Through the Eyes of an Educator: The World
I have a close friend with a thirteen year old. This month, she and her spouse and many like them are headed to high school orientation. As someone who used to plan those exact orientations, I know there are thoughts swirling around the heads of new to secondary school parents, like ‘how is it possible to have a high school age student – we were only thirteen yesterday, right?” This is the age I understand. This is the age group that my educational experience can help. High school social studies is where I spent my entire professional educational career and between in and out of the classroom lessons and extracurricular activities – this is the time in life I actually can wrap my head around. But the fact that we were only teenagers five minutes ago and now her eldest is heading full speed ahead to the land of angst of all kinds is mind blowing.
Growing up is never easy. Today, when the world seems in utter turmoil every which way we look, it can’t be easy to throw in the traditional teenage torment. For the worldschoolers, education has always intersected with travel. Whether that means finding a way to communicate in a language different from your own, experimenting with foods of a new region, finding medical attention in a foreign land, or learning about what community means in another part of the world, cultures intersect and learning takes place. When one of my favorite children enters the world of high school social studies, she will quickly learn the phrases cultural diffusion and cultural diversity. Although she may not have known the terms, she’s known the meaning of them for many years. Two of her mom’s best friends married people from other countries and both of those couples have traveled extensively and lived overseas. Through our travels, she’s received postcards and items from all over the world. When she was in primary school, she even did a report on my husband about what his life was like growing up in Australia. How do we put all of this into words for she and her peers to fully understand?
This is education at its best. Exploring the globe, channeling curiosity, cultivating interest, meeting others different than yourself, trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, learning from others, and developing an understanding of how we’re all interconnected – this is global education. This is what I wish for my incoming freshman. Amidst her mom’s turmoil of having an eighth grader at home and the world events of the last election, I’m finding there seems to be a greater global understanding happening to those who perhaps didn’t before fully grasp the concept of global interdependence. Skyping with friends on the other side of the globe, knowing your cousins overseas are marching, or watching news in your home country provides a clearer picture of the actual tiny size of the great big world.
International travelers experience this all the time. Each time you set off to a new region, you’re the ambassador of your home. Perhaps you’re the first of your religion, nationality, food sensitivity, language, disability, allergy, or insert label of whatever that the person across the table from you has ever met. You have the distinct opportunity to either defy or solidify stereotypes with your words and actions. You have the honor of showcasing all of the good so that your new friend has the best possible takeaway from her experience with you. You provide the link that has trouble getting through to those whose borders are closed or minds ruled by fear, or perhaps someone who has never met a ‘you’ before now. Teaching the benefits of cultural diffusion and diversity are one thing, but living them is quite another.
Another term she’ll learn in ninth grade Global History is interdependence. Those three are the big-ticket terms for global understanding, and traverse some of the overarching themes of both ninth and tenth grade NY state social studies curriculum. But educators don’t only live inside a classroom, and education is rarely only received from a book. Supermarket shopping proves the theory. In the wake of political turmoil with some of our many neighboring countries, avocado lovers feel interdependence regularly. My husband and I have had the privilege of taking tours of coffee plantations where you are reminded of the interconnectedness of the entire process, from plant to cup. Check out the aisles at Costco or your favorite barista shop and you’ll find coffees from around the world waiting for the opportunity to quench your morning thirst. Head to your favorite candy aisle or lolly shop and see some of the world’s best chocolates that hail from Belgium or Switzerland. Or go over to the house of anyone who’s traveled, lived overseas, or have a family member or friend from another place in the world, and their pantry will undoubtedly house items the likes of which you’ve never tasted.
I married an Australian. Our wedding was in New York. For our favors, we gave out Tim Tams that we carried in luggage from Australia, through Hong Kong and London and onto New York. For our Aussie contingent, they were happy to see something familiar. For some of our American friends, it was the first taste of those they’d ever had. Today, they send social media messages and texts that they’re so excited that ‘Australia’s Best Biscuit” can be found on the shelves of their local Target, World Market, and in some of their local supermarkets. When my husband came to my ninth grade class to give a presentation on his Australian experience and the students got to try Vegemite for the first time, see a cricket bat up close, and learn that kangaroos don’t actually greet you at the airport…that’s cultural diffusion live and in action.
For those who haven’t traveled far from home, but have spent the day with someone different than themselves or outside of their comfort zone in a diverse community – you learn. Spend an afternoon with a person of a different faith and hear what she has to say. Go to a friend’s house from a different background and taste the food she’s used to having when she gets home from school. Ride public transportation in a major city and know you’re surrounded by thousands all trying to do the same thing you are – get from here to there. Regardless of clothing, language, religious attire, or choice of snack, we are all far more similar than we are different. It’s the cultural barriers and borders that prohibit the growth and understanding. It’s the fear of different that blocks us from the magic of cultural blending, the love of learning and experiencing something new. Choosing new and sometimes difficult over fearful mindsets isn’t always easy – in fact, it’s often the thing that divides us most.
But it doesn’t take giant acts of travel to make inroads into those closed blockades.
It takes a new ninth grader’s interest in global studies.
It takes a subway rider sharing a smile with someone who looks or sounds different.
It takes a hungry citizen who has the courage or interest to try a cuisine completely different to his own.
It takes a fellow believer to wander into a place of worship different to her own faith to experience the spiritual good.
It takes a traveler who sees her passport as an opportunity to share her experience and gain more from new cultures and customs in lands she’s yet to explore.
It takes a shopper who realizes that when it’s cold in the northeast of the United States many of her favorite blueberries come from Peru instead of Maine.
It takes a coffee connoisseur to realize that the good of what comes from his country is not diminished by the good of another’s, in fact; it’s elevated even more.
It takes a culinary fan to know that you may have to seek for a while, but you might be able to discover a new restaurant, store, or area nearby that makes that favorite dish you encountered on your latest international journey.
It takes all of us with open minds and open access to increase the bonds of cultural diffusion, uplift the positives of cultural diversity, and enhance the global understanding of an interdependent world.
The positives of another do not diminish that of your own.
The access to different doesn’t take away from the good of the traditional. The interest in the new doesn’t limit the benefits of the old. Whether you set off on an adventure to a foreign land, get a new article of clothing brought back for you from someone else’s journey, or take the time to have a conversation with someone different to yourself (views, beliefs, nationality, religion, culture, or otherwise) – this is how we grow.
This is how we share scientific discovery and help to work together to save the planet and its people.
This is how we bring people to the table to discuss shared values in different lands.
This is how technology expands, migration takes place, and relationships flourish.
This is how a ninth grader learning about the differences in culture, the sharing of ideas, and the global connections of the world takes textbook print and turns it into real life actions. High school is more than a new school or a new era - it offers the opportunity for minds to soar and understanding to develop. Whether you’ve been there before, are starting on your journey, or want to find a way to live the way the bold face terms describe, if we harness the positives of those overarching terms, perhaps the world will continue moving forward with ideas of fostering conversation, sharing ideas, blending cultures, and learning from community.
Regardless of your age or where you are in your learning experience…don’t be afraid to seek with open eyes, open arms and an open mind.
Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert