A Global Education

Posted on February 28, 2012

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“I spent the summer rebuilding [insert community building here] in [insert name of poor country here],” said a privileged student with deep pockets. “It was so eye-opening to see poverty and do my part to yada yada yaa

I’m definitely not the only one that’s heard this statement. But here’s my piece: if you want to see what poverty looks like and understand the life of the needy ask one of those underfunded students at your privileged school about their story.

Today, a diverse and global education is every top college’s tag line. They promise a beautiful campus with diversity on every corner. A place where you’ll be able to connect with people from varying backgrounds and learn about the world all while lounging on an expansive evergreen yard. They promise opportunities to go abroad and experience that cherished global education.

They aren’t lying. At a lot of these top schools, you’ll meet people from all over the world. You’ll meet people who have traveled everywhere. You’ll meet people who are enthralled with the troubles and struggles of the world, specifically the Global South or the Third World (whichever term you prefer.) Their promises are by no means empty ones; however, I think they’re misleading.

They encourage studying abroad in impoverished countries to understand the needs of the world’s poor. So students usually fly off to a poor African country to help build a new bridge in a rural village or teach English at a village school in Asia or Latin America. They decide that this is their way to see how the other side lives, to truly see the needy and the poor.

I guess it’s noble, but in my opinion it’s a little off in the way of global education. I don’t argue that a first hand experience at travel is amazing and eye-opening but it’s not the only way. Often times volunteer tourism does more in the way of hinderance than help, mostly supplying organizations with skill-less  young adults. Why travel thousands of miles if you want to know more about poverty and the needy? All you need to do is step out into your dorm hall and knock on the door of poverty and talk to someone on the other side. A global education can start with a conversation right in your own dorm room. All it takes is for students to step outside their close circles bonded by privilege and get to know people with a different story and a different background.

I am sure that there are students from around the world at these schools. There are students with amazing stories that can easily be included in a global education, but too often we look over these opportunities. Instead we choose to emphasize globetrotting as the only way to get a “global” education, further marginalizing those that can’t afford it.

In our efforts to diversify our education system, why can’t we start at home? If we want to talk about poverty, why can’t we create a class on poverty in the inner city, the suburbs and the rural areas? If we want to talk about global cultures, why can’t we ask for the stories and the opinions of students from around the world? Too often colleges preach diversity but can’t bridge the socio-economic gap between students to foster an environment of cultural learning. Instead, we rely on shipping people off to other countries and ignore what’s lacking in our own communities.

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Posted in: Sound Off, Travel