Can you begin by sharing a little bit about One World Now’s program model?
Yes, our mission is to develop the next generation of global leaders and we do that through our innovative program model of language, leadership, and study abroad. It sounds really simple but nobody else is really doing that, an integrated approach. So that is one of the things that makes us innovative. The other thing is that makes us innovative is our focus on the critical languages, Arabic and Chinese, two strategically important languages not typically offered in the public schools. Our focus is to provide these opportunities to underserved youth, including low-income minority high school students from Seattle. And now we’ve expanded our program model to Hawaii in underserved communities there.
How would you define global citizenship?
I think global citizenship is understanding your role in this world not only in your local community but how everything is connected to the world at large, in terms of economy and society. We don’t often think about those connections, and we just do what we do in our world without understanding and ever appreciating the actual impact and the link that our actions have to the rest of the world.
I also think global citizenship is, one, having that awareness that we’re all connected in this ever changing, complex and smaller world. And that there is, on the flip side of that, an active role that everybody can play in creating more good in the world for everybody. Global citizenship starts with awareness but it’s also, what we’re trying to do at One World Now!, to prepare global citizens by having the skill sets to be able navigate successfully in this global context. This includes the language skills and leadership. And when we say leadership, we’re also talking about having the skill set that has folks being able to work effectively with people from different cultures and different viewpoints. That’s a skill set itself and is what’s needed in this world.
Many international educational training programs focus on college students. Why do you think it's important for students from diverse backgrounds to have international experiences earlier than college?
Because they won’t get to college! Many of these students won’t get to college if they don’t [participate in international programming]. It’s pretty plain and simple that most of the students we work with, marginalized youth, are not getting the support at the high school level to even go on to four-year colleges. On top of that, it may not even be an option in their mind to pursue any kind of international educational opportunities if college isn’t seen as an option. There are many reasons why it’s important for young people to be exposed earlier on, but for the obvious one is that it supports them getting into college.
We’ve had phenomenal results with students completing our program and going on to colleges and universities. And what’s interesting is that we’re not a “college prep” program in the traditional sense. But particularly study abroad becomes, which is actually the most transformational aspect of our programs, that experience that often gets the youth super motivated to then go to college. This is really because all of the possibilities have now been opened up for them in their world, and they are looking at everything differently now after they’ve gone abroad. They start to dream about their future and what’s possible, and they think “Of course, I have to go to college for this.” This is totally different from the messages they get from society about why they should be going to college.
Many of our students are first-generation going to college, over 60% of our students are first-generation, and many of them don’t have the support, at home or at school, for how to navigate the higher education system. So I think you’re really missing out if you’re not focused on the younger students, the pipeline. In fact, almost all of the One World Now students, when they do go onto college, then continue to study these critical languages and go abroad. They’re already fired up about international education in a way that they definitely would not have been had they not had this exposure in high school. Also, they may not even go onto college [had they not participated in this kind of programming].
What role do you think leadership plays in preparing young people for international experiences?
I think leadership is essential, particularly with the youth we work with who have been historically marginalized. What we do is essentially empowering them to believe in the possibilities for themselves. That’s a great thing for anybody, but particularly the folks we work with. They aren’t even going to have international opportunities if they don’t think that that’s an option for them. So leadership becomes a path for them to consider international education opportunities. At the end of the day, to be a leader in this world you have to have a global perspective and be a global leader because the world is so interconnected. There’s not a lot of space for anything other than that.
One World Now trains students in two critical languages, Chinese and Arabic. What do you think the importance is of having students of diverse backgrounds and from underserved communities study critical languages?
Again, it would be great if all Americans could study more critical languages. Less than 1% of high school students in America are studying Arabic and less than 3% are studying Mandarin Chinese. These are important languages in the world - Chinese for economic reasons and Arabic political reasons. It is important to teach any young person these languages, but particularly the youth that we’re working because these are languages that are in demand and are going to open up a lot of career opportunities for them. We’re giving our youth, again, that historically have not had a lot of access to leadership opportunities, basically a foot up in the job market to have these very important languages that are in high demand.
And even for myself, I studied Russian at a time, during the Cold War, when nobody was studying Russian. The opportunities that it afforded me, because I had at the time what was a critical language, was essential for me at such a young age to, for example, manage a company in Moscow, Russia just because I had the language skills.
What do role do you think social entrepreneurship has in international education or visa versa?
First of all, I identify as a social entrepreneur myself. I think that social entrepreneurship is needed now. In this ever-changing world we need innovative solutions to solving the world’s most challenging problems, and that’s just the bottom line. The way that we’ve been doing things and the framework that we’ve been operating in are not effective or efficient anymore. I really believe social entrepreneurs are the ones that are able to come up with innovative solutions to solving these very challenging global issues right now. So I think that’s essential.
