiences of individuals from other societies, and collaborative projects are helping students practice and enhance their intercultural communication skills.

Practical Approaches for Fostering Global Competence

To effectively nurture global competence in classrooms with limited international diversity, faculty have been implementing practical approaches I find immensely valuable:

  1. Creating a Diverse Classroom Environment” (Parkhouse and Tichnor-Wagner 2019): Faculty are fostering a classroom culture that values diversity and global engagement. They encourage students to develop an awareness of their own cultural biases and challenge assumptions. Randomized grouping of students promotes interactions across cultural lines, and there is an exploration of the possibility of inviting guest speakers or including online students from other countries to provide diverse perspectives.
  2. “Incorporating Intercultural Learning Theory” (Parkhouse and Tichnor-Wagner 2019): Faculty explicitly state intercultural learning as a learning objective in course syllabi and include it in performance assessments. Students are encouraged to focus on communicative processes, which can lead to deeper intercultural understanding.
  3. Integrating Content-Aligned Global Learning Experiences” (Parkhouse and Tichnor-Wagner 2019): Opportunities are sought to develop local and global partnerships that align with course content. Collaborations with organizations or institutions (e.g., Open World Cause) working with education or social work majors from other countries are being explored to provide students with real-world experiences that connect theory to practice.

The challenge of limited opportunities for students to interact with international peers is not insurmountable. My direct involvement in these initiatives, combined with personal experiences, has shown me that universities and educational campuses can equip their students with the essential skills of global competence. By wholeheartedly embracing the principles of the IaH movement and adopting innovative pedagogical approaches, we are not only meeting this challenge but also preparing our graduates to excel in an increasingly interconnected and diverse world. 

Gains in GII Competence

Even within the limited time span of a single course, students have shown modest yet significant gains in GII competence (Krebs 2020). 

  • They “described what they have learned about another society or global issue” (Etherington 2014).
  • They “self-reported an appreciation for the diversity within their groups and an increased awareness of different communicative styles” (Reid and Garson 2017).
  • They gave “oral presentations with careful attention to language usage and pace of speech to ensure intelligibility to an international audience” (Etherington 2014).
  • They recognized the vital role of “careful listening and patience in overcoming perceived language barriers” (Edmead 2013).
  • They acknowledged their efforts to become “more open-minded and less judgmental of people in their environment” (Feng 2016).
  • They identified and replaced negative stereotypes with accurate and favorable views (Shea et al. 2011).

These outcomes demonstrate that even in the face of limited international exposure, universities and educational campuses can make significant strides in nurturing global competence among their students. As educators and institutions committed to fostering a more interconnected world, these achievements serve as a testament to our collective dedication to equipping the leaders of tomorrow with the skills and attitudes necessary to thrive in our diverse and interconnected global community.


Lisa Pelkey has served as an early childhood education director, 6–12 ELA teacher, preK–12 reading specialist, preK–12 ESOL coach, secondary social studies and English district curriculum specialist, and a state-level literacy facilitator. At the collegiate level, Pelkey develops courses and instructs undergraduate preservice teachers in elementary literacy practices and graduate students in a preK–12 Master of Reading program at Northwest Missouri State University. Most recently, Pelkey was selected to assist NCTE as a CAEP reviewer.


The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the council and within members’ teaching contexts.


Crowther, Paul, Michael Joris, Matthias Otten, Bengt Nilsson, Hanneke Teekens, and Bernd Wächter. 2000. Internationalisation at Home: A Position Paper. Amsterdam: European Association of International Education.

Edmead, Christine. 2013. “Capitalising on a multicultural learning environment: Using group work as a mechanism for student integration.” In Cross-Cultural Teaching and Learning for Home and International Students: Internationalisation of Pedagogy and Curriculum in Higher Education, by Janette Ryan, 15–26. London: Routledge.

Etherington, Sarah J. 2014. “But Science Is International: Finding Time and Space to Encourage Intercultural Learning in a Content-Driven Physiology Course.” Advances in Physiology Education 38 (2): 145–154.

Feng, Jing Betty. 2016. “Improving Intercultural Competence in the Classroom: A Reflective Development Model.” Journal of Teaching in International Business 27 (1): 4–22.

Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE). 2020. Kansas Standards for World Languages.

Krebs, Katharine. 2020. “Global, International, and Intercultural Learning in University Classrooms across the Disciplines.” Research in Comparative & International Education 15 (1): 36–51.

Parkhouse, Hillary, and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner. “Incorporating Global Competency into Your Classroom.” ASCD Blog. August 22, 2019.

Reid, Robin, and Kyra Garson. 2017. “Rethinking Multicultural Group Work as Intercultural Learning.” Journal of Studies in International Education 21 (3): 1–18.

Shea, Timothy, Pamela Sherer, Rosemary Quilling, and Craig Blewett. 2011. “Managing Global Virtual Teams across Classrooms, Students and Faculty.” Journal of Teaching in International Business 22 (4): 300–313.

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