Friday, September 26, 2014

How I Became a Global Citizen

First, a shout out to Teresa Tung, whose recent return to blogging (a post with the same title) inspired me to revisit my own relic of a blog suite, a space and an activity that I have all but abandoned over the past 2 years.

Some context for those who don't know Teresa and why she wrote her post about global citizenship. We spent last weekend at a pretty rad conference in Bangkok called The Global Citizenship Summit II organized by the awesome people at The JUMP! Foundation, Kenny Peavy from Earth Matters and Teresa Tung, a teacher at NIST International School. The conference included 3 dynamic days spent with a small group of educators who are committed to developing Global Citizenship Education within their learning communities. From outdoor educators to classroom teachers to service learning coordinators, expedition leaders and development workers, people from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of expertise, united by a common interest and inquiry -

How do we empower others to make the world a better place?

To start, there was a lot of dialogue about what defines a global citizen. The fairly homogenous group had pretty similar perspectives and opinions and I reflected carefully on what it is, exactly, that I think makes a person a global citizen. I came to this conclusion. For me, it is a role and a responsibility that we choose to accept. It's not passive or as simple as just being born on this planet, as that only makes us human. A global citizen is a human who actively makes the world a better place through passions, pursuits, actions and commitments. A global citizen has a skill set, a value system, a foundation of knowledge and deep contextual understanding (of course it is also pretty sweet if they have strong community support, buckets of money, power of influence, and a globally accepted passport).

So back to Teresa's original question, how do we become a global citizens? Many life experiences that have brought me to consider myself a global citizen. Here are some broad descriptions of those experiences, which are quite specifically sequential and in order of importance.

All my life, I’ve been lucky enough to travel. Not just on holidays, but as a way of life.  Growing up, I lived outside of my native Canada. My playground was the beach, my school was in the jungle and on weekends my family often explored our surroundings by land and sea. We went off the beaten track. We were active. We discovered newness in every adventure, culture, food, activity, place and person we met. There was rarely a routine, minimal familiarity, very few constants, and a limited sense of attachment. I didn’t have to learn how to become comfortable with the unknown, I just learned that naturally, there is a lot I don’t know, and that's awesome. Travel as a way of life bred an innate curiosity in me.

Very few discussions at the Global Citizenship Summit II lead to true debate, which is interesting. Like I said, we were a fairly homogenous group. In the sessions I attended, one recurring difference of opinion did come up, though. It was the idea that travel may or may not be essential for fostering the profile or characteristics of a global citizen. It was proposed that since students in international schools tend to travel extensively with their families and/or come from multicultural or multinational backgrounds, they've got the ‘global’ part covered, right? With this in mind we could actually teach global citizenship skills, values and competencies entirely through local experiences. Why take kids on expensive trips with big ecological footprints when the same outcomes can be achieved in our own backyard? Why go to an orphanage in Africa, when we have orphanages in our own local/regional communities? While I love the idea of lowering our ecological impact whenever possible and I believe in the movement to ‘Think Global, Act Local’, I do not agree that humans can become global citizens without traveling. 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” - Mark Twain

For me, travel has been the sharpest instigator, the strongest foundation and the most surprising wildcard in my journey of global citizenship. Leaving home, setting forth, being away from family and familiarity. Not knowing what is going to happen. Casting away the comforts and securities that I trust in order to explore a landscape that is yet unimaginable to my senses. Not being able to communicate, getting lost, being immersed in foreign tradition and history, learning experientially about communities, culture, nature, and society. Exhilarating, nerve-wracking and hold-your-breath-for-it kind of adventure. Being completely out of my comfort zone, discovering an openness within myself about not knowing the answer or understanding an opposing perspective. These experiences and learning opportunities are the ultimate gift of travel. In my opinion, they are they strongest promoters of peace, harmonizers for humanity and ultimately what unifies us on this planet. 

Something that has built my character and nurtured my spirit is time spent at camp or camping. Camp can be many things. It can be exploring your surrounding environment while focused on doing physically and mentally demanding activities. It can be a process of learning about your personal strengths and abilities, as well as those of a group, team or community. Working in the field of Outdoor Education and Experiential Learning (think canoe trips, high ropes courses, rock climbing, camping, wilderness trekking, etc.) has been very powerful for developing a deep understanding of group dynamics and leadership. Being part of a Canadian summer camp program taught me resilience and independence while teaching me that a community of committed citizens can effectively co-habitate, collaborate and care about each other a closely as family. Camp has also given me a staggering appreciation for the natural world, our intrinsic connection to the planet and the delicate relationships between all the communities that inhabit it.

“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” Lorraine Anderson

I’ve participated in many rigorous expeditions with children and adults, both as a child and as an adult. Often the final outcome and successes shared by the group can change people’s lives in profound ways. People are exposed to and confronted with the power of their own abilities in certain situations, for example, weathering an unexpected storm, solo-portaging a canoe, realizing self-sufficiency or the power of a truly cooperative group effort. People’s perceptions of what they think they can do and what they think the collective can do, are often challenged and exceeded. One of my most extreme trips was a 5-day winter wilderness camping expedition with 25 classmates in University (we were studying outdoor and experiential education). We were lucky enough to have mostly below zero degree weather (as warmer temperatures would have actually created a disastrously wet and dangerous mess), crossed frozen lakes on snowshoes, pulled massive sleds of food/gear and slept peacefully in quinzees made entirely of snow, by our own hands. Now you might be thinking I'm a little bit nuts and this girl grew up in the tropics, remember? On that winter expedition we went deep into the wilderness, had no access to civilization, no tents, no heaters, no driers, there was no cheating and no giving up. It might sound near impossible to some, but the core philosophy of Outdoor Education involves exploring the delicate balance between perceived risk and actual risk. This formula can be applied to our own abilities and the challenges we tackle.What sometimes seems impossible, it often achievable, especially when you understand the synergy and complexity of a highly functioning group. Living the journey, investing in the process and celebrating the destination or the goal is powerful esteem builder for individuals and for a community.  

