Global Citizenship in the 21st Century. No pressure, right?

It’s really great to hear that York House School, one of the most prestigious private schools in Vancouver, puts resources towards supporting students by also emphasizing personal/mental health for students. Last year I had a great time sharing my experience with the inner workings of the United Nations with the School’s model UN class. So I was happy to give another talk when the counseling team recently invited me to speak to sixty Grade 12 students about how I got into the UN and the unconventional way that my life has taken. The purpose of the talk was to support the students’ personal health and planning and to highlight that there are alternative paths after high school.

“Global Citizenship in the 21st Century” was the topic and it’s quite broad… so it made sense that I would talk about my UN experience…. but I also wanted to share my experience and views on how becoming a “global citizen” isn’t necessarily a fixed path. While I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done internationally, the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from these experiences isn’t so much the traveling and living abroad, but to be open, curious, understanding and respectful of the people and the environment. Honestly there are people I know who’ve not really traveled much and who are more “global” in their outlook… while there are some people I’ve met during my travels who are not as “global” in perspective as you might think.

My last year of high school.
My last year of high school.

I never thought of being a “global citizen” when I was about to graduate from high school (and I still don’t). I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do after grade 12. I figured going to University was the thing to do since everyone else was doing it.

It's really to easy to give advice, but sometimes it should be taken with a grain of salt. Banana Man - taken on the island of Kyushu, Japan.
It’s really easy to give advice and direction, but sometimes it should be taken with a grain of salt. Banana Man – taken on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

There’s a lot of pressure (and advice) to start thinking about and doing something about your career and/or life when it’s time to graduate high school. From the sounds of it, the current generation of students needs to be “well rounded”, with lots of volunteering and academic experiences under their belt, in order to be considered for university. I’m all for balancing high school and extra curricular/volunteering activities, but I don’t think it should be what defines whether or not you can go to university. That’s too much pressure, physically and mentally, on students… instead, why not make it mandatory that after high school university-bound students are ask to take, say, six months off and do something with this time? And as part of university admissions to ask applicants what they did with these six months and why…

My resume a couple years ago when I thought it would be interesting to map out my work, education, and volunteer background.
My resume from a couple of years ago when I thought it would be interesting to map out my work, education, and volunteer background.

Part of the process of being a global citizen is to figure out who you are, what you like and/or don’t like. And that means trying things and exploring your possibilities. It’s not possible to have all the answers from just books alone, there’s a lot that can be learned and that can help a person grow through experience. It shouldn’t be forced, but rather do things that you want to do rather than what is expected of you… All this helps not only to build up a resume but also helps with personal growth and development. It’s something I’ve kept in mind and it’s led me to spend time in the Arctic, work for a car company in Japan, join the United Nations in Asia and Europe, and even earn my Masters degree while living and working in Bangkok.

One of the best parts of going to the University of Victoria was the relaxing and welcoming atmosphere.
One of the best parts of going to the University of Victoria was the relaxing and welcoming atmosphere.

I was interested and had the opportunity to go to University. Is it the place that will help you find a job after? Not really. It’s called ‘higher education’ after all. Yes, having a university degree opens doors, but it shouldn’t be the main purpose of going to secure a job afterwards. A lot of people try to finish as fast as they can… after 4 years and then what? Work? My advice is to embrace the culture and environment for as long as you think you can or need to… it’s a great place to explore who you are, meet people with different ideas, and learn things. It’s a big jump from high school to university in terms of life experience so what’s the rush of getting it over with?

Where's Waldo... um... where's Vincent in this photo taken at Ueno station during the cherry blossom season in Tokyo.
Where’s Waldo… um… where’s Vincent? Taken at Ueno station during the cherry blossom season in Tokyo.

There’s no perfect way of doing things in life. I’ve learned that the hard way. It was interesting to see the student’s faces when I told them that it took me seven years to finish my undergraduate degree, which included dropping out of university. Burn out is a part of life and that’s ok. It’s an opportunity to learn from and experience these kind of challenges in life. I was fed up with university and so I decided to take time off… and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Not only did I realize the trials and tribulations of a working life, but I learned that I wanted to do more and see the world… which led me to taking a couple years off to live and work in the Arctic and Japan. Again… I would have never expected that coming out of high school.

Making the world a more peaceful, stable, and healthy place requires a mix of people, cultures and skill sets... as long as you're into working with others and believe in partnerships and collaboration.
Making the world a more peaceful, stable, safer, and healthier place requires a mix of people, cultures and skill sets… as long as you’re willing to work with others and believe in partnerships and collaboration.

Relationships are as important as the stuff you learn from books. So while the UN is famously known for “global citizenship”, making the world a more peaceful, stable, safer and healthier place also requires patience, understanding, and acceptance. Book smarts helps you understand the world, but it’s relationships that helps to change it. While I got my foot in the door with the UN with academics and life experiences, it’s the relationships that I’ve nurtured that has helped me continue working on and staying connected with global issues.

