Seeking Global Awareness for a Better Future

Having traveled internationally multiple times, I’ve encountered a host of negative stereotypes regarding US citizens. Citizens from other countries often comment on the general ignorance of the American populace (concerning anything/anyone beyond our borders), and these criticisms are also echoed by prominent scholars and media outlets. In a recent opinion article from Al Jazeera, Professor Mark LeVine of UC Irvine wrote, “Americans remain the most politically ignorant populace of any mature democracy…” Ouch.

Here is what I think: In the United States, global awareness is generally undervalued (whether it is social, economic, political, or all of the above). The collective American consciousness seems to be concerned with America, and America only, even though the US plays a central role in global affairs. That being said, there are exceptions to this rule: Meet the high school students participating in the Global Youth Leadership Initiative (GYLI)! They are taking on the daunting task of becoming globally aware in a culture that is fundamentally ethnocentric and spreading awareness to their peers through Global Awareness Projects! So far, the hardest task GYLI students have faced is choosing an issue to focus on. There are so many global issues to choose from, and students are quickly realizing that many of these issues are interconnected. GYLI 2012 students have chosen to focus on a wide range of issues from global access to education, to food security, and ocean life conservation.

We kicked off GYLI 2012 with a three-day intensive summer workshop, in which students learned how to think critically about global issues and began to plan for their Global Awareness Projects. Throughout the summer, the students participated in a wide range of activities, from workshops on religious tolerance and alternatives to violence, to tours at Theo Chocolate and the Gates Foundation Visitor Center. Not only are students learning about global issues, they are having cross-cultural experiences without even leaving the US! This summer, GYLI 2012 students loved interacting with students from Mexico and Iraq, and learned that while they have many differences, they also have a lot in common.  As we begin the school year, GYLI students will balance school responsibilities with starting global awareness clubs, raising funds for international organizations, and organizing awareness campaigns about the issues they’ve chosen! The Global Youth Leadership Initiative is more than just a step in the right direction for American youth, because these students are not just learning about global issues, they are committed to reaching out to others.

Global awareness and cross-cultural exchange break down the cognitive divide between “us” and “them,” making us more cognizant of the context that we are operating in. Global awareness is more important than ever for US citizens, because the United States’ position in the global system is changing (just ask Thomas Friedman or Fareed Zakaria). Programs like the Global Youth Leadership Initiative have the potential to change the way in which Americans think about the world and make decisions for a better global future!

Blog post by Caroline Halter, Global Classroom intern.