Privilege is a difficult concept to discuss with students, especially while they’re in their home environments. The many layers and dimensions make it an uncomfortably ambiguous conversation, and even harder for students to deduce what they can do with this complex new understanding of self.
As a traveller, we have already broken the system. We have taken ourselves outside our own contexts and inserted ourselves unceremoniously into someone else’s world. We do this with great intention and respect, but even this act changes both you and the environment around you. My favourite example of this is when my nephew traveled in a Spanish-speaking country. As a natively bilingual student, he had a superpower in this new space, and could gain access to more information, more context, and more intercultural fun than monolingual students. This discovering of your own – and your peers’ — superpowers is a powerful experience, and worth staging intentionally.
Privilege is relative, and is constantly changing. An easy example of this is the hypothetical doctor who immigrates and takes a lower-prestige job as a result of a change in local medical standards. The shift that person experiences is great and changes everything. On a smaller scale, students can see this while travelling as they move through a string of different social environments. How do people perceive them as travellers? What benefits do they get in the world as outsiders? What traps are set for them (i.e. the “gringo tax”, whereby tourists are charged more than locals for the same services)? What can students learn from this tiny, temporary experience?
Partnering with other communities with the chance to see the daily lives and dynamics of how other people live is a snapshot that many people never experience. Breaking students outside of their home contexts to see how others live is an experience in seeing how far from universal their surroundings are. Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s photo project What the World Eats is a great example of this — the difference between what we want, what we need, and the differences between the resources we interact with daily. Giving the students the opportunity to experience this in a controlled environment is one of the greatest gifts we can give young learners, and will pay dividends on their learning and self-awareness as they continue on their educational and personal journeys. Global competence is as much about understanding yourself as it is understanding the world, and when guided by thoughtful and reflective teachers, can have a ripple effect across communities and schools.
Written by Lauren DeAngelis Alvarez (Director of School Partnerships, USA)