At What Age Can You Teach a Global Mindset?

glob·al mind·set, n: the ability to operate comfortably across borders, cultures, and languages

That’s what Stacie Nevadomski Berdan and Mashall S. Berdan think is missing for too many American children. And it’s holding us back. In their recent book, Raising Global Children, the Berdans pull together research and anecdote to argue the importance of developing a global mindset in our children, and then introduce us to the tools we need to do it.

“This world requires that [Americans] develop competence in other languages, understand other cultures, and develop an openness to interacting with the world around them,” they write.

I agree. In fact, for the past two years of my life, I have built programs to promote global mindedness and cultural competency among college students. But, on the third page of this book, I was challenged to question whether my interventions are just too late:

“College is far too late to start teaching this global mindset,” they write.

But as I read on, I realized that the authors are not just counseling parents on ways to globally engage young kids, but also advocating for a lifelong commitment to global learning and a sustained devotion to an international lifestyle. You can’t just take your kid on a vacation to Spain and consider your work done, nor can you sign up for a language course during sophomore year of college and check “global mindset” off your to-do list. Developing a global mindset should begin before birth and continue for a lifetime, and we should be developing a lifetime of global interventions.

At length, Raising Global Children discusses how we are short-changing ourselves by not investing in international education. The authors quote executives who require cultural competence in their hires and therefore never look to the United States for employees, and studies that indicate international study experiences as critical for many careers, especially at the executive level. And beyond that, they assert that all job seekers will benefit from the soft skills (communication, analytical abilities, cultural-competence, flexibility) that make up a global mindset.

“Tomorrow’s college graduates are just as likely to compete for jobs in and with people from as far away as Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Bangalore, as they are from Boston or Boise,” the Berdans tell us. “But the ability to work across cultures is no longer a nice-to-have skill set for elite executives; every year it becomes more essential to finding any job at all.”

Raising Global Children excites me not just because of the rich, research-based explanation of the importance of developing a global mindset, but also because of its potential to activate parents and educators as instigators of change. Furthermore, it equips these folks with the tools they need to educate and inspire kids of all ages.

But that doesn’t mean that there is only a small window during which this global mindset can be developed. We must challenge ourselves every day to meet new people, explore new cultures, and consider new ideas.

Yes, we should start young. But does that mean that my grandfather’s efforts to start a discussion group to learn about the life experiences of the Jamaican and Haitian employees at his assisted living facility are in vain? That his endeavors to learn Jamaican Patois and Haitian Creole at age 90 are senseless? Is it impractical for him to encourage his neighbors to learn about and celebrate the diverse cultures of the staff that serves them every day? Absolutely not!

Even though these men and women are no longer in the workforce, my grandfather recognizes that a global mindset can benefit them personally and also help foster more sensitive, understanding relationships between diverse members of their living community, regardless of their age.

I believe that it’s never too late. But for each year we give ourselves to develop our global mindset, we open more doors and uncover more opportunities. So we should start young.

The Berdans’ book is powerful because it asserts that there is no end point to learning and experiencing new cultures. The lessons in this book can be used for all of us, not just if we have a child or if we (as in my case) still fancy ourselves children. I highly recommend traveling to Amazon.com and purchasing Stacie’s book– she’ll show you how you can promote a global mindset among your children and within yourself, even with very limited financial resources. You don’t need to travel to Bhutan to develop a global mindset. And, even if you do, that won’t be enough.

Developing a global mindset is a journey, not a destination.

Amelia Friedman

Amelia Friedman

Amelia is the founder and executive director of the Student Language Exchange, an education nonprofit she founded while in college. She graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in May 2014. There, she helped teach a course on leading social ventures, served as a mentor to student entrepreneurs, and was selected as a C.V. Starr Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. An active global education advocate, Amelia has written about language learning for Forbes, the Huffington Post and USA Today. Amelia has been invited to speak about social enterprise and the Student Language Exchange at the U.S. Capitol, SXSW, TEDx, and numerous academic conferences. She is currently a Halcyon Fellow living in Washington, D.C.

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