Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My First Love: Why I’m the Global Teach Ag! Learning Specialist by @GlobalMelanie

I’ll never forget the day that my high school economics teacher announced that he would be leading a group of students on a trip to Russia over spring break.  In an instant, my 16-year-old heart knew it would break if I wasn’t on that trip.  I had grown up near the Canadian border, and regular trips across the border comprised most of my international travel to that point.  So it was a shock to my system to want to travel internationally so badly, so quickly.  It felt like the essential element that had been missing from my life had suddenly been presented to me on a silver platter.

My parents supported my decision to go on the trip.  We weren’t exactly made of money, but they always prioritized educational activities.  Luckily, as the only teenage girl in our neighborhood, I had a monopoly on the babysitting market.  I gave up most Friday and Saturday nights to babysit my way to Russia.

It’s hard to explain what happened when I stepped off the plane in Moscow.  It felt like everything I learned in social studies and everything I saw on the news suddenly came true.  There were people over there, living in a different country!  I had just taken a semester of Russian history and could spout off all sorts of information about tsars and tsarinas, five year plans and the fall of the Soviet Union, but none of it was real to me until I stepped foot on foreign soil. 

I always say that Russia was my first love because that’s where the world became real to me.  I work as the Global Teach Ag! Learning Specialist because I want students to have their own global a-ha moments, whether they are here or abroad.

Perhaps part of the reason I was so enamored with Russia is because I was so ready to experience it.  There was no particular preparation for this spring break abroad, other than a few orientation sessions after school and the implicit trust we had in the trip leader – an ex-CIA agent who became an econ teacher when the Cold War ended. 

Of course there were the history and current event courses, the holiday meals featuring the food of my international ancestors, and the value my parents and other community members placed on diversity and inclusiveness.  All of these things came together as a haphazard global education that prepared me to approach Russia with an open mind and an open heart.

Today, my scholarship focuses on the teaching and learning of global knowledge skills and dispositions.  How do students learn about the world, and how do we, as instructors, facilitate this learning?

Since that first sojourn to Russia, I grabbed every international opportunity that has come my way – especially those that offered all-expenses-paid.  One time the 4-H exchange program came up one chaperone short, so I volunteered to go to Japan for a month at the last minute.  Another time an email went out to my entire Americorps cohort, but everyone else deleted it because it said “agriculture” in the title.  I won a huge study abroad scholarship from the opportunity advertised in that email and learned Spanish in the resulting experience.  Another time I went to Guatemala with a group of engineers working on pedal-powered technology.  Turns out they just needed someone to point out that women weren’t using their creations because they couldn’t pedal while wearing their traditional skirts.  And the list goes on. 

Besides grabbing all the international travel opportunities I could get my hands on, I pursued a M.S. and Ph.D. in rural sociology with a focus on international development in Latin America.  My graduate research took place in Costa Rica, where I took a closer look at the use (and disuse) of farming technologies that a local university, EARTH University, was promoting in local communities.  It was the perfect project to meld together my interests: international and agriculture.  Today, I add “education” to that list.
I’m not implying that all students should dedicate their personal or professional lives to global pursuits.  It is enough to simply ignite the spark that would open the minds of students to the wider world.  The awesome wonder of the world will make them fall in love.

To contact Melanie Miller Foster (@GlobalMelanie), Global Teach Ag! Learning Specialist and seek out help with your personal/program global learning goals, click here. 

To learn more about the PSU Global Teach Ag! Initiative: 

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