Highlands Blog

What is global competence?

Sra. Bree Holland
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,”
Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

It seems that, in our global and often polarized society, more than anything else, we need people who are thoughtful, kind, considerate, respectful, compassionate, empathetic and understanding. We need people who are innovative, collaborative, adaptable problem-solvers. Our world is constantly growing and changing and we need helpers.
Sometimes, life experiences can lead us to be more kind and considerate. Sometimes, learning more about others can lead us to be more thoughtful and compassionate. Sometimes, just learning more about ourselves can lead to more respect, empathy, and understanding. In my teens and early twenties, while I was deep in my studies of the Spanish language and cultures of Spanish-speaking people, my favorite aspect was spending time with people and experiencing other ways of life: distinct foods, diverse perspectives, fascinating products and new practices. I also loved seeing that we are all just people and can be very similar, despite our background. I learned that smiles, kindness, respect, empathy, and graciousness could go a long way in situations where there are cultural differences or misunderstandings...on both sides. Through my studies and encounters, I learned a lot about others, but I especially learned a lot about myself.
Traveling through Spain as a vegetarian is difficult. This is a country that loves animal products—ham, pork, chorizo, chicken, rabbit and seafood. At the time of one of my visits, I was not eating seafood (as I do now) and my meal options were quite diminished. However, at one café, I saw a menu option that made me very excited: a vegetable sandwich. In my mind, this would be a delicious French baguette packed full of vegetables with a side of mouth-watering fried potatoes. This is what the picture indicated on the sign anyway. So I ordered it. When the sandwich arrived, not only was it everything I imagined, but it also had tuna on it. I explained to the waitress (in Spanish) how beautiful the sandwich looked and how absolutely delicious it must certainly be, but I couldn’t eat it because I was a vegetarian. I didn’t eat meat. Her reply (in Spanish) was that it was fish. In her mind, this meant that it wasn’t meat so I should be able to eat it. I explained that I knew it was fish, but I didn’t eat any kind of animal product, including fish. Her reply, with a shoulder shrug, was still, “But it’s fish.” We went around and around like that for a few minutes, and I was left with a lovely sandwich, which I didn’t eat. I ordered something else, but I can’t remember what. All I remember is “but it’s fish,” the sandwich I stubbornly didn’t eat, and the variety of emotions I felt during that exchange. This experience and countless others have given me lots of “food for thought”. (Please excuse the pun, but I couldn’t help myself.) I recently read an article about Anthony Bourdain, which contained some of his thoughts on travel, food, being a good guest, and the “Grandma rule.” These are the types of lessons and experiences that have taught me a lot about others and myself, as well as shaped me into a more thoughtful, gracious, and considerate person.
Did you know that the Aymara indigenous people, who live in the Andes in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile in South America, have what we would consider a reverse concept of time? We all think of time as a motion. For us, we typically think of our past as being behind us, and our future in front of us. However, the Aymara view it the opposite. The past is in front of them. The past is what is known and what someone’s eyes have seen. The future is behind them. The future is where they cannot see because it has not happened yet. This is a unique conceptual view of time, different from what most cultures have. In fact, when I read about this, it honestly blew my mind. It was so distinct from the conceptual view of past and present time that I understood, a view so deeply embedded in me. Realizing and understanding ideas like this really points to the importance of looking below the surface level of culture and digging deep into concepts that tell us a lot about others and also about ourselves. Before reading about this, I probably would have never seriously considered my own perception of time, or anyone else’s for that matter. Examining concepts like this has helped me grow more thoughtful and understanding, hopefully less likely to make assumptions about other’s beliefs, perceptions, and values.
This year, I had two important professional development opportunities–an EF (Education First) Global Education Symposium and the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching Foreign Languages) Convention. As I sat through a variety of sessions, I reflected on the fact that global education is really just education. In our increasingly global society, it is impossible teach or learn anything without including global studies. They are pervasive. This includes working effectively with others from different backgrounds and cultures. It also includes recognizing and contemplating solutions for global issues, such as poverty, hunger, water quality and access, health, well-being, quality education, inequalities, economic growth, climate, clean energy, and more. Essentially, these are the Global Goals, the 17 goals agreed upon by the United Nations in 2015 for a better world by 2030. While it could seem that these are complex issues for students, especially younger ones, they are never far from their minds. If you sit and listen to students’ conversations, they are often talking about inequalities, justice, health, life on land, life below water and more. They may be thinking about these issues as they pertain to themselves, but that is a perfect place to start! This leads to greater understandings and bigger conversations. Students can see that they have a role and a responsibility. They are our future, and they can create change for good. They can be helpers.
Global competence is a 21st century local, national and international imperative in our society. Our students need to be able to interact with others using respect, empathy, awareness, open-mindedness and understanding. They need to be able to look beyond stereotypes and generalizations in order to investigate and explain other cultures, realizing there may be differences, but there are similarities, as well. They need to be able to collaborate with others from all lifestyles, innovating and problem solving. Students need to be able to identify, investigate, and prioritize pressing global issues with an understanding of how they can make a difference. As our world grows and develops, global competency becomes even more critical. We need helpers.
    • PISA: Programme for International Student Achievement

Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.