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How Exploring the World Supports Making New Friends

Editor's Intro: Anne Glick is the Director of Globe Smart Kids and the creator of the One Globe Kids virtual library of global stories and education resources for children of ages 4-10. She advocates for the inclusion of Global Friendship Skills into all global education programs.

By Anne Glick

Global education can benefit students in unexpected, yet hugely important, ways. It can help students feel safer, happier, and more excited about having diverse friends in their classroom, school, and community. This leads to more harmonious classrooms and students better equipped to succeed in our globalized world. By focusing on personal connections, global imagination, and similarities, educators can help children actively learn about the world around them both near and far.

Power of Diverse Friendship

globe-smart-kids-2.jpgHaving a close friend who has a different skin color, religion, or cultural background is especially powerful for our students. After World War II, psychologists wanted to understand how the animosity between different groups of people could lead to such devastating outcomes and what to do to avoid it, so they started studying it. This led to a vast field of research called intergroup contact, which is the study of why groups of people get along, or don't get along, and how positive relations can be encouraged.

Decades later, research from around globe has demonstrated that "cross-group friendship" (i.e., having a friend from a different group) is advantageous for individuals and the society in which they live.

Research has found that children with diverse friends have higher levels of social competence and increased self-esteem, well-being, and resilience. Students with cross-group friends also tend to be better at perspective-taking, which makes them better able to understand how children around them feel and more likely to think race-based discrimination is wrong. Research has also shown that children with cross-group friends show more leadership potential and are more popular. A recent study with middle school students found that students with more cross-ethnic friends felt less vulnerable and safer at school.

Global education is perfectly poised to take these benefits mainstream.

Five Tips for Using Global Education to Support Diverse Friendship

globe-smart-kids.jpgWhen integrating global education into the K-12 classroom, educators can intentionally align it with proven ways to encourage positive intergroup contact and cross-group friendship. By doing so, the benefits of global education for students are strengthened.

The five tips below are based on intergroup contact theory and research on how to help students feel confident contacting diverse people.

  1. Make it personal—Students are both curious and social, so when they feel that they have a personal connection with someone from another country, their learning experience is richer. Seek out global education resources that intentionally go beyond facts, flags, and food and make the learning a personal experience for students. Personal global connections, especially those that approach friendship, are particularly motivating for students.
  2. Encourage global imagination—Children imagine all day long and we can use their gift for make-believe to broaden their global learning. Imagined contact, such as imagining yourself interacting with someone from another group, has been a found to be a particularly powerful way to encourage positive cross-group interaction and reduce stereotyping. When you ask young students to write about, draw, or act out a scenario in which they are engaging with specific people from other cultures, have them name their new friend(s) and think about specific details that make that person an individual. For example, does their friend have a pet? What's her favorite food? What does he like to do after school? When students recognize that people in other cultures are individuals just like them, they will be less likely to make assumptions that reinforce cultural stereotypes. If your class has studied Mexico, have them imagine attending a sleepover party or celebrating a Mexican holiday with new Mexican friends. Or ask them to describe a day when a Mexican friend comes to visit their home or class. Encourage older students to imagine and then describe a day spent visiting a specific foreign peer in a specific location. By focusing on the individual they're interacting with, students will imagine a positive cross-cultural experience that can make real-life interaction feel more attractive and do-able.
  3. Focus on similarities—People of all ages are seemingly hard-wired to notice differences, which is why focusing on the similarities between the countries and cultures that students are learning about is so important. They'll find--and want--to talk about the differences on their own, but with your help, they'll learn to look for and find similarities with equal ease.
  4. Stay positive and inclusive—Students are always observing and learning from the people around them, and the behavior and attitudes of authority figures such as teachers and parents carry extra weight. It's very important for teachers to demonstrate that they're excited to meet new people, learn about new cultures, and make new friends so students develop those attitudes themselves.
  5. Make the foreign feel familiar—When something is familiar to us (a person, a place, an activity, even a food), it stops feeling daunting or scary. When new people, countries, and cultures begin to feel familiar, it's easy to imagine that the next unfamiliar, foreign thing they encounter can also feel familiar. Familiar people, places, and experiences encourage confidence because one has an idea of what to expect. For example, if a student already had a positive experience meeting someone from Africa, they're more likely to look positively on meeting someone from Asia.

Lifelong Benefits for Students

Long before they study abroad or become fluent in a second (or third) language, students can grow up feeling comfortable exploring differences, finding common ground, and having fun with the diverse peers all around them. We can use global education to plant the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will benefit students their whole life by encouraging diverse friendship.

Follow One Globe Kids, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photos Credit: Globe Smart Kids

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