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Want Low Income Kids Ready for the Global Workforce? Teach Them a Second Language

We have to make sure all children reap the benefits afforded by an increasingly globalized economy.

The low percentage of passport holders in America is always a conversation among the intelligentsia. Passports, they proclaim, are critical to knowing and seeing the world around us. I couldn't agree more. After reading statistics about the low percentage of minority students who studied abroad I made it my personal mission to encourage more students to travel and to learn world languages.

With this mission in mind in 2009 I founded Global Language Project, an educational nonprofit that works with underserved elementary schools to launch language and culture programs. We currently serve over 800 New York City students teaching Mandarin, Arabic and Spanish.

My work with Global Language Project has given me a look into the world of those families in Harlem, Brooklyn, and other parts of Manhattan who don't have passports—many times because of economic reasons. These are families who can't think about traveling because they are focused on where they will live and what they will eat.

My guiding question is how do we, as global citizens and social entrepreneurs invested in the public good, make sure that these adults and their children still reap the benefits afforded by an increasingly globalized economy that on the one hand, connects everyone together, but also makes access to resources more difficult.

The passport can be a tool for our work. Students entering our program receive a GLP Passport on day one. It symbolizes that they have begun their journey to becoming a world citizen. They receive stamps for various achievements throughout the year. While the passport seems like a simple document, to the children and parents who come from challenging backgrounds and where future prospects seem bleak, it begins to symbolize hope—for them a passport represents opportunities. It is a symbol of their place within the world as a global citizen.

At Global Language Project our goal in equipping underserved students with fluency in a second language opens a door to new cultures and ways of life—we often say a second language is a second life. This is also what a passport represents—it is literally a key to unlocking another culture, another language and another way of living.

Often in public schools, we have observed that world culture and language learning is siphoned off into its own category, which leaves students and educators perplexed as to why achieving language proficiency becomes such a challenging process or why many American students don’t have the desire to travel and study abroad. GLP believes that fluency in two world languages and travel are the means to achieving professional, educational, social, community, and personal development for students and for people in general.

In other words, while language and cultural awareness is our starting point, in many ways, the ends we hope to achieve are a lot bigger, and the stakes involved even more important. We hope that through our programs, we can use language learning as a way to not only prepare students for long-term professional success in a globalized workforce, but to also enable them to foster meaningful relationships with their peers across the world.

A willingness to travel to see the world from another vantage point is a beneficial skill for students and for all Americans. The path to being an active citizen in any community is an awareness of yourself and how you fit within the spectrum of your local community and the larger world.

Whether our students are saying Hola!, Ni Hao!, Bonjour!, or Marhaba!, the value of learning another language or another culture remains constant. It is our hope that it will allow tour students to spin the globe and decide where they want to live, work, and potentially contribute to one day.

It can all start with a passport. We hope that you will get one and if you already have one take a moment to encourage a child near you to get one, too. It could literally mean a world of difference!

Photo courtesy of Global Language Project

Click here to add funding a foreign language project on Donors Choose to your GOOD "to-do" list.

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Get a Passport. Follow along and join the conversation at and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.

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