Salzburg Global Inspires Global Citizenship Program in US High School

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Mar 20, 2014
by Alex Jackson
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Salzburg Global Inspires Global Citizenship Program in US High School

Religion, history and social sciences teacher creates new citizenship program in the US-based on her experiences in Salzburg Laura Appell-Warren with other session participants from GCP (ISP) 54, in 2012

Laura Appell-Warren is sitting intently at the back of the 60th Global Citizenship Program in Salzburg, watching American students tackle and get to grips with huge concepts in terms of globalization, social structures and cultural influence. Her observations here are not going to be lessons locked away; rather Appell-Warren is in the process of launching a new global citizenship program of her own back at St. Mark's High School in Massachusetts, USA, and her project was first inspired by the work at Salzburg Global Seminar.

“Bruce Wilson, who was on the board of Salzburg Global Seminar, is also on the board of trustees at [St Mark’s] school and so he introduced us to Salzburg,” she explains.

"Two years ago, Bruce, Jochen [Fried, Director of Education at Salzburg Global] and I sat down and came up with an idea: It is both St Mark’s and Salzburg in collaboration and it is called The Global Citizenship Institute’ and it is definitely modeled on the Salzburg method and the Salzburg idea of educating global citizens and helping people to work through what it is to be a global citizen.”

For Appell-Warren, whose inaugural program of the Global Citizenship Insitute at St Mark's will be held in July, this is the culmination of massive cross-Atlantic efforts to make the venture a feasible success. Appell-Warren and her colleagues have been to Salzburg Global Seminar's Global Citizenship Program for faculty and administrators on multiple occasions which has allowed the program to be deeply influenced by the teaching here.

“[The program] has been very much impacted by Salzburg and its language. The way things are understood and constructed in terms of global citizenship has very much impacted the way we are also looking at our new program," she says.

“The greatest thing is the resources: last summer, there was a speaker here that is going to be the speaker at our first session so it is a great way to share resources as well.”

Appell-Warren, who also teaches in the Religion, History and Social Science departments at St Mark’s School in Massachusetts, believes that it is increasingly important to have teenagers discuss and debate on their positions in the world, which she believes they don’t always appreciate as being full of advantages.

“They need to understand their behavior in the United States and we are such a privileged country, and we can behave in such a privileged manner, but they need to understand that all those years of that behavior are in fact exacting a cost, just in a very different part of the world. And understand the limited resources of the globe and equity.

“In the end there is a great inequity: they don’t understand the limitations of resources because they haven’t been directly faced with the limitation of resources – but they will be. There is just no question; our resources are becoming limited.”

With a doctorate in Cross-Cultural Human Development from Harvard University, Appell-Warren believes that American global interaction in the past decade has changed cultural and social views of America on a world scene. As a consequence, she reinforces the view that the USA cannot be a country of isolation, but of national and international action.

“We are emphasizing the local to global and that you could be a global citizen without ever leaving our campus if you had the right mind-set. So we are getting this into the habits of mind.

“On a practical level, when we are educating students who are going to go out to college and to the work force, people are now saying that you can’t be a really good person in the work-force unless you have these inter-cultural skills, so I think that’s why the board of trustees likes it. It is practical. It has a positive impact on cultural awareness and future jobs and money.

“It also fits well with our mission. We’re an Episcopal school so we have always had a mission for our students to lead lives of service and leadership so it fits nicely with the idea that you have to look beyond your own walls out into the greater world.”  

A psychological anthropologist, Appell-Warren is certain that introducing these big and potentially emotional topics to children at young ages is important in involving them in conversations about the future of their country and international relations.

“Our youngest kids are 14, and as long as we do it with a context of support and as long as we are aware that we might need to support them then they are actually quite mature and think about things quite carefully. They are still quite sensitive; they do have an innate sensitivity to other people. We have a course that is required for our youngest students that looks at world events and world issues currently but also looks at the historical roots of them to help them understand that you do have to look outside.”

Of course, in an internationally connected world, with constant media streams, children are being made more aware of problems at an earlier age. Images of Iraq, Afghanistan, The Arab Spring and the Ukraine Crisis adorn the TV and laptop screens of adolescents and this needs to be put into perspective.

“With media, when you are watching movies or television in the United States, it is very graphic, it is very violent and I don’t think that there is as great a divide between how that is when it is real versus the TV screens. So I do show them a fairly shocking documentary on Rwanda and Sudan which some of them take very hard because they do begin to realize these are real people. And it is very graphic, but it does help them to understand that these were real people.”

By asking her students to face these international issues, Appell-Warren hopes to ensure that teenagers do not become desensitized to any images of violence, and are always considering how they can act as global citizens to impact and influence each other so as to galvanize change. She has taken the ethos of Salzburg's GCP to heart as she envisions the lessons imparted being spread among all the students at St Mark's.

“Each one of us can touch maybe 50 people, so if you multiply each of the people that are in that room by 50 then it begins to feel significant. So I feel as though if we can touch more people then we can make it more significant.”