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The Annual International Street Fair in Blacksburg.

Encouraging global engagement, promoting global understanding

We at the Language and Culture Institute are pleased to be able to share the rich diversity of our university’s international engagement activities through this magazine, Virginia Tech Global.  

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Donald Back

I recently attended a conference at which the plenary speaker, remarking on a completely different topic, said something that struck a chord with me: “You can’t go back to a place you haven’t been.” I’ve thought about that comment a lot in the contexts of my own work in international affairs and especially of this magazine’s contents.  

We cannot hope to understand our world unless we explore it. 

By bringing the world to Blacksburg in hosting our international students, scholars, and visiting professors, and by encouraging our students and faculty to venture abroad to study, to discover, and to experience, Virginia Tech fulfills its promise as a global land-grant institution.

Witness, for example, the stories of transformation in this issue. Our FutureHAUS team’s rich interaction with competitors abroad inspired a cornucopia of ideas for applications of their modular home in other environs. Soaking in the Peruvian countryside triggered a metamorphic intellectual shift in our visiting undergraduates. Graduate students experienced similar enlightenment in their tours of universities across Western Europe

For international students, Virginia Tech’s main campus, our beautiful Appalachian setting, and our welcoming Blacksburg community make for a learning experience far beyond the classroom.    

Going abroad or interacting with others from different countries here at home takes students to places they can’t experience in a classroom. Through “breathing” and “feeling” other ways of life, students build a greater appreciation for different backgrounds and beliefs — and learn to communicate across perceived barriers. 

Each meaningful encounter with someone of another culture promises new and deeper learning. 

Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that the abilities to build trust and to empathize with others of different values and beliefs are critical in both interpersonal and geopolitical relationships.  

At Virginia Tech, we consider international engagement integral to a university education. By taking students to places they haven’t been, figuratively and literally, we instill a global mindset that makes for a better person — in work and in life.

Donald Back is the director of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute.