Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, Global Executive, Advocate and Author
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Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is a seasoned global executive and award-winning author of four books on the intersection of globalization and careers. Raising Global Children: Ways Parents Can Help Our Children Grow Up Ready to Succeed in a Global Multicultural Economy was published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in 2013.
Interview conducted by GlobalPolicy.tv’s Nakia Gladden.
Could you give a brief overview of what a “global mindset” is and its importance?
A “global mindset” is defined as the ability to work successfully across cultures. At the most basic level, having a global mindset means having the skills that are proven to work cross-culturally.
The reason [having a global mindset is] important? As 21st century global workers, our children will need cultural sensitivity; the ability to interpret diverse situations, information and facts while being an empathetic team player; and a passion and curiosity that enables them to enjoy the cultural diversity we share. Adults are not as adept at learning these skills as children, so starting young is key.
For the first time in human history, the world is coming together as a single entity. Although country borders still exist, people within them are experiencing a shift to an increasingly borderless economy that includes politics, culture and international relations. But, just because we are becoming more interconnected does not mean that we know how to deal with the benefits and obstacles associated with it. The world as we know it is changing and we must adapt to succeed. Having a global mindset helps us thrive – not just survive – in the new world marketplace.
In Raising Global Children, you speak in depth about the importance of teaching children foreign languages as early as pre-school. Unlike most industrialized countries, however, the United States’ school system does not require students to fulfill foreign language credits until middle or sometimes high school levels. Why hasn’t the United States caught up with the rest of the world when it comes to the importance of early foreign language education?
I believe there are three major reasons. First, the vast majority of policymakers and decision-makers (those in charge of adding, cutting or maintain language programs in K-12 schools) do not think it is necessary. Bizarre as that sounds, to many of us living and working in the interconnected global economy where cross-cultural competency and language skills are critical to success – with multiple studies proving the same – many leaders assume that since English is widely spoken around the world, Americans do not need to learn another language.
Second, naysayers insist that it is too difficult and too costly. While it does take time to become proficient in a second language, studies show that if the teaching begins at an early age, the “time on task” is longer, and students stand a much greater chance of becoming proficient. Many comfort themselves with the unrealistic expectation that students will learn in college, but studies show that language learning comes more easily to those whose brains are still in the development phase – up until roughly 13 or 14 years of age. However, the vast majority of language learning – and only 16 states require any foreign language learning to graduate – is required in high school and only for two years. We would not expect our children to learn math, English or history in two years, so why do have that expectation in terms of foreign language learning?
Third, budgets in every school district across the country have been squeezed and administrators often cut language for the two reasons above and because of a lack in parents’ advocacy and involvement. It is paramount, therefore, that parents get involved early on in the process and lobby to at least maintain and possibly expand language programs.
Learning a language is more than just communicating. It helps us learn about another cultures and enables us to cross cultural bounds more easily by appreciating and understanding difference. It also enhances cognitive abilities. Research has proven that it makes one “smarter” and enhances math, science and even English language abilities. It can also help people get jobs and can fast-track careers. But, it takes time to learn another language; it does not happen in just a few years in high school or college. If we want more Americans to be successful and to be able to compete in the global marketplace, we must teach them cross-cultural skills and more foreign languages earlier. We need to set a national standard beginning as early as kindergarten to lay the foundation for proficiency as adults. Because if not in our public schools, then where? When? The world has changed. The stakes for our children are high and rising. Americans must work together as parents, teachers, administrators and business leaders to maintain – if not increase – foreign language in our schools’ budgets.
There are constant cuts in funding to U.S. public school systems. In order to facilitate early foreign language education, it would require extra costs for textbooks, teachers, materials, etc. Are there alternative funding sources to supplement these costs if funds from the Federal and State governments are not available?
It is challenging to find alternative funding for early language programs. One cost-effective model that several states (Utah and Delaware) are pursuing aggressively is the immersion model where one teacher teaches half the curriculum in English and the foreign language teacher teaches the other half of the curriculum in the target language. Students acquire the language while learning the regular school curriculum. The language teacher is a full-time staff member, which saves money on additional staffing for the program. In addition, there is occasional assistance from foreign governments interested in promoting their languages. Right now, for example, schools can get help from the Chinese government if they want to implement a Mandarin program by receiving a guest teacher from China and instructional materials. For more information on language learning, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages offers tremendous resources: www.actfl.org
You also speak about the importance of learning through travel. For many families, particularly those with low-incomes, this option may not be feasible because of costs. Are there alternative methods for low-income students to receive comparable experiences if their families cannot afford intercontinental travel as their more privileged counterparts?
