I’ve been developing and promoting pre-collegiate international studies programs and schools for decades. “International studies” – a rather stuffy name for something to be passionate about. So how can I be so passionate about something that sounds so heady?
A seed for my love of the world and its incredible, wonderfully diverse people was probably planted when I was two years old, informs by family pictures and stories from my older brothers. My brave parents took my three siblings and me on a trip up the yet unpaved muddy Alaska Highway to Fairbanks, camping at times in cold torrential rainstorms, and visiting various indigenous communities almost a decade before Alaska became a state of the U.S. When I was seven my parents took the whole family to Central and South America. We visited acquaintances of theirs, who brought us to their communities on jungle roads that sometimes had to be hacked clear from amazingly beautiful rapid jungle growth that had been cleared just a few days earlier. We visited Chichen Itza and my brothers and sister (I watched!) swam in the deep Wells of Sacrifice in Yucatan before either were popular tourist and National Geographic research sites. Caught in Guatemala at the start of the 1954 coup d’etat we left the country in an old bus in the middle of the night. As young adults my wife and I served in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan before that country’s people ended up in the decades-long crossfires of violent unrest, and afterwards became trainers for one of the last groups of new Peace Corps volunteers in Iran. I went to Afghanistan thinking I could make marvelous changes in education there, but I returned humbled to the United States with love of a people and a country so different from my home, and knowing so much more about myself and my place in the world.
I returned to the United States from my Peace Corps experiences with a burning desire to help children expand their knowledge of the world, their knowledge of issues that make the world what it is and what it is becoming, their potential for positive impact in the world, and their skills to gain maximum access to it. With great gratitude for my own experiences that led me to this vision, I had to find ways to make global learning experiences viable – especially for students who might otherwise never have a pathway to a place in a larger world. As I developed this vision in the context of my growing understanding of teaching and learning, I began to see that this vision, in order to be most potent, had to be manifested through a global framework of learning, a lens through which all learning disciplines are seen and absorbed. The framework had to be about learning experiences that were both personally relevant and authentic for individual students, and personally expanding through a maturing continuum of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that would lead students to developing self-confidence, initiative, and action.
Nurturing this vision for kids I began developing international studies programs in schools, defining international studies in terms of helping students develop global leadership skills. To me “global leadership” came to be about young people first becoming knowledgeable, empathic, and action-oriented about themselves, and then with others in their world. That could mean either a future in international affairs or, equally important, engaged locally in an ever-increasing globally connected reality.
So why am I passionate about pre-collegiate international studies? Because I have seen how students, through this global frame of learning, become self-actualized through action based on their globally-framed learning; how kids realize they can make a difference based on their learning before they ever get to post-secondary endeavors; how students have translated the power of their global knowledge and skills, empathy, joy, and concerns into action through projects and experiences; how students that have made their presence in the world a positive and inspiring force. How could I not be passionate about this!