Summit lets teens have say on internationalizing education

Sorry, but no teachers allowed.

The Wisconsin Global Youth Summit was created so that high school students could talk with peers from around the state about internationalizing their lives and their schools. No one intended to have them trek to Madison – coming from as far away as Manitowoc, Green Bay, Marshfield, Black River Falls and La Crosse—on a Saturday just to hear a parade of adults talking at them.

To ensure the sovereignty of the student space, the teachers and other adults who accompanied the students were assigned to a different room down the hall for a separate program.

WisGlobalYouthSummit 114Approximately 80 students from nearly 20 high schools from around Wisconsin came to the summit, which convened on February 23 at Union South on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. These young people represent the next wave of what pollster John Zogby calls the “First Globals” generation.

Zogby says, “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.”

For years, leaders across a range of sectors—especially business and education—have been saying essentially the same thing, as expressed here by Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers: “We need students who are knowledgeable about the world and who have an understanding of how other cultures work and how other people think.”

Those of us who put together the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit envisioned this pilot project as an opportunity to hear directly from the First Globals, as we develop strategies to meet the needs voiced by Evers and others.

With the students came more than 40 adults, mostly teachers. And we wanted to engage them, as well, in conversations about internationalizing education – but separately from their students.

The energy and enthusiasm among the students could be felt from the start. The day’s events only served to ramp it up.

A team from UW–Madison’s Assembly of International Students – leaders from this large campus community – led the high schoolers in a set of ice-breaking/energizing activities that reverberated through Union South’s rafters. Another group of international students from International Reach—a volunteer program run by International Student Services—joined the summiteers in small-group discussions about global citizenship.

(See related: At summit, Wisconsin high school students address ‘global citizenship’)

WisGlobalYouthSummit 160Clearly, the international students enjoyed interacting with the Wisconsin high school students as much as the American students connecting with them. As these sessions showed, UW–Madison has tremendous cultural assets in the campus international community—resources that could be tapped much more than they are.

After lunch, yet another team, this one assembled by UW–Madison’s Language Institute ran a set of mini-language lessons – ranging from A (Akan-Twi) to Z (Zulu) – which concluded with a rousing round of group demonstrations.

In the day’s final session, the students got down to some wide-ranging discussions about ways to make their schools and communities more internationalized. And, yes, they had a few things to say, which will be compiled and widely shared. But here are some quick observations:

  • They want more opportunities and choices for learning languages and about the cultures in which these languages live.
  • Some schools offer instruction in as many as five languages, while many others have just one (Spanish).
  • They want an international perspective reflected in more of their classes, not just in language classes.
  • They are curious about their world and want their schools to make more international connections, from within their communities and overseas.
  • They enjoy hosting international exchange students in their schools, but want more (and affordable) opportunities for American students to go abroad, including more short-term options.

As the curtain came down on the first Wisconsin Global Youth Summit, the students rejoined their teachers – and indications are that many of them continued these discussions on the road home.

WisGlobalYouthSummit 148The summit was put together through a collaboration involving the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the UW-Madison Division of International Studies and Global Wisconsin, Inc., and co-sponsored by the International Professionals Inc. of Madison and the State Superintendent’s International Education Council.

From the start, everyone involved envisioned this as a kick-off event, a starting point for an ongoing initiative. All of the participants were encouraged to take these conversations back into their schools and communities – perhaps even holding their own mini-summits.

— 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.)