Why International Affairs Education?

This post was researched and written by Samantha Simmons,
World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern.

“The 21st century isn’t coming; it’s already here. And our students have the opportunity and challenge of living and working in a diverse and rapidly changing world. Public schools must prepare our young people to understand and address global issues, and educators must re-examine their teaching strategies and curriculum so that all students can thrive in this global and interdependent society.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel

Generations to come will face an increasingly integrated world, and it is through education and experiences that develop a globalized perspective that students can be better equipped to contribute to the global community. Greater global awareness and cultural understanding are best achieved through education. These critical skills for the 21st century global workforce encompass both an in-depth knowledge and understanding of international issues, as well as an appreciation for those from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The ability to understand, read, write, and speak in more than one language enhances cross-cultural communication skills. Acquiring proficiency in another language is proving to be an increasingly important criterion for employers in recruitment. A majority of employers (70%) used foreign language proficiency as part of their criteria for hiring, according to a study in 2006. The acquisition of another language is a strong indicator of global competence, but research shows that it also indicates the prospective employee has a better understanding of English and verbal skills as well. Studying international affairs and being aware of global issues gives a distinct advantage to students in searching for rewarding career paths amongst the changing demands of work. Studying international affairs does not need to be the focus of a student’s study, but rather, any course of study (e.g. science, business, biology, medicine, engineering, history, law, psychology, etc) greatly benefits from approaching it with a global perspective.

“In the financial world, cultural awareness and cultural adeptness are far more important than undergraduate major or existing skill sets… These needs touch all industries, from banking to healthcare to engineering.”

Jonathan Jones, Firmwide Campus Recruiting Director for Goldman Sachs

Given that finance, trade, technology, and information now move relatively freely across national borders; governments, corporations, educational institutions, and the international community at large need managers and professionals who possess a broad understanding of our interconnected world. Therefore, opportunities for positions requiring international knowledge and skills are increasing and have created a need for graduates who are highly skilled, culturally attuned, and able to think and act on both a global and local level. It is through global competency and awareness that one develops the skills needed to succeed in a competitive global job market. As identified by both the National Education Association and Harvard University, these skills include:


  • Complexities and interdependency of world events and issues
  • Cultural understanding
  • Geography, conditions, issues and events
  • Historical forces that have shaped the current world system
  • One’s own culture and history in relationship to others


  • Research
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Coping, resiliency, ability to adapt
  • Critical and comparative thinking
  • Creative thinking and problem solving
  • Language Skills

Values and Attitudes:

  • Openness to new opportunities, ideas and ways of thinking
  • Self awareness about culture; sensitivity and respect for diversity
  • Empathy and valuing multiple perspectives
  • Comfort with ambiguity and unfamiliar situations
  • Positive outlook on adversity


  • Seek out multiple opinions and perspectives
  • Form opinions based on exploration and evidence
  • Taking responsible initiative action
  • Independent seeking of solutions
  • Sharing knowledge and encouraging discourse

And What about Pittsburgh?

The growth of the internet and technology have resulted in an increased integration and interaction between governments, economies, and individuals across the globe. It is through this interconnectedness that businesses transcend borders; Pittsburgh is no exception. Like other major metropolitan areas, the Pittsburgh region is becoming increasingly globalized. Nearly 400 foreign companies from countries around the world have operations in Pittsburgh. In fact, over 50,000 residents in this region are employed by these foreign companies, according to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. This makes the necessity to understand the world even more important when cooperating and competing in the international marketplace. While there are a wealth of study abroad experiences available (see scholarships, financial aid, Fulbright Program, and more) to make one more culturally aware, a number of educational opportunities for students exist on a local level here in Pittsburgh. If you are a high school student, consider joining us for the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s Summer Seminar on Global Issues to begin developing some of these critical skills. For more information, click here.


 “Education is the best means–probably the only means–by which nations can cultivate a degree of objectivity about each other’s behavior and intentions.”

–          J. William Fulbright

Articles and Reports on Global Competency and Education:

Resources for Teachers: