Wisconsin Global Youth Summit generates ideas for raising global awareness

Incorporating international news reports into school-wide announcements, having high school students give language lessons to elementary students, and hosting international dinners for the community are among the ideas for increasing global awareness offered by high school students at the 2015 Wisconsin Global Youth Summit.

The Wisconsin Global Youth Summit brought approximately 170 students from more than 35 high schools across Wisconsin, accompanied by more than 60 teachers, to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on Saturday, February 28, for a day of sessions aimed at promoting their growth as global citizens.

The summit was co-sponsored by the UW–Madison Division of International Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Participating UW–Madison units include the Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc) Program, International Reach (International Student Services), Language Institute, and the Wisconsin International Outreach Consortium (WIOC).

These sessions were designed:

  • To encourage students to think about themselves and the world around them.
  • To broaden their perspectives through contacts with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • To have them recognize that being internationally engaged can be fun and exciting.

Students at the summit are introduced to a variety of languages.
Students at the summit are introduced to a variety of languages. (Photo: Angela Bublitz)

Over the course of the day, the students interacted with members of the UW-Madison community –domestic and international students and staff, who all share strong interests in increasing cross-cultural awareness and engagement.

The high school students learned about South African gumboot dancing, discussed global citizenship, and interacted with individuals from the university’s international community.

Most of the participating students made it clear that they already were well on their way to becoming global citizens. Based on a show of hands, most are studying other languages, know individuals from other countries, possess passports and have traveled outside of the United States.

In addition to providing encouragement and inspiration, the summit also enabled students to speak with a collective voice. While their teachers discussed ways to enhance international education in a separate session next door, the students met in small groups to generate their own ideas for increasing global awareness in their schools and communities.

And they had plenty to say. Some key themes emerged:

Strengthen academics: They called for more opportunities to learn languages – including self-study of languages not offered by their schools – and to study other culturally focused subjects, such as sociology, anthropology, global issues, arts and literature from other cultures, history from a non-American viewpoint, and physical education with more internationally popular sports.

Boost global appreciation through organizations and events: They see new and existing school clubs as another means to promote global awareness, such as Model UN, international/global connections, world events, culture, and languages. Such organizations could host school-sponsored events such as cultural fairs, international days, and foreign films showings, open to the community. Creating an honor society for global awareness could provide recognition students who excel in their pursuit of international interests.

Eat and learn: Cultural cuisine could be featured through picnics and potlucks, meals served at school, and items sold for fund-raising. This could even be extended into the community, such as hosting an “international dinner” or delivering special meals to people in need.

Connect more, locally and globally: Students – individually or through organizations or classes – can become more globally aware by interacting more with exchange students, connecting with pen pals, Skyping with peers in other countries, bringing speakers on international topics into schools, getting involved with sister cities and other partnerships, and developing collaborative teams and projects with their peers in other school districts.

Use service projects as a vehicle: They suggested organizing “language days,” in which high school students, for academic or volunteer credit, teach languages lessons to younger students. Other approaches to service include engaging in projects that benefit local ethnic/immigrant residents, and raising funds to support international causes.

Go places, near and far: They suggested taking school trips to culturally diverse places nearby, such as mosques, synagogues, museums, and ethnic restaurants; going abroad on service projects that would require language immersion, such as students in Spanish doing volunteer work in Guatemalan orphanages; and advertising opportunities and raising funds for study abroad.

Bring more like-minded students together: They called for more statewide conferences, like the Global Youth Summit, so that more students can connect with like-minded peers around the state, and perhaps take on collaborative projects.

– by Kerry G. Hill

Students at the summit interact with members of UW-Madison's international community. (Photo: Angela Bublitz)
Students at the summit interact with members of UW-Madison’s international community. (Photo: Angela Bublitz)

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