Diversity and Democracy

Embracing Disturbances in Learning: The Journey to Global Citizenship

What if we were to be together and listen to each other's comments with a willingness to expose rather than to confirm our own beliefs and opinions? […] When we are willing to be disturbed by newness rather than clinging to our certainty, when we are willing to truly listen to someone who sees the world differently, then wonderful things happen.

—Margaret Wheatley (2000)

What was the most meaningful learning experience of your academic journey? When we ask graduating seniors in Providence College's global studies major this question, they consistently respond with some version of when I studied abroad. It is perhaps not surprising that the impact of international immersion overshadows that of on-campus seminars, even those facilitated by talented and engaging faculty. Yet we would not want it any other way. Providence College's global studies major is designed to support the kinds of educational "disturbances" described by Wheatley (2000), which we firmly believe are essential for our students' development as responsible global citizens. We have come to realize that the most meaningful learning takes place outside the classroom (Longo 2007), where learners are able to address real-world problems while negotiating new sociocultural boundaries on their own. This learning can occur through engagement in local community-based settings (a signature aspect of our major) and is even more pronounced in international engagement (a requirement that underscores all aspects of our program).

Global Studies Frameworks

Global studies, launched as a program in 2005 and established as a department in 2013, is an interdisciplinary major focused on preparing the next generation to engage responsibly with our increasingly interconnected world. The global studies curriculum fosters learners' sensitivity to local cultures and identities as they develop their capacity to act as global problem-solvers and engaged citizen leaders (Alonso García and Longo 2013). With junior-year study abroad (lasting for a year, a semester, or a summer) at its heart, the curriculum provides a sustained, developmental, integrated experience that includes

  • foundational courses, including courses in research methods, that unveil global dilemmas and support critical thinking through service learning and engaged research;
  • interdisciplinary seminars on international politics, the philosophy of globalization, cross-cultural communication, world religions, and the global economy;
  • individual learning plans with thematic concentration in a self-selected area; and
  • advanced courses in foreign languages and global studies, including a yearlong capstone seminar.

Global studies helps students understand the intersection of the local and the international through experiential learning and leadership in the Providence community and around the world. The major is committed to sustainable partnerships with nonprofit organizations that support immigrant advocacy, youth arts literacy, English language learning, financial inclusion and development, and the study and practice of nonviolence. In their global studies courses, students participate in a variety of service-learning projects involving mentoring and teaching, interpreting and translating, facilitating diversity workshops, assisting with after-school programming, and organizing community events. We have found that connecting local and international engagement enhances students' understanding and appreciation of the interconnected world (essential for the study of globalization) and provides opportunities for students to participate responsibly in community problem-solving and reflection (essential to the practice of global citizenship).

When global studies majors pursue learning opportunities abroad, they face the challenge of reading a second culture sensitively—becoming aware of their own preconceived perceptions, suspending judgments, and adopting multiple perspectives simultaneously. Senge describes this practice as "turning the mirror inward" by "learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny" (1990, 9). Even more significant is what happens when students return home, where they explore ways to act responsibly based on the pluralistic perspectives they developed abroad (Berwick and Whalley 2000). As Weinberg, Hovey, and Bellamy have noted, global citizenship is fostered not only by engaging in intercultural learning, but by reflecting critically on the relevance of such experiences upon returning to the local environment (2011).

Scaffolding the International Experience

In the global studies major, international experiences build on students' areas of interest while also challenging them through cultural immersion. To prepare for study abroad, students take a required one-credit Global Engagement course that fosters reflection and conversations about challenges and opportunities associated with cultural immersion. In this course, students learn to recognize the impact that deeply ingrained assumptions have on their perception of other cultures. They prepare to respond to cultural behaviors different from their own, and to engage in dialogue with individuals of a variety of cultural backgrounds.

For their study abroad experiences, students select from a list of programs, developed in collaboration with Providence College's Center for International Education, that include a service-learning, internship, or community-based-research component. For example, global studies majors have worked with youth in Nicaragua, researched women's rights in India, and interned at a company in China. Through experiential learning opportunities like these, students immerse themselves in social and academic environments, engage in field research, deepen their foreign language understanding, and become interculturally competent citizens.

The yearlong Capstone course addresses issues of reentry by providing opportunities for students to reflect on their study abroad experiences and complete culminating assignments that synthesize and deepen their learning. For instance, students begin the semester by developing a written and visual "global studies autobiography" and conclude by rewriting the "philosophies of global citizenship" they first composed during freshman year. The Capstone course's "engaged thesis" allows majors to study, as part of a collaborative global action project, a global issue that has come to have special significance for them. Examples of engaged thesis projects have included a documentary on immigration screened at a local cinema, a campaign to make Providence College a bottled water-free campus, a comparative study of approaches to youth violence prevention in Latin America and Providence, and a job training and education fair for refugee adults in collaboration with a local immigration center.

To provide additional opportunities for students to process their experiences, the global studies curriculum now includes a course specifically focused on reentry, called Crossing Borders. In Crossing Borders, students employ writing, storytelling, and active listening to reflect on their experiences abroad and what those experiences mean for their future work as global citizens. In the course, graduating seniors not only focus on making meaning of past experiences, but also apply these experiences to their professional and life decisions.

Finally, students document all their learning in an electronic portfolio called a Curation of Learning. In the Curation of Learning, students examine and reflect on their global studies experiences in order to create value and meaning that is understandable to a broader public, such as potential employers and graduate schools. Through meaningful digital exhibitions, students record their growth as global citizens and craft cohesive stories of their learning.

Lifelong Learning and Action

We hope that the global studies curriculum ultimately fosters a lifelong commitment to intercultural learning and responsible global action. While learning to listen authentically, respect local cultures, and balance inquiry and advocacy before taking action, students come to see themselves as global civic actors with agency to ignite change. The "wonderful things [that] happen" when students study abroad do not occur by happenstance, but as part of a journey supported by the global studies curriculum.


Alonso García, Nuria, and Nicholas Longo. 2013. "Going Global: Re-framing Service-Learning in an Interconnected World." Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 17 (2): 111–36.

Berwick, Richard, and Thomas Whalley. 2000. "Personal Dimensions of Globalization through Study Abroad: A 10-year Perspective." Intercultural Communication Studies 10 (1): 143–158.

Longo, Nicholas. 2007. Why Community Matters: Connecting Education with Civic Life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Senge, Peter M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. London: Random House.

Weinberg, Adam, Rebecca Hovey, and Carol Bellamy. 2011. "Exploring Leadership through International Education: Civic Learning through Study Abroad in Uganda." In From Command to Community: A New Approach to Leadership Education in Colleges and Universities, edited by Nicholas V. Longo and Cynthia M. Gibson. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press.

Wheatley, Margaret. 2000. "Disturb Me, Please!" The Works: Your Source to Being Fully Alive. http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/pleasedisturb.html.

Nuria Alonso García is associate professor of foreign language studies and global studies at Providence College; and Nicholas V. Longo is chair and professor of global studies at Providence College.

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