Priorities change your life and life changes your priorities.
Priorities change your life and life changes your priorities.

Life’s a journey. Having set plans and ideas about what to do with life is great, but you also have to be ready for those unexpected twists and turns. There will be times when you feel in control, and other times when things just feel out of control. Priorities change in life and it’s important to grow and adjust with them.

So what does it mean to be a “global citizen”? It isn’t about how much one has traveled, but, rather, their perspective, outlook, and curiosity in understanding the world around them, whether it’s in one’s own community or in some village in a developing country. That means being open to exploration, discovery, learning, and empathy… and using those experiences to grow as a person and to give back to society in a meaningful way.

Paperless publishing to revolutionize the way we learn?

Are we still going to rely on paper and pulp to give us books and publications in the future? According to this article, Apple may be revolutionizing the way we think about “books”. In it, the author Joshua Benton writes that a new iPad app may make “publishing” a breeze and paving the way for easy to produce and publish e-books. From an environmental standpoint, this might be a godsend since the mounds and mounds of paper needed to produce a single publication might be the thing of the past. From a social and cultural perspective, this might also be a positive sign since more and more people are turning to their mobile phones and tablets to read the news, books, surf the net, etc…

Towards the end of the article, Benton explains that even Apple is targeting this new concept of publishing e-books specficially for non-traditional forms of computing (i.e. not laptops or desktop computers) – do I hear more iPads being sold and marketed to the public and schools? Could this be a way Apple will target it’s corporate social responsibility – “we’re saving trees and the environment!” Not long ago, I heard that an international school here in Geneva is also giving away iPads as part of compulsory school materials! Is this the death of education as we know it, or just a radical adaptation of how we learn, research and access information for education, and in general? Only time will tell, but perhaps the kid in the below photo will find that books and paper-based materials to be a rarity…

Long shadows on a bright sunny winter afternoon in Geneva

Day 4 (#GISDay) – It's all about the data!

Timor-Leste Census 2010

More and more people keep attending the afternoon seminars… including today’s presentation by the National Statistics Directorate of Timor-Leste. One of the key things in this 10-year old country is to get a better understanding about its population and what are the challenges to its growth. Timor-Leste will be conducting its national census next year in July 2010.

GIS and mapping hand-outs

Interest is growing for the event, but it’s too bad that the event is only for one week. There needs to be more done in terms of getting the government, universities/schools, and the international community more aware of GIS and mapping and how everyone can benefit from it – hopefully all the material we have available will get around and get people interested. It’s all about collecting and analyzing data… poor data = poor analysis = poor planning/development… GIS and maps can help visualize this.

Day 2 (#GISDay) – Kids, military, uni students come for a visit

Kids at GIS event

With maps, we build the future of Timor-Leste keeps going strong at Casa Europa. Day 2 was as popular as the first day. This time around there was a class field trip from the Dili International School who came for a visit – as you can see they were very interested in the 1:50000 floor map. Also, the military came to look around since they contributed a couple of 2+ meter long maps to the event. It’s great to see that the event is drawing people from all over.

Casa Europa

One of the highlights was the presentations in the afternoon which was mainly attended by Timorese… the first was given by a staff member at the Ministry of Agriculture. The surprising thing was that it was a women who really knew what she was talking about – collecting climate data from weather stations setup around the country. Given that Timor-Leste has its issues with Education, and the challenges for women to have a higher education, the sight of a very pregnant staff member presenting was a pleasant surprise.

ALGIS presentation

The second half of the presentation was given by our good friend Osorio, who is probably one of the only experts in remote sensing in the country – he knew his stuff! One idea that came up was to have more presentations like these in the academic setting to encourage Timorese to learn more about how GIS and maps can help their country develop – maybe a special lecture once a month at the university could be a good start!

Non Formal Education in Oecusse

In preparation for a planning meeting with one of the poorest districts in Timor-Leste, this compilation was created to highlight the education issues in the district. The statistics were drawn from a database the Ministry of Education was maintaining. One of the areas that the government wanted to look into was non-formal education since the education sector required both formal and non-formal education opportunities, particularly in this isolated district.

Human Resources

Working with the Ministry of Education and UNIFEM in Timor-Leste, I developed a series of infographics to showcase the education statistics the government was collecting as part of a gender assessment. In this graphic, the idea was to highlight the difference between male and female staff in the Ministry to understand the gender balance in the government and potentially look at creating opportunities for both men and women to work in education.

Student Enrollment

In March/April 2009, I was approached by UNIFEM and the Ministry of Education in Timor-Leste to help them visualize statistics for a gender assessment of the education system in the country. At the time there was a big project to collect and organize stats on education to help the government develop a strategic plan to educate girls and boys in this newly emerging country. We worked to get the most basic stats to show the difference between girls and boys going to school and at different levels to help understand the issue better. While the girl-boy gap in education isnt too wide, what the graphic revealed was the large drop in student enrollment after primary school.