Organizing conferences in China or overseas about International Education was always a major part of my previous jobs. A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I changed my role from a conference organizer to a participant of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference in Toronto, Canada. When I entered the venue of more than 2,000 participants, I was quite overwhelmed. Knowing that they came from 130 countries, I realized that the whole world is just in front of me! I was really amazed by the scale and the manpower behind the conference to make everything possible. It must have included unimaginable and tremendous collective effort and time to place different pieces together. Going through the intensive programs every day was like shopping for your preferences among a wide range of choices in comparative and international education.
One of my favorite sessions was focused on Peace Education. The most impressive presenter was Dr. Jennifer Kim, Chairperson of “Build the Peace Committee” who is based in Chicago. She talked about how the Chicago School District, the third largest school district in the United States, has incorporated the United Nations Millennium Goals into the public institutions. Pictures of school activities illustrating the success of promoting peace in schools were shown. I was wondering all the time how we could promote peace through education. Undoubtedly, it has been quite a new field in international education. After their presentations, I did ask if there is any concrete curriculum yet for Peace Education. However, the speaker responded that this area still needs more research, exploration, and discovery. Startlingly, peace seems quite universal as a goal that most of us would like to pursue but generally, there has not been much context in education to achieve it.
Another inspiring session was “Transnational perspectives on democracy, human rights, and democratic education in an era of globalization.” One of the presenters was Dr. Fazal Rizvi who is one of the authors of the required textbook, “Globalizing Education Policy,” which we use in the International Education Policy class at Lehigh University. This topic was about the innovative collaboration of a Master’s Program in Comparative and International Education between Institute of Education at University of London, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, and the Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne, to explore issues related to globalization and social policy. Though these three well-known universities in the world involve different kinds of education systems, this type of hybrid program might be the first-time ever in the field of higher education to gather various scholars, including planners and learners, together for in-depth discussions. In addition, the style of this presentation literally demonstrated how technology has advanced the level of education. Two of the presenters from Australia successfully delivered their parts and answered audience’s questions through Skype.
In addition, Toronto was one of the most suitable cities to host the CIES Conference as it is a truly multicultural place. You not only could find various kinds of restaurants serving authentic food from where you came from, you could also randomly walk on the streets and end up having wonderful conversations with pedestrians who were always very helpful and friendly. For example, we met at least three very interesting people in one day. Here are some experiences that I would like to share with you. These also illustrated how people have moved without borders in the era of globalization because of political, economic, or personal reasons.
First, when two of us looked for the direction from our hotel to the Sheraton Conference Center, we just stopped one of the people on the street to ask for directions. Luckily, he was able to walk us to the destination. Along the way, we asked each other where we all came from. Amusingly, his ethnicity was Chinese but he never went back to China. He was born in India as his parents were in the Sino-Indian War and placed in the concentration camp. Then, he flew to Germany before settling down in Canada.
Second, we went into the the Toronto City Hall which is the home of the municipal government of the city. We ran into an African American lady who was selling her herbal products. When I received her name card, I realized her last name was “Lee”, a very common surname of Southern Chinese. Then, I was curious enough to ask her about it. Surprisingly, her father was Chinese and her ancestors could be traced back to the Emperor Dynasty in China.
Third, we passed by the Metropolitan United Church, a large 200-year neo-Gothic church in downtown Toronto. We thought that we could not visit it, because it was the site of making a film production. Suddenly, a custody person of this church, who was a Hindu, saw us and just passionately asked us to go in. He toured us around and told us his story of how he first flew to Canada from Sri Lanka illegally back in the old days. Then, he worked his way up and got a much better life with a house and two sons now. From our conversation, I could feel how much he loves Canada, which provided him room for development in its real embracing environment.
Undeniably, this trip to Toronto for the CIES Conference has been an eye-opening experience for me! It was an incredible hub to offer us a unique chance to meet with various professional educators from all over the globe. At the end, you would never know how small the connections within the comparative and international education world could be until you actively talked with other participants. I was astonished by the broad areas that comparative and international education could cover, ranging from private tutoring, social justice education, language education, early childhood education, to privatization of higher education, study abroad programs, and education for all. I do look forward to attending the next conference in Washington, D.C. and continue to explore the field of comparative and international education.