For families, given the great cultural diversity that can be found here in the U.S., it is not absolutely necessary to leave the U.S. to have an authentic global experience. Any number of American cities can provide a legitimate partial immersion experience, especially those with geographically concentrated, historically established, residential immigrant communities. Even just a visit to one of these neighborhoods will take you out of your element. And, when you travel with children, they are out there observing and experiencing things first hand. It is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
If families cannot travel physically, use a public library and the internet to learn about the world, watch foreign films and cable shows about travel and other cultures. Explore diverse cuisines by eating in ethnic restaurants. There are cooking shows that provide a glimpse into other cultures by highlighting the types of food items, spices and preparation that goes into creating a meal.
For students, especially those in high school and college, there are ways to go abroad without spending too much money. Mission trips with faith-based organizations are usually paid for through community fundraising. Student exchange programs require a competitive application process but many times scholarships are offered. For those students going to college, studying abroad should be an essential component of an undergraduate degree. There are thousands of study abroad scholarships offered and students should do their research; one of the best places to begin is the Institute of International Education’s site www.studyabroadfunding.org. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, a U.S. Government-sponsored scholarship, was set up specifically for American undergraduate students with limited financial means. Also, there are many others offered by the U.S. government, foreign governments and private organizations such as rotary clubs and study abroad providers. For more information on study abroad, check out A Student Guide to Study Abroad.
Another alternative for families would be to consider hosting an exchange student or teacher. Opening up your home to a foreign student or teacher is a terrific way to learn about another culture. Student exchange programs identify and pair teenagers from around the world with host families so that they can get a taste of what daily life is like in the U.S. Hosting an exchange student – or a teacher – can bring the world into your home without costing much at all.
Can you provide parents with a few affordable yet effective methods that they can begin at home to awaken and later nurture their children’s global mindset?
Global awareness is not just a knowledge of geography, speaking another language or having traveled the world. It begins with the basics – things EVERY parent can share with a child.
1. Encourage curiosity, empathy, flexibility and independence.
2. Taste culture through global food, trying different dishes at ethnic restaurants.
3. Explore other cultures through books, music and art.
4. Take advantage of the vast resources at your local library to bring the world into your home.
5. Seek out and embrace diverse friends.
6. Learn to read a map and practice regularly.
7. Free yourself from rigid thinking and media-fed stereotypes.
8. Explore languages using free online resources or tapping the local library.
9. Watch global television or cable programs together and discuss what you see.
10. Watch and read world news together and discuss it, turning to a map or globe if need be.
The point is to do all of the above activities together as a family for a shared experience. If you do not know the answer to a question, or do not have an explanation for what you see, look it up together. Encouraging children to appreciate that the world is a very big, wonderful, interesting place that is also filled with mystery that can be explained and not feared, is one of the fundamentals to raising a global child.
The United States is frequently referred to as a “melting pot” that embraces many different cultures. Do you believe that the United States is living up to that name given the lack of global and cultural education?
The United States should be the absolute BEST at raising global children because we are a melting pot that is made up of people from around the world. The number of languages spoken in most urban cities is astounding and, if we could just harness these skills alone, we could make a difference in the lives of many school children across the U.S. However, “embraces many cultures” is not how I would describe the U.S. as a whole. Certainly many people do and we have immigrant communities across the U.S, but we also seem to have this unspoken rule that has grown stronger with time: immigrants should assimilate and become “American” as opposed to sharing their cultures and teaching others about the different worlds we come from. Some of this may be American pride but some may be fear – fear of people who are different. One of the best ways to help raise global children is to explore the many cultures and ethnic neighborhoods, restaurants and markets. This can be done through food, music, books, art and friends, and such experiences can inspire children to further explore other aspects of culture – and other parts of the world.
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is a seasoned global executive and award-winning author of four books on the intersection of globalization and careers. Raising Global Children: Ways Parents Can Help Our Children Grow Up Ready to Succeed in a Global Multicultural Economy was published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in 2013. Her work has appeared in leading newspapers and magazines, she frequently speaks on college campuses, and she advises organizations on global issues.