As an adult I’ve been drawn to developing my career in education in an international setting. Yes, I was bitten by the travel-bug at a young age. Yes, I was following in the familiar footsteps of my family. Yes, I was strong and independent with an insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration. Interestingly enough, though, I think there was a more subtle undertow that pulled me towards international school teaching. When you sign a contract you know it’s for a substantial period of time. You know you are actively committing to much more than just a job. You are also joining an established community with a sense of purpose, you will become an important player in this team and invest in its sense of home and family. This satisfies and sustains one the strongest human desires, to be accepted by others and to have a sense of belonging and purpose. Some people spend their entire lives trying to find or create the perfect community with a balance or mixture of work, family, passions and interests. Teaching in international schools offers you this tailor-fit community in abundance (like on a silver platter) and, if you choose to, can continue to satisfy this constant desire for belonging (like fuelling an addiction), over and over, while also exploring different locations around the globe. Sounds pretty perfect, right?

The old emphasis upon superficial differences that separate peoples must give way to education for citizenship in the human community.” – Norman Cousins

I value education. I enjoy working with children. I love learning. These are the fundamental reasons that I enjoy teaching. I believe that global citizenship is not something that humans develop entirely naturally. It requires exposure, guidance, experience and the development of values, attitudes and abilities. Working towards developing these attributes myself and with others in an educational setting has contributed to me becoming a global citizen. My most recent teaching job was at a school that values and promotes global citizenship education in a massive way. It's not easy to weave these values, principles and attitudes into everything a school does. There is plenty of other things that also need focus and attention. But it is fantastically rewarding and transformative to be part of an educational community that truly values global citizenship education.

Working at UWCSEA for 2 years taught me a lot about compassion. The community demonstrated a new level of human compassion, dedication to positive change and connection to the planet through service and giving. I especially love the break down of the word compassion - com (meaning with) and passion (meaning strong and barely controllable emotion).

"I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." - Kurt Hahn

This year I’ve stepped away from my role as a classroom teacher, in order to pursue and explore my own affinity for compassion. Giving my time, my resources, my talents and ideas, essentially, giving my blood, sweat and tears to something important to me. There was no lengthy deliberation or consideration for me to decide what, exactly, I wanted to contribute to and care for. I am eager to give back to an environment, a non-human community, an ecosystem has provided and facilitated some of the most beautiful, inspiring and meaningful experiences of my life. I want to give back to the one thing that gives me so much joy, the ocean. Being in the ocean is my nirvana. Scuba diving, as a hobby, challenges me mentally and physically, provides me with emotional nourishment and community of like-minded people. It ignites wonder, curiosity and a sense of awe, seeing and learning about something new, complex, unique and different. The marine environment is a biome that few humans are experientially familiar with. When you dive, you enter a new realm of our planet, one that is mostly undiscovered, barely understood, full of mysteries, beauty and possibilities. 

“In the end, we will only conserve what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.” - Baba Dioum

Through a series of connections and projects I have planned for this year, I will work in reef restoration, shark conservation, environmental protection and advocacy, travelling to areas of the world where I can scuba dive and share my passion with others. Through this adventure, I am demonstrating my compassion and becoming a contributing citizen of the planet, one who cares about making a positive difference. I am a global citizen.

In summary, I’ve throughly enjoyed this personal inquiry into my past, my experiences and my choices and ultimately asking myself what makes me a global citizen? The answer is travel, adventure, camp, education, a sense of belonging and the development of true compassion, based upon sharing my own passion. I wrote about these experiences in sequential order and also reflected upon the essence of why this order matters. Currently, compassion is the most profound reward of my life learning and experiences to date. I think it is the heart of global citizenship, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to humans. It can't be the starting point of global citizenship education. We are not all born as compassionate entities who want to make the world a better place. For me, compassion is a learned behaviour and it has a lot to do with what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and who I’ve interacted with. 

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” 
- John Dewey

My global citizen profile includes the following attributes which I believe are developed through the experiences described above.
Core Values (beliefs): respect, equality, justice, peace, human rights, social responsibility, accountability, environmental appreciation
Key Competencies (actions): embracing diversity, cultural awareness, international mindedness, independence, citizenship, being caring, responsible, sensitive, flexible, resilient, nurturing, curios, empathetic, open minded, trustworthy, patient, persistent
Skill Development (abilities): communication, collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, survival, community development, leadership, improvisation, conflict resolution, resourcefulness, negotiation, critical thinking
Knowledge Acquisition (understanding): Languages, History, Geography, Social Studies, Science, Math, Cultural Studies, Economics, The Arts, how the world works, etc.