Social entrepreneurship tied in with leadership are things that we support and encourage with our young people. Social entrepreneurship for our young people is taking their passions and doing something that interests them. For many of our young people returning from abroad their interests are coming from a global perspective, in terms of what they really care about. We allow them the space to come up with the best solution for how to tackle issues they are passionate about. I think there is a definite space in international education for social entrepreneurship. In fact I think, again, in education across the board we need to be encouraging more social entrepreneurship and social enterprise.
There are international education training programs for diverse students at every level of schooling – middle and high school, college, and graduate school. Do you think there are synergies between these kinds of programs?
Obviously, there are synergies. I think that we also need to figure out better ways to highlight those synergies and work together more effectively. I think that there are, for example, efforts that we’ve made with creating the Global Access Pipeline (GAP) - a network of organizations focused on international opportunities for folks of color along the pipeline from K-career – that have been very fruitful. As a result of those partnerships, the GAP members working at the k-12 space have been working together and collaborating on projects that are only strengthening our work. I do think there needs to be more collaboration and highlighting of those collaborations.
I think that international education is misunderstood. On the positive side of that, there is a growing appreciation in this country that we need to have a global perspective, and that if we’re going to operate effectively in this world we have to do a better job at providing a global perspective and these skills to younger students. That’s the good news that there is a slight growing appreciation of this need.
There is, though, still this idea that we find today even now 10 years later after One World Now first began, that study abroad is a luxury and an assumption that international education opportunities are reserved for the privileged few. Kids in private schools are expected to go abroad in high school or college and study multiple languages, and that’s not the case for the students in our public schools. I think we have a long way to go towards embedding international education into education overall. International education shouldn’t be separate. It should be the case that we are educating our young people in America with an international perspective, versus the idea that this is an additional layer on top of everything else. I almost don’t like the term international education because I think our education should, of course, include an international perspective; should, of course, include these skills like critical language skills. This should be how we’re preparing the next generation of global leaders.
But when we see international education as something extra, something “other”, it perpetuates that misunderstanding that it’s a luxury or that it’s expensive or that it’s more work, etc. We should be instead showing that this is how we need to prepare our young people to be able to function in this global economy and in this world, period.
How did you get started in the field of international education?
I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t study abroad when I was 15 in apartheid South Africa for a year. That experience got me really excited about social justice issues and international education. It got me to feel like every young person should have this experience, particularly in high school. It absolutely, and this is what I say it does for our youth, shifted the trajectory of my life at that point.
I then went abroad again right before the break up of the Soviet Union. I was in Moscow, Russia. Again, it was a society in huge transition. When you think about it, I was in South Africa right before the fall of apartheid and in Russia right before the fall of the Soviet Union, so those were really pivotal moments in my life and have informed the decisions I’ve made in my life moving forward. But I definitely noticed on these trips going abroad that all of the Americans looked like me. That really bothered me. This is really creating a warped perception of what it means to be American. Often times, these were the only faces that folks were seeing abroad in those local communities. It always bothered me. I always thought, “This is not the true face of America. “
Study abroad is such an amazing experience. We need to do a better job of first of all institutionalizing international education throughout America. As I said this is how we need to educate our young people. Period. But also it became painfully obvious to me that we also need to do a better job at making this available for everyone (available and accessible) not just a handful of folks who can afford it. The majority of young people who go abroad now are essentially Caucasian and upper class, and that’s what most folks see when they’re abroad. That is so not only who we are.
That’s the exciting thing about the work we’ve been doing at One World Now when we send our students to Morocco and China. We are completely breaking up the stereotype of what it means to be American. It’s not just a powerful transformational experience for our youth and for their lives moving forward; it also has an impact on these countries where our young people spend their time. It also creates new perceptions of the true diverse experiences in America.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to add?
I would really encourage people, back to the point around social entrepreneurship, if they have a vision for what is possible to do more of this work of embedding international education into how we prepare young people in general in this country and particularly in making it more accessible, that they do that. With One World Now! I really had no idea what it was going to look like, how I was going to make it happen, and how I was going to be able to raise the funds to do all of that. But I had a really clear vision about what I thought was possible for how we would educate and prepare our young people for this global economy and for this world. I believed that it was possible that we could very intentionally make this accessible to the low-income minority youth who have historically not been involved in international education.
What I’m saying is that we need more of this, and if anyone feels so moved or inspired to do this, we need those ideas and we need their action on this right now. I think there is a growing opportunity now more than there was 10 years ago. I would encourage folks to put those ideas into action and look to how they can collaborate or come up with a new approach to do that because the world needs that right now.