UN experience shifts student’s research focus toward global solutions

September 23, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Maria Jose Ramirez did not consider herself a global citizen while growing up in Chile, attending graduate school in Canada, or starting her doctoral degree in Scotland before transferring to Penn State this fall.

Ramirez did not consider herself a global citizen when she wrote an essay for Many Languages One World, an international essay contest organized by the United Nations Academic Impact and ELS Educational Services Inc., with the prompt: What is a global citizen? The essay rules prohibited contestants from writing in their native language, so instead Ramirez penned it in English, her third language after Spanish and French.

In fact, Ramirez did not fully understand the concept of “global citizenship” until she won that multilingual essay contest and spent one week in July at Hofstra University and the U.N. headquarters in New York City, where she and 59 other young people from around the globe — selected from a pool of more than 3,600 entrants — tackled some of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As part of the event, she worked closely with a team of eight other students — who collectively spoke six different native languages — to tackle the issue of sustainable cities. Then the team presented their ideas from the iconic podium in the U.N. General Assembly Hall.

“Rarely do you have an opportunity to work closely together on a common goal with people from around the world who you would never have the chance to meet. The experience helped me to understand that the idea of nations is essentially an illusion because we are all citizens of the world and if we work together we can make a positive difference,” Ramirez said.

“We are not only citizens of our own countries. Incidents in our native countries also impact people elsewhere. Chile is not my only home; the world is my home, and now I’m more interested in what happens in other countries, because they’re my family, too.”

In September, Ramirez returned to the U.N. headquarters for a seminar on global citizenship education, which focused on Global Citizenship Education and experiential learning, an area that Ramirez studies as a graduate student in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management at Penn State. In fact, her time with the U.N. helped her refocus her research interests looking ahead.

“This experience helped me make the connection on how my research can help with global citizenship. It shaped my research to do something more meaningful,” Ramirez said. “I am motivated to work toward the U.N.’s long-term agenda for sustainable development, and I will investigate how experiential learning can help people become global citizens and how outdoor or embedded experiences can help people be more global minded.”

So what is experiential learning?

Ramirez defines experiential learning as being student-centered.

“It is not going to a traditional classroom where the teacher talks and students take notes,” she said. “It’s active, you’re involved, and then you reflect on your experience. The student is at the center of the experience and is engaged in problem solving, generating knowledge and developing meaning,” Ramirez said.

In terms of global citizenship, for Ramirez, being a global citizen means being aware that local incidents have an impact throughout the world.

“We’re not only citizens of State College, we’re also citizens of this planet,” she said. “We have to take an active role help and care about each other and resolve the global challenges, because it’s not about me and them, it’s about us. We are all in this world together.”

Pete Allison, associate professor for the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center at Penn State, and faculty affiliate for the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State, serves as Ramirez’s adviser.

“It is wonderful that Maria Jose is involved with the U.N., as it relates closely to her research, which will explore the juncture of global citizenship and experiential learning,” Allison said. “Her work explores what it means to be human and to lead a meaningful life. Research shows that time in the wilderness and time with people from different cultures are important components that can contribute to this understanding and also to enriching cross-cultural understanding.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 26, 2016