GW Celebrates Its Global Outlook during International Education Week

The university hosts more than 4,000 students, faculty and staff from 130 countries, while sending 1,000 students abroad per academic year.

November 15, 2021

International Education Week

By Nick Erickson 

Ever since she could remember, George Washington University senior international affairs student Raneem Talal I Akif wanted to be an ambassador.

“That was, like, my first goal as a kid,” she said.

Except growing up in Saudi Arabia, she never saw a woman from her country hold such a role. While gender segregation in Saudi Arabia has transformed in the past couple of years, seeing a lack of representation in policy making only intensified Ms. Akif’s ambitions.

When it was time to consider post-secondary education, she realized she might have limited options at home. Ms. Akif extended the boundaries of her search beyond Saudi Arabia, especially after noting that women entering ministry positions now in her home country could only gain the necessary education and experience for those roles elsewhere.

“There was no major that was either political science or international affairs for women,” said Ms. Akif, who was raised in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh. “And that made me want it more.”

Following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, Ms. Akif decided to study abroad. She moved from Saudi Arabia to the United States in August 2018, starting at George Mason University before enrolling at GW in spring 2019, mostly because of the renowned Elliott School of International Affairs.

Ms. Akif is scheduled to finish up her undergraduate degree this May, and she’ll do so representing the benefits of international education, which is celebrated formally Monday through Friday in an annual week set aside to recognize students such as Ms. Akif.

GW offers a breadth of international education opportunities. The university hosts more than 4,000 students, faculty and staff from 130 countries, while more than 1,000 students study abroad every academic year while participating in more than 150 programs. Just recently, GW was named the top medium enrollment producer of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, which mobilizes undergraduate Federal Pell Grant recipients to study abroad.

That commitment to global education is a big reason Ama Appiah, who will be wrapping up her M.B.A. this spring, chose GW for graduate school. Ms. Appiah had taken an interest in Korean dance after her undergraduate studies at the University of Connecticut, where she was the student government president, and began learning about the culture during her spare time.

She taught herself the language and wanted to immerse herself in that culture, which was a factor when it came time to select a place to pursue her M.B.A. GW fit the bill, and she will spend next spring at Korea University in Seoul while also working for Korea’s HP headquarters. Ms. Appiah is grateful GW has given her such an opportunity.

“That’s what excited me about coming to GW,” said Ms. Appiah, a Forte Fellow who hopes to work in some type of creative communications or marketing in sectors such as entertainment or technology. “Everything is really taught through that global, diversity and inclusion lens, and no matter what discipline you’re in, you know you have to know those angles just to be a better citizen. That’s what makes GW different from other schools.”

Those immersion and cultural experiences can have a lasting impact. Christine Brown-Quinn, M.B.A. ‘92, is president of the GW Alumni Association. Based out of London working as career strategist, author and consultant, she is one of the more than 10,000 alumni—including both expatriates and international students who returned to their country of origin after graduation—living and working abroad. She said that number, as well as the tens of thousands of alumni working in international organizations across a multitude of specialties, is a testament to the university’s global reach and outlook.

"One of the distinguishing factors of the George Washington University is its ability to offer students a top-notch international education in Washington, D.C., a global capital as well as an extensive range of study abroad experiences,” Ms. Brown-Quinn said. “The issues of today are complex, and that international outlook empowers our community to be at the forefront of solving some of the world's biggest challenges." 

While the benefits are plentiful, sometimes first steps can be the hardest. International students and students studying abroad are encouraged to take advantage of available resources. The Office of Study Abroad, for instance, has events this week such as “Being Black Abroad” and “How to be a U.S. Representative Abroad.” There is also the Multicultural Student Services Center. While it can be overwhelming to embark on new territory, Ms. Akif and Ms. Appiah both advise students to not be afraid to step outside of comfort zones and embrace the settings around them.

 “I would say exposing yourself to other cultures is really important. You can have a wider perspective and understanding of life, and I think it’s really important not to limit yourself,” said Ms. Akif, who knows a thing or two about challenging limits. “There are a lot of things I've gotten to do over the past year or two that I would never have imagined being capable of just because I was put in certain positions.”