This paper will examine how being ‘international’ has become a form of control and ascertain the power relations implicit in making claims to ‘internationalism’. The discussion will draw primarily on interview and focus group data collected from four research projects in international schools, encompassing over 20 schools across 4 continents, using a range of theoretical lenses to interpret the conceptualization of ‘international’ in teacher, school management, parent and student narratives.Firstly, the paper will draw on the insights of Foucault (1979) in seeing the power of internationalism as productive and enabling, and not simply repressive and responsive. Secondly, the data analysis will be linked to the work of Bernstein and Bourdieu in critically examining the role of language in the definition of ‘being international’, and argue that the social function of English fluency is integral to the power relations and identities being inscribed upon individuals through discourse. Lastly, however, it will be argued that the ‘international’ is a discourse which may be progressive; for example, the data will be interpreted in the light of the work of Apple (1996, 2011, 2013), conceptualizing international education as cultural politics, and a means for reinventing the international as a driving force for social change. The paper will analyse the interview data in order to explore ways in which the tensions between the productive and the repressive aspects of ‘international’ discourse are negotiated by stakeholders and by individual institutions. The implications of this account will be suggested to extend beyond international schooling to other ways in which the ‘international’ in invoked in education – for example, the use of international comparisons to monitor and control learning, and the internationalization of higher education. In summary, being international will be seen as a discourse that positions and privileges, and that both fashions new possibilities and delimits what is seen as twenty-first century education.