GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Go Global and Get Uncomfortable: Push Yourself and Push Your Students

In Happy Mondays on 2010/05/28 at 09:00

Going global seems to be on my mind these last couple of weeks. Denise’s post from earlier this week talked about the challenges and rewards of taking a group of undergraduate students to Indonesia and helping them to deal with culture shock. Meg’s post from Wednesday focused on bringing international students to the U.S. The big international education conference in the U.S. – NAFSA 2010 – starts this weekend in Kansas City.

Last week Harvard Business Review published a blog post on leadership and the global mindset. The week before, both Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at George Washington University and Martha Nussbaum’s speech at Colgate College touched upon the need to push ourselves to a global level of humanistic compassion and understanding.

Below, a video of Michelle Obama delivering her speech to the GWU crowd on the National Mall:

In her speech, Dr. Obama stressed the following in relation to globalization:

  • That we are no longer isolated from what happens on the other side of the world.
  • That it’s in our best interest to look beyond our immediate self-interest, and look out for one another globally.
  • That so many of today’s challenges are borderless, from the economy to terrorism to climate change, and that solving those problems demands cooperation with others.

Everyone’s talking global. Everyone’s going global.

Or maybe not – reports from Canada and community colleges in the US stress that not everyone has the financial means to study abroad. Michelle Obama referenced her own working-class background in her speech, stating that: “I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where the idea of spending some time abroad just didn’t register.” Neither she nor her brother studied abroad. The focus was on getting in, getting through, and moving on. Obama’s story is an American story. Study abroad is still viewed as a luxury to many in the U.S., particularly for the non-traditional students who make up over 70% of those studying at higher ed institutions.

We need to find a way to help all of our students go global. However, before we throw money at helping more students study abroad, I think we need to think seriously about what it is we want our students to achieve. We need to do what higher education in the U.S. often fails to do: we need to think about outcomes.

Is the overriding goal of study abroad the goal of achieving a global mindset?  I would argue that at some level, it is.

While the global mindset from the HBR blog focuses on leadership, I think it is pretty relevant within the framework of higher education. I think we owe it to our students and ourselves to focus on facilitating their growth (and our own) through the development of a global mindset.

According to Mansour Javidan at the HBR blog, people with Global Mindsets are:

  • Passionate about diversity and are willing to push themselves.
  • Comfortable with being uncomfortable in uncomfortable environments.
  • Better able to build trusting relationships with people who are different from them by showing respect and empathy and by being good listeners.

In her commencement speech at Colgate, Martha Nussbaum focused on the importance of liberal arts and the ways in which the current economic crisis threatens the future of the Humanities and the Arts. I interpret Nussbaum as saying that one of the ways of achieving a Global Mindset is a continued focus on liberal arts:

  • They [Humanities and the Arts] only do what is much more precious than that, make a world that is worth living in, people who are able to see other human beings as equals, and nations that are able to overcome fear and suspicion in favor of sympathetic and reasoned debate.

Although they may be on opposite sides of debates on capitalism I think both Javidan and Nussbaum are headed in a similar direction, a global direction. This type of thinking needs to inform higher education’s production of globally competent students – students who are prepared to lead, work, and live in a global world.

The study abroad programs that our institutions endorse should provide a diverse student body, should force our students outside of their comfort zones, and should teach them to listen with empathetic ears. If you are sending your students abroad, make sure the host institution is not filled with students who speak the same language and who are from similar backgrounds. If you are going with your students, make sure they do more than visit the museums. Get them off the tourist routes, make them speak the language, force them out of their comfort zones. And if they can’t afford to go abroad, find ways to expose them to similar experiences in-country. I have helped non-traditional students find local immersive experiences  – teaching ESL to a group of local Somali women, helping recent Haitian immigrants relocate, etc .

I have found that is pretty easy to force American students out of their comfort zones – so, LET’S DO IT!

As a student, what got you out of your comfort zone? If you are a teacher, what has worked with your students?

Mary Churchill

Bookmark and Share

CBIE Canadian Bureau for International Education Media Release. May 27, 2010. CBIE Report Urges Culture Shift in Academia and Government to Open Study Abroad to Many More Participants. (link).

“Degrees of Difficulty.” May 24, 2010. USA Today online blog. (link).

Duncan, Arne. May 26, 2010. “International Engagement Through Education.” Remarks by Secretary Arne Duncan at the Council on Foreign Relations Meeting. (link).

Fischer, Karin. May 13, 2010. “New Group Will Help Community Colleges Become More Globally Focused.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. (link).

Javidan, Mansour. “Bringing the Global Mindset to Leadership.” May 19, 2010. Imagining the Future of Leadership series on the Harvard Business Review Blogs. (link).

Moltz, David. April 19, 2010. “Global Community Colleges.” Inside Higher Ed.com. (link).

Nussbaum, Martha C. May 16, 2010. Not For Profit: Liberal Education and Democratic Citizenship. Commencement Speech at Colgate University. (link).

Obama, Michelle. May 16, 2010. Remarks by The First Lady at George Washington University Commencement. (link).

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