International, global, transnational, and similar terms…

We often hear talk of “internationalization” or “globalization.”  What do these terms mean?  Are they interchangeable?

“Internationalization” in its dictionary definition refers to bringing nations into relation with one another, whereas “globalization” means to make global, to go worldwide.  Related terms that include the stem “national” include “transnational” and “multinational,” the former simply indicating that the activity or identity or object goes beyond borders, the latter referring to something (often in usage, it is interesting to note, a business) that involves several countries.

Connotations are another matter.  “Internationalization” often (though not always) has positive connotations because of the connections and relations implied, or because it is an activity that goes beyond the “merely” local or national, the arbitrariness of national borders.  “Globalization,” on the other hand, often connotes a loss, of national, local, or patrimonial identities (think of the emotional baggage of these terms).  The negative connotations of “global” also persist in thinking of business ventures that disrespect international labor norms or summarily uproot jobs from one location to another.  Here, the “global” disregards the local.

However, “global” has more necessary (if not necessarily more positive) connotations when we think of global health.  The H1N1 outbreak demands to be understood in a global context.  So do environmental issues such as climate change.

At The University of Iowa, in a context framed by higher education, we think of internationalization and globalization in a different light.  We believe that “global competence” is a core educational value that will benefit all students, starting with the Iowans whom we educate.  Global competence ranges from a basic understanding of global political, economic, and social conditions, to foreign language proficiency, to an ability to function confidently in multiple cultural environments and value systems.  Indeed, we have an obligation to provide students with the opportunity to attain global understanding.