At summit, Wisconsin high school students address ‘global citizenship’

Leaders across a range of sectors—particularly business and education—have been trumpeting the need for people — employees and students — who have a global perspective, are more adaptable and able to live and work across cultures and national boundaries. They want more “global citizens.”

WisGlobalYouthSummit 118But what makes someone a “global citizen”?

Approximately 80 students from nearly 20 high schools from around Wisconsin addressed that question at the first Wisconsin Global Youth Summit, held February 23, 2013, on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. Nearly a dozen international students—volunteers in UW–Madison’s International Reach program—joined the summiteers in small-group discussions.

(See also: Summit lets teens have say on internationalizing education)

These young people represent what national pollster John Zogby calls the “First Globals” generation. Zogby explains: “They have a desire to be nimble, to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they’re in a position to do that.”

The Wisconsin Global Youth Summit was created primarily to give some of the state’s First Globals an opportunity to have their say.

As the students set out to identify the characteristics of global citizenship, they were encouraged to reflect on how these qualities apply to themselves. These questions were given as guides:

  • Where have you traveled outside of the United States? What were your most memorable experiences?
  • Where in the world do you most want to visit … and why?
  • Besides English, what other language(s) have you learned? What opportunities have you had to use another language?
  • What opportunities have you had to meet and interact with people from different countries and cultures (in your own community or while traveling)? What do you recall most about these experiences?
  • What foods, music, and movies from other parts of the world have you enjoyed?
  • In what ways are you more “global” than your parents?

So, what makes someone a global citizen?

WisGlobalYouthSummit 119The students offered a variety of definitions, mostly listing characteristics, but central themes emerged. Their ideas fall into three general categories: knowledge, attitudes and actions.

For example, one group says: “A global citizen is someone who is willing to try new things and is open to exploration. Also, they are willing to communicate and get to know people from different cultures.”

Another group uses the acronym AIR to define global citizenship:

  • Awareness – being aware of what’s happening in other cultures (knowledge)
  • Initiative – to be involved/communicate with other cultures (action)
  • Respect – of other customs and beliefs (attitudes)

What should a global citizen know?

The students say that global citizens should learn about languages, cultures, food, religion, and world affairs. One group recommends learning different languages through immersion, getting to know the culture and the people, not just the place.

Global citizens, they also say, need to be aware of stereotypes—within their own culture and in others—and learn to get beyond them. One group advises: “Learn a culture as a whole – first person info, NO stereotypes.”

Along with becoming knowledgeable about other cultures, global citizens need to look inward. One group recommends being “mindful of your own culture in order to share it with others.”

What attitudes should a global citizen possess?

According to the students, global citizens should be open-minded, respectful, non-judgmental, accepting and understanding. In addition, they should be adventurous and adaptable, willing to learn and try new things.

WisGlobalYouthSummit 121How should a global citizen take action?

The students suggest that global citizens should reach out and communicate with people from different countries and cultures. They should travel, assist with and participate in international exchange programs.

They strongly endorsed volunteering – contributing through such organizations as the Peace Corps and UNICEF, helping to address problems in other countries, and being environmentally and politically active.

What else might other students add to this conversation?

To find out, these discussions need to move into classrooms and schools across the state, where all involved need to begin tackling follow-up questions about how to pave the pathways for these students to become global citizens.

— by Kerry G. Hill

(Kerry G. Hill, Director of Public Affairs for the Division of International Studies, was one of the lead organizers of the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit. He also serves on the board of Global Wisconsin, Inc.)

Global Youth Summit from UW-Madison International Studies on Vimeo.