September 15th was an unhappy day for me.
That’s when I had to share the sad news with current sophomores and their families that—having already canceled the world language exchange trips for the Class of 2022 back in March—we would now have to cancel the trips for the Class of 2023, as well. While the announcement likely did not come as a surprise given our current global health crisis, there is still a feeling of disappointment and loss for all involved.
On a brighter note, however, two recent student events have reminded me that while our world language exchange program may be on hiatus, global learning is still very much alive at Cary Academy, and is even expanding in some exciting new directions!
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to observe an outstanding example of global learning in action as 7th-grade students participated in an “on-campus field trip” for the Migration Collaboration. This yearlong interdisciplinary project gives students a chance to explore the immigrant experience first-hand through multiple, meaningful interactions with people of different backgrounds and perspectives living in the Triangle area. The aim is to help 7th graders develop a sense of cross-cultural awareness and empathy, reflect upon how privilege works, and learn to be positive changemakers in our local community.
It was heartening to observe the energy and engagement of our 7th-grade students as they met with guests from six different local organizations that support immigrants and refugees. And I especially appreciated the fact that one student has already taken the next step in her 7th-grade global learning journey by organizing her own student-led Flex Day workshop—inviting four local immigrants to CA to tell their stories. Wow!
A second excellent opportunity to witness global learning in action came to me in the form of an invitation to hear a group of Upper School students present an ambitious (but do-able!) proposal to organize and host a global youth forum at CA. These Upper School students, who this past January attended the Youth Forum Switzerland hosted by the International School of Zug and Luzern, spoke quite eloquently about the value of connecting with peers from other countries for collaborative exploration of some of the world’s most pressing issues, from racial justice to climate change. They outlined a plan for a smaller-scale virtual forum next spring that would begin with a guest speaker each day for exposure and inspiration and then move into break-out sessions focused on action and involvement.
As with the 7th graders, it was inspiring to see the energy and enthusiasm of these Upper School students as they pitched their idea, and the hope is that they will be able to bring their proposed virtual forum to fruition during the upcoming Discovery Term. Wow again!
These two student endeavors in global learning got me thinking about the full range of school and community-based learning experiences we offer at Cary Academy to build self-awareness, cultivate empathy, encourage responsibility, and inspire lifelong civic engagement. Having an open mind while actively seeking to understand the cultural norms and expectations of others, and leveraging the knowledge gained to communicate and collaborate effectively in diverse environments—these are the pillars of global competence!
While our world language exchange program is a key component of our global learning effort, there are many other components, as well. The schoolwide Dialog Across Difference initiative comes immediately to mind, together with a host of other offerings sponsored by our Center for Community Engagement.
That said, Upper School world language teachers are also working hard to ensure that our students continue to have opportunities for global connections through their world language studies, even while the exchanges are suspended due to the pandemic. Plans are in place for students to interact with peers from our partner schools where possible, either through written correspondence or through virtual Zoom sessions. We are also engaging students in a number of other virtual opportunities for authentic interactions in the target language, like the “Meet a German” program sponsored by the Goethe Institut, virtual tours offered through WildChina, and Zoom chats with local Spanish-speaking residents in connection with Hispanic Heritage Month.
Though the cancellation of the exchange trips remains a disappointment, it is possible to find a silver lining. In the absence of the exchanges this year, we are finding the time and space needed to develop and launch some new global learning programs, like the youth forum now on the table. Along the same lines, the exchange hiatus has created the time and space for the Upper School world language team to revisit the structure of that program and consider how we might provide new opportunities for students to use their second-language skills to connect with people and ideas beyond our own borders. The focus to date has been upon school-based reciprocal exchange experiences, but perhaps the offerings could be expanded to include language immersion opportunities in other contexts, such as environmental studies or community service. And perhaps students could be more directly involved in planning and implementing these adventures.
Global learning is not a singular course or experience at Cary Academy, but rather, a series of experiences across grades 6-12 involving growth over time. I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring back our world language exchange trips this year, but at the same time, I find comfort in knowing that the larger global learning journey at CA continues even in the age of COVID, with students increasingly taking the baton!