Students Experiencing the World

Photo credit:

By Wayne Russell

The following quote clearly explains the relevance of our students becoming global citizens: “U.S. high school graduates will: Sell to the world; buy from the world; work for international companies; manage employees from other cultures and countries; collaborate with people all over the world in joint ventures; compete with people on the other side of the world for jobs and markets; and tackle global problems, such as AIDS, avian flu, pollution, and disaster recovery. We need to open global gateways and inspire students to explore beyond their national borders.” Vivien Stewart, Becoming Citizens of the World, Educational Leadership.

I am reminded of a group of teachers in my previous school.  The students they serve are almost all low-income students.  These students have very few cultural experiences, let alone cross-cultural experiences.  With both parents often working long hours, they rarely get opportunities to visit local museums, art galleries, or historical landmarks.

One Friday this past school year a group of students experienced something they may never experience again.  They experienced Chinese culture firsthand.  China came to their classrooms.  A group of Chinese students were traveling through Dallas and they built a few hours into their schedule to visit our school.  They were students from an all-girls school in Beijing.  They brought artifacts and activities, taught students both spoken and written Chinese, and entertained with beautiful Chinese songs.  Our seven year old students were 100% engaged and excited.  They experienced something that doesn't enter their world very often: Diversity.  When these students reach adulthood, they will remember the day when a group of Chinese girls visited their classrooms.

This group of self-starting globally-passionate teachers has built a program in their classrooms called the Global Awareness Program (GAP).  They line up several visitors to speak to their students about life across our borders.  I had the privilege of sharing South African customs and culture with them past year.  In addition, they learned about life in Belize, Germany, and even Louisiana (Yes, Louisiana is a foreign country for me and others.  I need to someday visit the great state).  I am so excited students who get to experience new things and new ways of living.  The foundation is being laid for global citizenship.

Teachers could also invite international students from nearby universities to visit their classrooms.  These international students could read a book to your students, join an end-of-semester class party, or simply answer fascinating student questions.  Be creative.  I remember talking about South Africa a number of years ago in a third grade class.  They were fascinated by the artifacts I showed them and their questions were also very entertaining.

You can also bridge gaps between countries and cultures with technology.  Establish a relationship between your classroom and a classroom in another part of the world.  Have your students record short three to five minute video clips in which they describe a "A day in the life of American children." Upload them onto a service such as Vimeo and sent your partner-classroom the link and password for privacy protection.  Encourage them to send videos back with questions they have about life in your country.  Remember to also have your students ask questions for them to respond to.  "What is your favorite food?" "What do you normally do over the weekend?" "What sports do you play?" If you can work around timezones, you could arrange a live video conversation with another classroom via Skype.

We can also take our students to the world. One school is Atlanta, The Ron Clark Academy, is passionate about taking their students overseas. They have taken trips to places like Japan, France, and South Africa.  I have always dreamed of taking all 5th graders, 8th graders and 12th graders overseas for an end of primary, middle, and high school trip.  Dream bigger and plan for your students to visit every continent before graduation.  Wouldn't that be incredible?  Overseas trips will leave a lasting impression on their lives.  The Ron Clark Academy also enrolls students in a cutting-edge global studies class.

We need to give our students opportunities to explore the world.  We can take our students to the world and/or bring the world to our students.  With a passion, clear vision and strategic planning, we can make this a reality for our children.  In the words of Dr. Suess, "The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."