After my trip to Peru last year, I had no idea when I would have the opportunity to travel abroad again. I definitely have the travel bug and I want to continue my love of learning and understanding other cultures. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to attend a wedding of a friend who lives in Germany. As an American citizen with German and Greek heritage, I have longed to understand where my story begins.
So… what did I learn during my short time in Germany? It may surprise you but the most memorable lesson learned was not about the country of Germany or even about my heritage. Instead, the realization that global education begins with me and the journey to understanding others. No matter where I explore or travel, it is the people who matter most, and their essential needs are really not that different than mine.
Throughout the wedding of a lifetime (comprised of two services and three receptions!) I had the opportunity to interact with many Germans. But one conversation in particular struck me. I met a couple from Wurzburg who were friends of the bride and groom. Our conversation quickly changed from our connection with the beloved couple to education and then politics. Many people are afraid to discuss politics- especially with those they don’t know. However I find that even with those whose opinions are very different from mine, I can find common ground. We often share some of the same concerns as well as the same hopes and dreams for children, our country, and the world.
Like so many Americans, my new friends in Germany are watching our current election unfold and are concerned about who might be the next American President. Then they shared some of their fears about what is happening in their own country. With so many refugees fleeing into their country, they questioned what would Germany look like in 10-20 years? They worried that as a country, they might lose their heritage and what they believed makes Germany great in their hearts. I listened intently and felt their passion and love for their country. I was learning what it meant to be German through their eyes.
While we are a country of immigrants from all over the world, so many Americans have similar concerns and passion for their country. Our two countries, so far away geographically, have commonalities that I have never considered. No matter where we live, many people fear change that threatens their current way of life—no matter how good or bad it is.
Growing up in a small town in West Virginia with no diversity, my move to the Washington, DC area was a big, scary change! I had never traveled far from home. The metro area offered encounters with others who were different – they looked different, acted differently, and believed in different religions that guided their way of life than what I had known for almost 30 years. Sixteen years later, I celebrate those differences and challenge myself to see the world through others’ perspectives in order to overcome personal biases.
My travels abroad, however, have taught me even more. I have learned that while people from different backgrounds may look, sound, and behave differently, we all share a common need. We need and want others to understand who we really are at our core. Our lives may be drastically different, but as humans, we want to have a sense of place in this world. We want to matter and we want to be accepted.
My conversation with my new friends helped me understand that they didn’t expect me to fix their problems or even agree with everything they said. Instead, they wanted to be heard and understood as genuine and caring people who loved their country and believed that cultural heritage is important. They realized that I genuinely cared for them and respected their beliefs and struggles. This allowed us to learn from one another and come to respect each other in a short time. I may not have agreed with everything they believed but I didn’t pass judgment on them because it was their truth based on their life story.
While I thought this journey would help me find answers about my heritage, I never imagined that two people who lived so far away would have such an impact on my understanding of my place in our world. Humanity depends on our ability to understand and accept others in the world who appear to be different on the outside, but are like us in so many ways on the inside. If I am to be a better educator, I must continue to challenge my own biases and truly listen to others from far and near.
So…as I get ready to gear up for a new school year, my mind races knowing that global education begins with me. How I will I continue to help my students understand differing perspectives, be compassionate toward others, and understand their place in the world? Because in the end, global education isn’t just learning about the history of a place or culture. Global education is about seeing the world as it exists through the eyes of others who live in it every day and responding in a way that makes our world a better place.