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Student Voice: Three Ways My K-12 Education Gave Me a Global Mindset

Editor's intro: Hana McMahon-Cole is a student of Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute. Minerva students have no physical university campus. Instead, they study in different countries, taking classes online. Hana has already visited South Korea and India through her program. Here, she shares how her K-12 education has prepared her to be a global citizen.

By guest blogger Hana McMahon-Cole

As I reflect on the experiences I had this year, I realize that what both led and prepared me for my experiences abroad can be attributed to my K-12 education in Lincoln, Nebraska. Below, I share three of the opportunities I took advantage of throughout my K-12 education that prepared me for global citizenship. 

Learn Another Language

Learning Mandarin at an early age prepared me to study and live abroad. 

20170916-P9161903.jpgI began working with a Mandarin tutor in second grade and continued studying with tutors all the way up until my third year of high school. Through these tutors I was able to get connected with a larger Chinese network in Lincoln, which led to other opportunities to practice speaking the language and to learn more about Chinese culture. I joined a weekend Chinese club for 6-8th graders in middle school and attended events hosted by the Confucius Institute, for example Chinese New Year celebrations. With each event or class, my interest and desire to pursue learning the Chinese language grew. 

As I learned more Mandarin, studying categorization structures and picking up on grammatical nuances, I began to notice cultural differences embedded in the language structure. As an example, when addressing a large crowd in Mandarin, one often begins with "da jia hao," which means "big family hello." These linguistic choices underscore the homogeneity of the Chinese population (99 percent Han Chinese) and draw attention to the collectivist, rather than individualistic, nature of the culture. Similarly, in terms of categorization differences, Mandarin has a comparatively large vocabulary to describe different types of noodles, how they are cooked, and how they are cut, an area where English lacks the same extent of terminology.

My dedication to learning Mandarin both inside and outside of the classroom throughout my K-12 education led to my advancement in Chinese and resulted in numerous opportunities to pursue other languages. 

Learning a second language is incredibly valuable. Not only does it allow you the unique ability to communicate with people from a different part of the world, but it also offers insight into another culture, and it widens an individual's understanding of the subjective rather than objective nature of language and even our perceptions of the world.

Participate in Extracurricular Activities

Throughout my K-12 education, I was involved in a range of sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities, including an afterschool sign language club, the school chess club, science Olympiad, cross-country running, and tennis. 

hana_photography.jpgThrough sports, I learned how to improve my athletic abilities through dedication to a rigorous training schedule. I also learned to work as a team and the importance of supporting my teammates. 

Participating in extracurricular activities also helped balance my academic course load, make new friends, and learn new skills. There was no specific extracurricular activity that was the most important; rather, it was more about having the experience of pursuing activities that I was interested in outside of the classroom and having new experiences that expanded my horizons and helped me adopt a more global mindset. 

Take Global Education Courses

While Mandarin has unlocked many opportunities later in life, the same could be said for my global education at Lincoln High School, a curriculum that emphasized rigorous courses, project-based learning, and international content. 

My school offered a range of curriculum options: a traditional course load, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, zoo school, entrepreneurship program, and art school. However, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which boasts an academically rigorous, internationally focused program was, for me, the most enticing option. This program resulted in a challenging but rewarding academic experience through project-based learning and global content.

Project-based Learning

Project-based learning challenges students to focus on a problem or issue in an interdisciplinary way. For me, this project component was far more challenging than exams or testing. Like many students, I had mastered the art of test prep, easily able to regurgitate material in a way that resulted in high marks. However, when I needed to apply concepts to address abstract problems, I found that I needed to learn in a completely different way. Indeed, this early shift towards project-based, collaborative learning was immensely beneficial after high school, where problem-solving seldom involves a timed test, two #2 pencils, or calculator. 

Global Content 

The International Baccalaureate program provided me with global content, pushing me to think, read, and reflect on events, people, and ideas from other countries and cultures. Being educated in this way has opened my mind to the similarities between people and cultures and the need for similar skills and knowledge. 

As an example, between our first and second year of the program all students were required to complete an "extended essay," which, as described by IB, is "an independent self-directed piece of research" of around 4,000 words. For this assignment, I focused on the rights of migrant workers in China. This choice resulted in hours of research on human rights, Chinese history, contemporary Chinese culture and migrant workers around the world. Putting together all the pieces of my research, I was able to hone in on the rights of migrant workers in China, placed within a global and historical context. 

While IB is an internationally-focused curriculum, it is by no means the only way to have a globally-oriented education. Most public high schools offer an array of courses such as language classes, world history classes, and geography that also provide global content and nudge students to think beyond national borders and to embrace diversity and difference. 

Time in Asia 

This year, living in two different Asian countries, I was confronted with a range of exciting new opportunities, and I tried to take advantage of as many as possible. During my semester in Seoul, South Korea, I connected with a bubbly French researcher from Ewha Women's University at a school networking event. She pitched a biodiversity project she wanted to pursue, and I eagerly joined her team and began making a weekly trek to the green, forest-like Ewha campus to work with her. This casual proposal became a three-month project that I worked on with several classmates, during which we used GIS mapping technology to identify key species in Seoul, assessed the current state of biodiversity-related policies in South Korea, and synthesized information we found to make recommendations to the government's head of green spaces. Confidently pursuing an interdisciplinary project of this scale was no doubt a culmination of the many project-based learning experiences that had been spaced out through my K-12 education.    

science.jpgBeyond taking advantage of this project in Seoul, I found tremendous value in the smaller, more casual invitations that I accepted. This was especially true in Hyderabad, India, where accessible, cheap transport and interesting opportunities led to trips with friends to a rural Indian wedding, a motorcycling adventure to the experimental community of Auroville, camping in Hampi, or lounging (and taking a class) on the beaches of Goa. I could have easily passed on these opportunities to get more sleep or to study, but, ultimately, those experiences allowed me to see India and learn about a country full of warm people, exciting tastes, and pulsing with 21st-century energy. Balancing these adventures with my academic workload was often challenging, but I was able to manage I had experienced throughout K-12, where I learned  the value of managing school work with other commitments.

My K-12 education not only prepared me for these educational and research opportunities in college, but it also opened the door to amazing adventures, experiences, and friendships in Asia and beyond. 

Follow Heather and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photo credits:

  • The first picture (mountains with Seoul in the background) was taken by Adrian Goe.
  • The second picture (featuring Hana) was taken by Antonio Fowl Stark.
  • The third picture was taken by Yasmin Bar-Tzlil, featuring Mason Noteboom and Hana.
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