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Sharing Perspectives, Opening Minds

I've shared a lot of perspectives on this blog—my own and others'—on global competence. Too rarely, admittedly, does it include student perspectives on what it means to become globally competent. Starting today, I hope to remedy that.

Noemi Gonzalez is a graduate of University High School in Tolleson, Arizona, where she worked with other students to raise funds in support of Afghan women's education. The process of researching real-world issues and taking action in an authentic way had a profound impact on her career goals and perspective on the world. She is now a sophomore at Arizona State University. Here's what I learned from her.

TJ: How would you define a globally competent student?

NG: A globally competent student, in my perspective, is someone who doesn't necessarily know everything that is occurring around the globe, but engages and maintains a connection to other parts of the world through media outlets and geography. It doesn't help to know that the Arab Spring Uprising started in a comparatively small country, Tunisia, if the student cannot locate where Tunisia stands on a map.

A globally competent student is also one who has a willingness to learn about and understand current events and why other societies function the way they do. This student is, most importantly, someone who embraces different customs, engages in conversations about local and global issues and raises questions about why things happen in order to identify solutions.

TJ: In your opinion, what are the most valuable skills American students can bring to the workforce?

NG: I think that sometimes the willingness to learn, understand, and engage in dialogue about issues may be overlooked by the need for critical thinking skills. Although critical thinking matters, the ability to engage in clear and effective conversations about the work being done is even more important.

TJ: In high school, you participated in a unique global learning project with a team of other students. Tell me about that experience.

NG: During the summer after my junior year at University High School in Tolleson, Arizona, I helped found our school's first chapter of a group called New Global Citizens. A friend sent me the link to the organization's website and I couldn't pass up the offer to engage in something so meaningful.

We persuaded our brilliant and passionate history teacher, Daniel Goman, to sponsor our team and soon recruited 30 students to participate in weekly meetings, where we learned about women's education in Afghanistan and the importance of education for women worldwide. We decided to raise funds in support of the Afghan Institute of Learning.

Inspired by an NPR story on the role of literature in a largely illiterate country, our team became known around campus for our Poetry Night fundraisers. Student musicians performed, others recited poetry, and tea was served to everyone in attendance. We kept the team informed about current events in Afghanistan at the weekly meetings by sharing videos and articles from respected publications, and the experience helped me to learn so much about the world.

I now participate with the organization as a team mentor, trying to make sure that other students' experiences are as amazing as my own.

TJ: In what ways did that experience change the way you see the world?

NG: This experience made me more aware and sensitive in the manner that I approach just about everything. I now see the world for what it truly is: an endless array of cultures and people. It made me take into account the history everyone has to bring forth and the implications of everyone's history. I think that for most students who don't have an opportunity to really learn about a different culture, especially ones that many Americans are misinformed about, it's really easy to go through life without needing to understand and embrace what the world has to offer. My experience made life more real and vibrant for me; it really made me realize, as clich├ęd as it may sound, that the world isn't black and white. It burst that bubble of comfort that I think most people have, which gave rise to a hunger for knowledge and a need to experience different cultures.

TJ: Did this experience, or your new perspectives, change the way you approached high school? Did you choose to pursue different academic projects or extracurricular activities?

NG: It impacted more how I approached my college career, simply because we started the chapter my last year of school. In particular, I chose to pursue a double major in journalism and global studies.

TJ: How has your perspective shaped your college and career goals? What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?

NG: The experience that I had led me to discover that I am a capable leader, and that I need to pursue everything thoroughly and consider all sides of an issue. I had been determined to become a journalist since seventh grade, but it wasn't until I went through this program that I realized I needed to be cognizant, poignant, and understanding of cultures and societies in order to fulfill my duty as an objective journalist.

I'm not sure what I will be doing ten years from now, but I hope that it's related to writing or education. At one point or another in my life I'd like to be a foreign correspondent stationed in Mexico. My family comes from Mexico, but it is a country that I don't fully associate with or understand. By delving into Mexican society, I can fully grasp my family's history and culture and hopefully help to shed light on pressing issues that the imbalanced economic system creates for poorer citizens in that nation.

TJ: What advice do you have for teachers who want to help their students become globally competent?

NG: I encourage instructors to engage their students in dialogues about local and national politics, about the students' interests, and how these interests may affect themselves and others. Discussing issues of personal interest to teens can help them understand of how facets of their everyday life are constructed and rooted in other cultures. I think it's best when these conversations are rather informal, whether they take place before or after school or during class.

My own teacher, Mr. Daniel Goman, always allowed students to hang out in his room before and after school. He would play music from groups that we weren't entirely familiar with. The music inspired conversations about the bands, and he would use these discussions to share information about other cultures, historical facts and stories. I learned more about the world this way then I did through the extensive textbooks assigned for class reading. As the years progressed, these conversations shifted from pop culture and historical stories to topics about women's education in Central Asia and other parts of the world.

These informal conversations can help students become globally aware by opening students' minds to other ideas and cultures.

This is just one example of how developing global competence has changed a student's life. What stories can you share?

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