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Alumni Western Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western

International incidents - How a Western alumna is shaping global opportunity for Canadian students

by Jason Winders, MES'10

Karen McBride, BA’87, didn’t expect a revolutionary way of viewing international education would require her involvement in an actual revolution.

In 2011, the Libyan civil uprising compromised long-standing scholarships for more than 2,000 Libyan graduate students studying in North America.

As president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), the organization managing the scholarship program for the government of Libya, McBride stood centre stage in the international crisis.

“Can you imagine,” she asked. “Not only are these students going through the psychological trauma of watching a revolution unfold in their homeland, but they also don’t know where the money is coming from to support them in their studies.”

For four months, McBride engaged in “creative triage” juggling communications between the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, U.S. State Department and United Nations as well as with hundreds of students. And while the war rages on two years later in the North African country, McBride would untangle the mess for students studying here.

All in a day’s work for Canada’s top international education advocate. When not confronting revolutions, McBride’s organization is a nonprofit, nongovernmental body dedicated to international education with more than 150 member institutions, among them Western. Founded in 1966, CBIE is the only national organization commited solely to international education.

Even at an early age, McBride was no stranger to the world. Before arriving on campus, the Simcoe, Ont. native headed across the Atlantic for a European backpack trip after high school graduation. Although she had been on a plane only once in her life, she embraced the experience and let the continent’s rich history wash over her.

At Western, she would remain inspired by what she had seen and study history, architecture, literature, poetry, and languages. She would earn a BA in History and French at Western, moving on to earn a MA in International Affairs from Carleton University.

“I think of my time at Western as my true intellectual development. I was able to broaden my understanding in many areas,” she said. “The flexibility of professors – in terms of being able to study dimensions of your subject area – I found to be very broad-minded.

“Western was a very special time in my life in terms of my horizons expanding. This was my true university experience.”

For the last two decades, McBride has promoted international education in Canada – serving as international affairs vice-president for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and as a research advisor for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade through her work at the Parliamentary Centre.

Joining CBIE in 2009, McBride now leads policy development and advocacy efforts at the national and international levels supporting international cooperation in education. Simply stated, she is the cause’s main, and most visible, champion. “We must send out students to be part of a growing globalization of higher education.

We must be part of that,” she said. “That appetite is fostered at a young age. The longterm sustainability of Canada’s engagement in the world starts with our young people.” McBride credits the K-12 sector for instilling a sense of global citizenship in youth, and sees universities moving in the right direction by expanding opportunities. But not all the work falls on educators.

“Our corporate sector, our private sector have a strategic interest in helping to make certain Canadian students have that international experience,” she said. “I would love to see more of them really engage in supporting that endeavour because it is in the long-term interest of their business and of Canada’s prosperity.”

It’s a legacy she hopes to leave to her 10-year-old daughter and the thousands of children like her across Canada who already see the “world as their domain.” These global opportunities – and, in turn, the responsibilities those opportunities come with – have not come overnight, but through the hard work of many.

“It changed my life and my outlook on my career, on what I wanted to study, on my country. These transformative experiences lead people in new directions, creative directions, give them the confidence to take risks and view things from another perspective,” she said. “I think that’s so healthy whether someone builds a career in an international space or not.

“Our ability to understand other people, other cultures, other perspectives is important for the multicultural society we live in no matter where a student builds a career.”


This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Alumni Gazette
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