INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION VERSUS GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP

Does experience-international education really creates global citizens? Is it true that these type pf experiences develop cross-cultural competences and a way to look and act in the world that assures these people  be capable of bringing fundamental improvements and changes?

Our fascination for the world is not new. Decades of traveling, centuries of exploration and missions and a history of colonizations, all this shows the desire to learn about the world. This necessity has lead to the incredible growth in international opportunities related to exploration, education, solidarity or the combination of all of them. People who have been traveling and involved in these experiences in the last two decades offer a big amount of data regarding the impact in both their own learning and local communities, leading to the creation of methodologies, certifications and a whole system that regulates the wide spectrum of international opportunities. 

International education programs are made of contents, developed in base of a methodology, these contents can be very interesting, different and really exotic for the participants, but if this possibility is not carried out by a critical thinking system then there is a risk making easier the creation of "stereotypes" instead of promoting and understanding and a real cross-cultural competence. 

I write this post from a bus, crossing the Cuban island, from Holguín to Havana, on the way back, where we have visited the reconstruction of a new school in Banes, where we have also taken the time to coordinate a volunteering project. To develop this activity, we have faced endless bureaucracy, special permits, additions to the budget, administrative denials for the most simple procedures, in other words, we have been facing the system imposed by the regime and perfectly carried out by the Cuban civil servants. 

I won't deny these situations create frustration and "superficial" value judgment that leads us to state if the regime is useful or not, if the procedures are ineffective or completely absurd; we happily judged if this regime creates either entrepreneur or frustrated citizens, we also judge if it allows them to correctly develop their skills, if they will be useful in a cultural transition. All these represent "serious" value judgments, since people like me, who have never lived in Cuba, who have no understanding or knowledge regarding the depth of what is valued, are not capable of having conversations on these themes. 

Probably many of these analysis are right, but probably others are not, and my message here is about the responsibility that we and organizations have to design, offer and accompany international experiences that allow the development of a non-judgmental critical thinking, which provides them the ability to consider facts from different perspectives, based on many conversations and data gathered, that questions participants about their own perspective and thinking capacity in order to allow new skills to be developed, new assessments evolving into points of reference, into competences.

This is the key to a good program, the ability to program and lead its contents in a way that participants increase their analysis capacity without producing judgment values from the comparison of their own culture; this means that they develop a constructive critical thinking based on the big diversity acquired on the international experiences. 

These experiences will get them close to the mysterious and wrongly defined Global Citizenship that I'll try to explain in the following lines. 

Global Citizenship versus Cosmopolitanism? 

The idea of Global Citizenship is strongly linked and based in the one of cosmopolitanism. While the first one makes a reference to the values and participation, the second one talks about places from a point of view of sophistication, the former is linked to programs in countries in the South, in which participants do "good" supporting communities and projects, the latter, in the International Education context is about the programs in the North, where policies and interventions in poor countries, where exists the possibility that decisions have a fairer and humanitarian basis instead of being purely a strategy or commercial-based. 

In any case, after lot of information published, the definition for global citizen does not seem to be clear even though it is used in every kind of information and educational catalogs promising to automatically turn students and participants only by subscribing to their programs. 

But something we program ideologists, teachers and experiences coordinators agree with is the necessity to be very clear in the intention values implied in the experience, paying special attention to not falling in new neocolonialism based on assistance, teaching or help expectations, but the contrary, pretending that global citizens be those who learn, get involved, question and transform by means of contact with communities from the South. 

If we keep developing the idea we get to transcend the single values, getting to the rights, what are the rights we people have simple for being humans? What are the obligations imposed on these people to assure these universal rights? To what extent, global citizens have a responsibility for these rights to be assured? Is it correct to look for what others consider as "good"? Or are we creating different suggestions by simply "not doing" evil? 

As simple as developing and answering these questions gets us close to the concepts we are looking for, but the truth is that, any definition it has, the status of global citizen is not acquired by simply participating in programs and international experiences, but instead it is a process, a continuous analysis of our place in that ideal world in which we would like to live, and a continuous development of strategies, actions and omissions to get it. 

Long ago, Einstein said: "a man does not find his own soul until he learns to balance society and himself". Very likely the search of this soul is the closest thing to this sensitive, committed citizenship, always available for common good. 

Ana Eseverri Mayer, Director at AIPC Pandora

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