“Leave home and go to China, and maybe you’ll bump into something extraordinary,” advised best-selling author Da Chen at the recent graduate student Global Citizenship Roundtable Discussion held at Alumni House on February 17th. “Maybe you’ll make the world more knowledgeable or more peaceful,” he added. “For it’s not enough to see yourself as a citizen of Connecticut or the U.S. Now you have to see yourself as a citizen of the world.”
What it means to be a global citizen was the topic at the table for 35 graduate students, faculty, and staff who gathered on a Thursday evening for dinner and conversation with guest speakers Da Chen, New York Times best-selling author of Colors of the Mountain and a member of Fairfield’s MFA in Creative Writing Program faculty, and Ashok Shenoy, Senior Vice President of the Finance Change Group at RBS and the President of the Connecticut chapter of Ascend, a Pan Asian Leaders non-profit organization.
Shenoy believes that global education is a matter of survival. “Success is not defined by one individual alone,” he said. “Look at how interdependent we are in the world. The U.S. needs the Middle East for oil, and they need us for political stability. China depends on U.S. imports, and we depend on China to handle our debt. No one country can solve the world’s problems alone.”
For Shenoy, education is key, but learning “is the gift that keeps on giving.” He differentiated between the two by defining education as an extrinsic process pushed to us by parents and teachers, while learning is a highly intrinsic progression that leads us to a profound awareness of who we are at our core. “The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing,” he said, pointing out that children learn through their curiosities, imagination, and fearlessness.
Sometimes education and learning can be combined, however, and lead to a delightfully unexpected awareness. As a daily habit, Shenoy and his wife translate headlines from the newspaper on global topics into “kid-friendly” phrases to share with their young children (education). The children are also invited, but not obligated, to sit in on meetings involving the parents’ volunteer work when hosted in the home (learning). One day, Shenoy noticed that his daughter had broken open her piggy bank and was separating the coins into two piles. When asked, she explained, “Half is for college, and the other half is for poor children around the world.”
“Being a global citizen is about the choices we make every day, the small acts and deeds we can do,” Renee White, Professor of Sociology and Black Studies and Academic Coordinator for Diversity and Global Citizenship, followed up after the keynote speakers left the podium. “Where we travel, how we speak, what we read – shapes and models the world we want to have for our children.”
The Conversation Begins
White extended the conversation to attendees, asking for their reflections and definitions of global citizenship.
“Expanding my horizon is a must,” shared Freda Suglo, an international student from Ghana in the M.A. in Industrial Organizational Psychology program of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions. “I’ve learned so much about myself in the 3 countries I’ve lived in during my life.” Suglo later explained that her first culture shock hit her when she traveled to London for the holidays during her undergrad years at the University of Ghana. “Life there is very fast-paced whereas my approach to everything was very laid back and almost lazy. I realized how very different cultures tend to shape a person. I also discovered how quickly I’m able to adapt to whatever country I find myself in.”
For Seizo Mazer, who has a Mexican mother and Japanese father, “It took time to figure out who I was and how to deal with the world. I was the different kid.” Mazer, a graduate student in the M.S. in Software Engineering program at the School of Engineering, later explained that, “No matter where I’ve lived – whether in Mexico, the U.S., or Japan – I never fully considered myself a member of one group. It took a long time to realize that was a strength and a positive, not a liability. My diversity has actually opened up a lot of doors and opportunities.”
Donna Orazio, the mother of 3 grown children and a recent graduate of the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at the College of Arts and Sciences, believes that all around the world, “we all want the same things for our children.” Orazio’s children are currently globally disbursed – one son in Canada, another in Italy, and a daughter in Africa. “Villagers walked two miles to meet Meg’s mom,” she shared of her recent visit with her daughter. “Ultimately we’re all bonded by opportunities.”
Both Shenoy and Chen encouraged attendees to leave their comfort zones and “get out there” where views are broadened, bridges are built, and relationships propel individuals forward.
“The world doesn’t tolerate narrowness,” concluded Chen. “The world demands that you enjoy Sushi and steak and fish. If you want to take your life seriously, you have to be get out there. Be unafraid. The world is very welcoming.”
Suglo’s awareness of Fairfield University’s commitment to global citizenship came to her on the way to class one day, when she passed a poster on the stairway about exchange students from Fairfield who were holding a forum to share their stories that afternoon. While she had a class conflict and was unable to attend, it registered that “Fairfield University’s effort at promoting global awareness was awesome and a step in the right direction,” she says, adding, “I must say that coming to Fairfield was the best decision I have made in a long time.”
Suglo left the Roundtable discussion “100% ready to make changes in my life.” Already a global citizen in her own right, she hopes to continue traveling and “expanding her horizon,” but now with the awareness that the world is a global community so it’s important to be responsible because “what happens in individual communities can affect people all over.”
Mazer has always thought of himself as a global citizen, which attracted him to the Roundtable discussion when he read about it on a flyer in McAullife Hall. One of his comments that contributed to the conversation involved the impact medical advances and technology have on the world. Afterwards, he reflected further:
“Access to the Internet has changed everything. The way we find information, the way we connect with each other, the way we learn, the way we discover new things – have been fundamentally altered. You can clearly see this in recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, but you can also see it all across the world. Mobile devices are allowing information, stories, and events to spread throughout the globe rapidly, giving a voice to those who did not have voice before. Cell phones are now powerful computers that fit inside your pocket. Connected to the Internet, they have become impressive tools for all kinds of human activities – from political revolutions, to revolutions in medicine, education, and even entertainment.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the Global Citizenship Roundtable Discussion. One thing I took away is that there are more opportunities than I dreamed for people who have a global perspective. Having a global sense can help you create value for a company by opening up new markets, or using your unique perspective to improve products or develop new lines of business. The possibilities are endless, and we have just scratched the surface. Technology has made the world a smaller place – it has quickened the pace of innovation – and I’m very excited about the changes technology will bring to the business world and beyond.”
The Global Citizenship Roundtable Discussion event was sponsored by the Office of Graduate Student Life and the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, and with the generous support from the Earl and Hildagunda A. Brinkman Private Charitable Foundation. Event organizers included:
- Susan Serven (DSB Student, Graduate Student Assembly Leadership Council Member, Dolan Graduate School Of Business Association Co-President)
- Kara Lucy (GSEAP Student, Graduate Student Assembly Leadership Council Member, President’s Council for Institutional Diversity)
- Tess Brown (CAS Alumnus, MFA Recipient, Coordinator of Graduate Student Life and the Graduate Student Assembly Leadership Council)
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