In four short months, I learned more than I had in the rest of my educational career. And it wasn’t that the rest of my education wasn’t valuable, but that those 4 months were able to open doors to me that fundamentally changed who I was as a person.
In 2008, I flew to Thailand for the first time to study globalization and development. We were able to learn about issues such as mines, dams, and urban poverty. But, more importantly, we were able to live with people who were being affected by these issues. We got to sit down and hear exactly how they felt about how an underground mine would affect their lives. And while I had some issues with the way the program worked at times, it introduced me to concepts and ideas that nothing else before it had been able to do.
There’s something about sitting down with someone from another part of the world and sharing a meal. All of the cultural differences that separate you become blatantly obvious. The food, the utensils, the way you eat, the atmosphere: they can all be unfamiliar. But at the same time, a meal is the great unifier. It’s the thing that reminds us all that, at the bottom of it, we’re the same. We all value family, food, and love. And so no matter how many differences there are, it’s the similarities that stand out.
When we realize this, we are closer to creating a world in which we can all live together. Because, no longer is the man who eats with their hands a foreigner. No longer is the woman who wears a veil over her face radically different from us. These things become what they should be: semantics.
Because, the things that cause hate in our world are not caused, for the most part, by bad people. They’re caused by a lack of understanding. It’s an inability to see someone else’s point of view. It is when empathy does not exist.
The cultivation of global empathy is more important now that ever before. While my personal opinions of globalization are mixed, the fact of the matter is that we are all connected. And it won’t change anytime soon. Our lives are interconnected to people across the globe in more ways than we can recognize. If one of us falls, we all fall now.
And so, the lesson that the ways in which we choose to live our lives has an effect globally is more important than ever.
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have been able to begin to be exposed to this lesson. I was given the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world and live with people different from myself, different from anything that I’d known up to that point. I was able to eat, sleep, bathe, garden, cook, clean, and play the ways that they did. Every moment of it was an incredible learning opportunity, one that has profoundly changed my life.
But I know that not everyone is so lucky. Travel is a privilege that not everyone is afforded. So the question then becomes, how do we promote global understanding when not everyone has the ability to explore the global community?
One such organization working towards creating global empathy is Global Lives Project. What started originally as a little idea that seemed impossible has expanded to allow thousands of people around the world to get a glimpse into the lives of others. With the unique idea to film 24 continuous hours in the lives of people around the world, they are able to create an unbiased view of how others live.
It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to actually going and visiting another country. And in some ways, you’re able to get a more unadulterated view. As a foreigner abroad, you’re not always given a pure look into someone’s life. You are a guest and they are a host, which creates a different dynamic. But with these videos, you see people as they are daily. For those of us who aren’t able to fly across the world, it’s a valuable, and much needed, experience.
Personally, I take my privilege very seriously. I understand how incredible the opportunities I’ve had are and try my best to share them with others. I talk about my experiences to those around me. I write about the lessons I’ve learned. And I use film to try to bring the stories of those whose voices are often not heard. For me, my purpose in life is to help create understanding.
What personal experiences have you had abroad which have helped to expand your views? What do you do to create greater global understanding? How do you work towards helping students become successful and active global citizens?
Interested in Global Lives Project and want to use it in your classroom? They have resources just for you! To learn more visit: http://globallives.org/resources/educators/