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A Student CEO's Plea to Educators: Inspire Global Citizenship

A critical part of global competence is taking action to tackle global issues. At age 16, Krissy Truesdale became the founder and CEO of Solar for Our Superheroes, a nonprofit organization that gives solar panels to local heroes: firefighters, teachers, and veterans, to name a few. Here, in her own words, is what inspired her. This blog is the first in an ongoing series by young adults who participated in Global Citizens Initiative's Summer Youth Summit. 

By guest blogger Krissy Truesdale

Just as I was born an American citizen, I was also born a global citizen. This was not by preference, choice, or design; it's simply fact. In an increasingly globalized world, we are all global citizens. Some eagerly embrace their role and responsibility within this increasingly connected environment, while others prefer to never acknowledge it fully, content to live in their own domestic bubbles.

The latter group is missing an incredible opportunity to take part in our collective march toward a healthier, happier, and more sustainable future. The former group, however, is made up of individuals who understand that lasting solutions demand global collaboration and leadership. These individuals are our future leaders, movers and shakers, and convention challengers.

Cultivating Global Citizens
How can we cultivate effective global citizens? We need to foster two key components of global citizenship: a desire to learn more about and empathize with others, and the aspiration to take action on global issues.

Throughout my childhood, I aspired to be like the heroes so commonly found in my favorite fiction tales; I sought adventure away from the routine and responsibilities of growing up. At twelve years old, I stumbled upon manga, and I wasn't sure if it was the similarities or the differences between the cultures that sparked my curiosity. My interests eventually shifted from comics and dragons to exploring the unknown complexities of our own world, namely, the places and cultures I had never encountered in my Western-centric, K-8 education. After choosing to attend an international high school and a two-week study abroad stint in Yokohama, my eyes opened to the breadth of possibilities for exploration and learning. I studied in the Bahamas for a trimester, took courses on Native American history, learned Japanese, and began attending Shabbat dinners, among other activities. I did everything I could to feed my newfound fascination with the world, with reality.

As I became a more empathetic, curious, and enlightened global citizen, I was, of course, then charged with the responsibility of taking action. How that manifests for any one person depends on that individual's particular passion, but the common denominator between all efforts can be summed up as "local action, global change." My chosen battle focuses on climate change. When I was 16 years old, I started an organization called Solar for Our Superheroes. We thank local leaders, including veterans, teachers, firefighters, and police officers, with solar panels for their homes, saving them money and creating examples of renewable energy in my Massachusetts community.

Krissy and friends at GCI LunchThen, during the summer of 2014, at the age of seventeen, I attended the Global Citizens Youth Summit hosted by the Global Citizens Initiative, Inc. (GCI) at the Harvard Faculty Club. For eight days, I ate, slept, studied, and explored Boston alongside 23 of my peers from around the world. Quickly, we broke through superficial pleasantries and delved into "the big stuff." Scarcely three hours into the program, I was hotly debating national healthcare systems with my fellow students from France and Japan over salad and salmon.

For a while, I was self-conscious about how I worded my thoughts and described my world. As a white American, I was nervous about stepping on others' toes or broaching taboo subjects. Fortunately, I found myself in an environment where my ignorance was complemented by others' knowledge, and vice versa, and our mutual attempts to understand each other's cultures were respected by all. Difficult conversations became second nature. My fears dissipated. I recognized that I knew only a fraction of the global story and contributed what I could to the evolving narrative, while being flexible and open when my information was misunderstood, challenged, or incorrect. This unique opportunity to engage with my international peers and hear their stories was critical in my ongoing development as a global citizen.

The relationships I forged with international students, along with my own journeys studying abroad, helped me expand my empathetic capacity to the farthest reaches of the globe. When I saw democracy riots break out in Hong Kong, I thought of Joanne and Heather. When Ebola broke out in Nigeria, I thought of Ukay and his family. When ISIS affiliates attacked Paris, I instantly reached out to Pierre, praying for his safety. International news stories and articles, good or bad, became as personal as my high school yearbook. Though reducing an entire country down to the face of a single representative is also misleading, this process was a crucial step in being able to take a country off the map and into my day-to-day reality.

These experiences completely reframed my idea of potential solutions and fueled further urgency in solving the energy crisis. Though I am helping my Massachusetts neighbors economically, I am also helping to prevent tar sand extraction in Canada, oil drilling in Venezuela, refugee crises in the Pacific, and more.

A Charge for Educators
Learning about other cultures, whether through personal interaction or formal education, expands the mind and helps us recognize the breadth and depth of our world. It's relatable to learning of distant planets or galaxies; pondering the expanse, depth, and diversity of space; and then reflecting on our own familiar, humble planet in contrast.

Early in my first semester of college, I learned that the majority of people at my dinner table had never had a non-Euro-centric history or religion class. The continuation of this type of strictly Western-centric discourse will only result in Western-centric solutions.

Educators must help our youth understand the connections between ourselves, our interactions, and the troubles that plague our communities, nations, and the planet.

Educators must nurture curiosity. Inspire thoughtful conversations. Encourage students to read books written by diverse authors. Resist showing movies that portray certain groups in stereotypical ways. Bring outsiders in and take the students out to embrace diversity in multiple facets: religious, economic, racial, and cultural. Show students that while language may be a barrier, it can easily be overcome. Engage them with current events and give them contexts for the headlines they might otherwise skim over for lack of understanding.

Above all, encourage them to be their own kind of hero. We are all charged to take up battles in our own backyards, but even more so, we must remember that we are global neighbors, and we must lend a hand to one another when in need. Educators must remind our youth of this and, in doing so, transform our globalized world into a global community.

Photo courtesy of Yumi Kuwana

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