For the last eight months, I have worked as a global education fellow with Teachers for Global Classrooms. When I applied for this fellowship, I figured I would learn a few things, meet some new people, and visit a new part of the world. My classroom is pretty "global," so I had nothing to lose.
Last fall, I enrolled in an online course with 84 other TGC fellows called Foundations of Global Education. "Okay, I get it; we're global educators," I thought. "Can you just tell me where I'm going to have my international field experience now?" What I didn't expect was the paradigm shift in my approach to classroom instruction, and--to my chagrin--to basic human interaction. If you are rolling your eyes as you read this, then welcome to club cliché. I lazed in the over-hyped lounge of platitudes for a short while with a good number of people. It's warm and cozy, and it's not quite trite. But it's also not quite right.
I realize that clichés about learning 'basic human interaction' sound corny as hell, but this paradigm shift wasn't just a means to an end for me. And speaking of ends, if you want to race back out the door of club cliché, skip to the last paragraph. You'll save yourself time and avoid some stale pretzels, but you'll miss my personal revelation. (I'll remind you that you chose to visit my blog.) ;-)
Yes, I've always wanted to visit new places and try new things; I have Green Eggs and Ham tattooed on my forearm, after all. But if I summed up this fellowship experience in two words, they are these: recognize perspectives.
"You still sound like a 17-year-old who found enlightenment after reading Siddhartha in high school," you're muttering, eye-rolling now audible.
Ok, ok. I'm getting there. (And full disclosure: I love Siddhartha.)
I didn't set out on this little journey to become more enlightened. As I packed my bags and said goodbyes, my friends, family and other well wishers emphasized, "And be careful," as if I were skipping off to lead the war on terror. Ok, that's an exaggeration. Obviously grateful for the kind thoughts, it was easy to oblige my safety, but the implications of latent fear those words of caution possessed nagged me. Humans are naturally curious beings. (Look no further than my 1st grade science classes if you don't believe me.) But as we grow, we also develop a heathy sense of fear of the unknown. In fact, curiosity and fear often mitigate one another. If, however, curiosity can overcome fear, an entirely new and incredible world opens up.
When we overcome our fears, the unknown ceases to exist. We begin to understand one another and ourselves. (If you've made it this far into club cliché, this is where I hope you turn around to leave it, having realized that this is where the predictability ends because understanding what I will say goes deeper than simply recognizing foreign flags or food.) Inquire with or without caution, but inquire! Seek to understand how the economy drives peoples' choices, how the history, religion, education and media of a place affect peoples' values. And if you happen to reach this depth of understanding, you've developed what most people call 'empathy'. And here's the thing about empathy: it can't be undone. Empathy enables us to see our differences and learn from them rather than fear them. Recognizing perspectives through an empathetic lens allows us to share our ideas, and emboldens us to challenge inequalities and injustices.
Now that you've left club cliché and are back in the fresh air, look around. Be curious. Ask questions. Examine your fears and go forward to find out more about your fellow man. I promise you'll be better for it. I know that I am.