Sewickley Academy's Global Studies Certificate Program has helped me develop my opinions on global interaction. Before participating in the program, I had a vague idea that there was a world beyond the small town of Sewickley, but I had little incentive to step outside my comfort zone and become a part of it. Through my international travel and the Global Gtudies courses, both required by the program, I’ve become a more informed global citizen.
The Global Studies courses offered by the school were one of my favorite parts of the program. After three years of summer travel abroad, I had reached a point where I wanted to learn more about other cultures. Yes, one learns most effectively by immersion, but being a student, I hardly had the time to pack my bags and travel the globe. These courses offered an alternative method to learning about the sensitive issues in other countries. Too many times when I traveled had I experienced kids my own age mocking American ignorance.
“Americans are so full of themselves.”
“Americans don’t know about politics besides their own.”
“Oh you wouldn’t know about this issue, you’re American.”
In all fairness, some of their opinions were not off base. I was ignorant, and by my third trip abroad I was ready to expand my knowledge about the world around me. Call to Action is one of the greatest classes I’ve ever taken at Sewickley Academy because it did just that. We’re constantly learning about universal issues, such as health care, human trafficking, human rights, and poverty. However, rather than just examine tragedy throughout the world, like the Rwandan Genocide, we discuss the actions necessary to prevent and solve future disasters from happening through solutions like job creation, micro financing, community building, fundraising, and other liberating action. The course has truly sparked my interest, particularly the section where we learned about the famous philanthropist, Dr. Paul Farmer . His philosophy, and the moto for his non-profit health care organization, Partners in Health, is “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world.” I think that every student at Sewickley Academy should have to take a course like this one so they can be exposed to ideals like that of Paul Farmer, and realize all lives matter, and that there is more to this world than just our small town.
The course has also been helpful in altering the way I see people in third world countries and developing nations. When students, such as myself and my peers, are brought up in such a privileged environment, we tend to automatically have a false sense of superiority to those with troubled lives in troubled parts of the world. This superiority is not malicious, but rather, unintentional. When doing aid work, it can feel like you are doing a favor for those in need of your help. I’ve learned through our books for Call to Action that people who have obstacles in their lives are rightfully proud and strong. One must be sensitive when offering ones services. We read The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz , and saw powerful examples of how important global competence is when it comes to global action. Novogratz was working in Africa to improve a business called the African Development Bank. Not only was she unsuccessful, but she was not wanted by the African women working there. She was ridiculed and poisoned because she wasn’t listening to the opinions and the wishes of the people around her. There’s an obvious gap between fortunate, eager aid workers from the west and the people they want to help, who feel the westerners do not understand their lives or their culture. This is a problem that worries me. How can I make a difference to people when I have led such a privileged life and have no experiences that would allow me to portray the correct level of empathy to people who have struggled most of their lives?
When I traveled to Ireland and England, I did not face this problem. I was with other fortunate kids taking courses at colleges. I had some of the most amazing experiences of my life on these trips, especially during Reach Cambridge, where I met kids from all over the world. I still speak to several of these kids weekly, and I hope to remain in contact with them for many years to come. I like to say that if I ever wanted to travel across Europe, I would have a place to stay in nearly every country. That trip was the beginning of my fascination for other cultures, and it expanded my view of the world. My trip to Costa Rica, however, was a service trip, rather than an educational experience. We ran a summer camp for underprivileged Costa Rican children, or Ticos. My service experience was more positive than that of Jacqueline Novogratz, but it still allowed me to better understand the troubling situation she faced. You can believe your intentions are good and pure hearted, but sometimes your help is not wanted, even if it is needed. Humans are prideful, and it’s not easy to admit weakness. It is important, as a future participant in global action, for me to understand the workings of global competence and sensitivity, in order to provide the most efficient solution to international issues.
After Costa Rica, it became a goal of mine to achieve fluency in a foreign language. The Ticos did not speak English, and it was crucial to speak to them in Spanish in order to communicate. For students like me, who were fortunate enough to have been studying Spanish for the past few years, communication was easier, but not without struggle. While understanding the children was fairly simple, speaking was complicated and embarrassing, with my mispronunciation and lacking vocabulary tripping me up in nearly every sentence. I now have a much greater respect for the bilingual people I’ve met throughout my life. It became easier as the weeks carried on, but I was by no means as fluent as I wished to be. I hope to take my new goal and become a better Spanish speaker in college. Understanding another languages is a critical asset when it comes to international relations. During my time at Cambridge, I felt like I had a handicap compared to the other children who spoke two, three, even four languages. Languages help you connect to others and, at the same time, can show your passion and dedication. I would seem disinterested, naïve, and almost disrespectful if I were to travel to, for example, Latin America for aid work, but not speak a lick of Spanish. You can show respect for people’s culture by learning there language, as well as show your eagerness and commitment.
I’d like to think that I still would have found myself on this path to international relations without Sewickley Academy's Global Certificate Program, but I know that Global Studies truly helped me find my passion for the subject. The class we have to take and the international travel we had to complete were catalysts in the discovery of this passion, and they have helped me make several important choices about the future, such as which college I will attend next fall. I applied early decision to Johns Hopkins because I felt their International Studies program would be the perfect continuation of what I have learned through the Global Studies program at the Academy.
Challenges that I’ve faced have been more internal ambiguity than actual obstacles. The greatest challenge was feeling overwhelmed by the whole new world of international relations being opened up for me. Call to Action caused me to wonder what my future holds. How will I take my new knowledge in global issues and use it to make the world a better place? How can I make a difference to people that may or may not want my help? Where in this growing global network do I belong? I hope to answer these questions as I continue down the path that the Global Studies Certificate Program created for me.