Making Global Connections with Students – Part 1

As a teacher committed to geo-education, I am constantly looking for new ways to connect my students to the exciting world beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood and the borders of our nation.

Over the years, this initiative has resulted in myriad field trips around Chicago to dine in ethnic restaurants, attend foreign film festivals, and conduct workshops with recent immigrants. Visitors from abroad have come to our neighborhood in Southwest Chicago as well. This year I experienced an unforgettable moment of cultural transcendence when a Pan-African delegation of students came to meet with my 12th grade Global Issues class about youth employment and civic engagement in Chicago. Although my students were initially nervous about the visit, within minutes they were involved in animated discussions, which eventually gave way to photos, hugs, singing, and of course, “friending” each other on Facebook.

One of the most effective ways I have discovered to stimulate my students’ curiosity in global affairs is through participation in Model United Nations conferences, for which they are assigned a country to represent and a current issue of international import to investigate.

Eric and his students at the UN Security Council. Photograph by Eric Carlson
Eric and his students at the UN Security Council. Photograph by Eric Carlson

At conferences, students must work with kids from other schools, representing other nations, in order to reach consensus on a constructive solution. I love this activity not only because students learn to think about complex issues from diverse vantage points, but also because they gain confidence in their own abilities through giving powerful speeches and writing articulate resolution. I am always thrilled to see my students buzzing with intensity, excitement, and curiosity during the first break in the action.

After one such conference a couple of years ago, a student of mine named Karina suggested that we should visit the real United Nations in New York. I loved the idea, but it seemed out-of-reach at the time.

This spring, after weeks of dogged preparation, the sophomores, juniors, and seniors in my Model UN Club blew me away with their impassioned and determined participation at a conference at the University of Illinois; Club co-sponsors Robyn, Jennifer, and I agreed that it was the best performance we had seen yet by our students.

That very evening on the bus ride home, we dreamt up a plan to reward them by bringing them further out into the world than we had ever gone before. Unfortunately, a journey abroad was not realistic due to financial and other limitations. Therefore, we decided to pursue the next best option and travel to New York City, one of the most diverse places on Earth. The seed planted by young Karina years earlier was about to finally bear fruit.

Eric's students on the plane ride to New York City. Photograph by Eric Carlson
Eric’s students on the plane ride to New York City. Photograph by Eric Carlson

In order to make this dream a reality, we relied heavily on fundraising through Donors Choose, the fantastic crowdsourcing site for teachers. Additionally, students worked tirelessly to close the financing gap by scheduling a barrage of fundraisers and taking on part-time jobs. Popsicles were sold, classrooms were scrubbed, and yearbooks were delivered. My co-sponsors worked equally hard to obtain materials, find donors, and balance the books. Achieving our goal was hard work, but we knew it would all be worth it when caught our first glimpses of the New York skyline through the airplane windows.

Stayed tuned for part 2 of Eric’s story next Tuesday to hear about his students’ experience making global connections in New York City. 

This post was written by Eric Carlson, a high school teacher at the Beijing National Day School in Beijing, China. Before moving to Beijing this past August, Eric was teaching Human Geography, Global Issues, and United States History at Kelly High School in Chicago, IL. He is also part of the Geo-Educator Community Steering Committee

The Geo-Educator Community is a community for educators committed to teaching about our world. To learn more and join, visit

5 thoughts on “Making Global Connections with Students – Part 1

  1. Eric – your words bring it all together: ” Achieving our goal was hard work, but we knew it would all be worth it when caught our first glimpses of the New York skyline through the airplane windows.” Excellent work on your part, priceless experiences for these students.


  2. Eric, Thanks for the terrific post! I believe that the group of Pan-African students you met with must have been part of a youth exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs Division (where I used to work). These programs are a great way to connect U.S. and foreign high school students in all kinds of activities, and one can learn more about them (and apply for grants to implement them) through and Educators might also check in with local organizations around the country that are affiliated with Global Ties (; they help arrange some of these exchanges and can bring international students and professionals into the classroom.

    Model UN is a terrific program; it’s so great you got to go to New York! The State Department provides diplomatic simulations ( that may also be of interest to geo-educators. Carolyn


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