Last week I had a chance to fly over to the EARCOS Leadership Conference in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, before working at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, my wife and I spent about 6 years living and working at international schools in Asia, primarily in the Philippines. So I have a deep affection for the large, chaotic, and somewhat polluted cities of southeast Asia. Growing up in the rolling farmland of southern Minnesota, it would be impossible to predict that my life would include comfort and ease crisscrossing through Asia. It’s funny to say this, but I find a little joy in my ability to navigate customs, negotiate a foreign subway map, or discern between a safe and not-so-safe taxi, but these are all things I’ve come to learn and appreciate from time spent overseas.
These experiences have also grown my acceptance and appreciation for the diversity of our world. I’ve learned to empathize with different opinions and the perspectives of others, my patience has grown from sitting hours in traffic, and I’ve discovered the countless similarities between our many races, nationalities, religions, etc. In other words, I’ve started to become a global citizen.
This has all made me think: is there any substitution for experience when we strive to develop students with global perspectives? To bolster global awareness, many schools have come up with a variety of ways to deepen this value in their community. Some schools might host an international food festival—depending on the diversity of the student population—or explore local diverse population groups, learn a foreign language, or some other well-intended option. Still, these all seem to be a drop in the bucket in comparison to the flood of experience that comes when students are given an opportunity…err are expected to explore the world beyond our borders.
Unfortunately, when we look at the numbers only about 5% percent of Americans have travelled outside the US in recent years, and it’s safe to assume the number is much lower for students under 18. Of course, this makes sense since there are numerous obstacles and limited opportunities to provide safe experiences for students abroad. After all, most of us wouldn’t just toss a kid a passport and say “go.” Although the stories would be quite amazing…and I know of a few schools that aren’t too far off from this practice. Still, I believe this is why international school students may have a huge advantage over the general population of independent and public school students in the US, because embedded in international schools is a culture that has been built around bringing together a diverse community of students and adults from around the world. Not to mention the practice of students traveling together outside their host country to various events.
So what can we do for those students whose closest connection to an international experience is the IHOP next to the Olive Garden? Well international food festivals, language opportunities, and other experiences that emphasize diversity are great, but if you want your students to look beyond their city, state, and country borders there is nothing like riding in a Jeepney in Manila to blow a student’s mind.
Other options would include developing exchange programs between your school and other schools abroad, providing international travel opportunities over school breaks, supporting and cultivating international internships with trusted non-profits, and on and on. The bottom line is as schools we must develop opportunities for students to get out and into the world.
Now, as I write this, I realize that the ability to travel for many of our families is an unlikely luxury, especially outside one’s own country. So for many, my words are too simplistic and come from a perspective of incredible privilege. Still, it doesn’t negate the value of these experiences, and perhaps it just highlights the need for a discussion about school funding priorities. After all, you’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe it’s not a graduation requirement for everyone this year, but in the 10 years that have passed since Friedman declared The World is Flat the world has also shrunk…and the need for our kids to be able to walk comfortably into that shrinking world will continue to grow.
If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on how a shrinking world will impact our students, check out my post on Why Your Kids Grade Won’t Matter: Part One.
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