Educating the Global Citizen

Cultural learning experiences abroad and closer to home prepare students for their futures.

Liz McAllister didn’t have to wait for the elaborate welcome ceremony of a rural Nepalese village to get firsthand experience of that country’s culture — she got it from a dog barking in the background of a Skype call last fall.

Above: Senior Emily Nguyen was all smiles during the village welcome ceremony where Nepalese villagers adorned the students with flowers and face paint.

Liz McAllister

The Nepalese student on the other end then explained she was responsible for making sure the dog wasn’t too loud, because her family had given her permission to adopt it. To McAllister, it sounded a lot like something that could happen in the United States.

“When you’re getting to know someone, it’s a relief to know that there are shared experiences that you often forget about,” McAllister said. “These little things really united us.”

By the time she and 14 other students made their trip to Nepal last December, they had already spent an entire quarter at UC Davis planning projects to preserve cultural artifacts, improve irrigation, help plan new small businesses and more.

The combined class and trip, one of UC Davis’ first seminars abroad, is one of many new opportunities envisioned as the university moves toward a goal of giving every student some global exposure before graduation, an initiative dubbed Global Education for All.

The Nepal Seminar Abroad’s basic structure was different from a traditional study abroad program. Students were split into teams with different goals. McAllister, a design major, was part of a group helping local mothers plan a cultural museum so the village can preserve its history as more young residents leave for jobs in other countries. They planned their approaches throughout fall 2017 with Nepalese university students and a professional mentor from that country, as well as UC Davis faculty and staff.

McAllister marveled at the insight she gained while still in Davis — like a student turning the camera around to show the nighttime Nepalese street — and her class’s ability to sit in a conference room at UC Davis and talk with people they probably wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, like a candidate for Nepalese political office.

“There were all these amazing people doing all these amazing initiatives, and we could just ask them a question on the screen,” she said. “Not very many people get that opportunity, so I count myself as being very lucky.”

Once they arrived in Kathmandu and met the Nepalese students they knew through video chats, they traveled to the village of Machhapuchhre and got to work. When McAllister and her team of museum designers met the group of mothers who wanted to preserve the village culture, they agreed on a photo exhibit to showcase their variety of clothes and jewelry. They photographed the mothers wearing traditional garb and hung prints in a room of the group’s community center. And because they were only in Nepal for winter break — fewer than three weeks — they discussed ways the museum could be expanded later, where previous exhibits could be stored and how future visiting students might help. In the end, the mothers were so grateful they dressed the Aggies in traditional clothing for their final presentation to the village. McAllister said she was honored to feel so accepted by the group.

“We felt like we were one of them,” McAllister said.

Students share Nepalese doughnuts and a fermented and dried vegetable dish.

Liz McAllister

Samrat Katwal, left, and Bijaya Poudel, founders of the educational nonprofit Hands-On Institute, served as instructors for the Nepalese students and helped the UC Davis students navigate local culture during the trip.

Liz McAllister

McAllister said she came away from the trip with the satisfaction of having made an impact and developed skills she could share with the UC Davis community back home. But the trip served another role: showing how UC Davis can provide international exposure to students who might not be able to commit to a full quarter or summer abroad because of a job, family commitments or other reasons.

“Often our go-to is study abroad,” said Nancy Erbstein, director of the Global Education for All initiative in Global Affairs. “But if you live in the Central Valley, you’re globally engaged.”

Finding ways to give students global experience through trips to other U.S. communities, local internships with multinational companies or diverse living arrangements on campus will play a major role in the Global Education for All initiative, said Joanna Regulska, vice provost and associate chancellor of Global Affairs.

“You don’t have to go abroad to have an intercultural experience,” Regulska said. “There are a number of different ways through which students can gain a certain level of global competency, global understanding and intercultural competency, and we should be open and not force one model on everybody.”

Global experience increasingly is a requirement for success after graduation, Erbstein and Regulska said. For example, chemistry labs aren’t run the same way around the globe, and a student who has worked with international scholars before graduating would know to anticipate differences, Erbstein said.

“As we’re training students, if we want them to be leaders, scientists, health care providers, educators, artists or simply engaged community members, there’s a good chance they’re going to have to navigate cultural differences,” Erbstein said. “We want to be cultivating that curiosity in our students.”

Global Education for All signifies an ambitious goal. Some aspects of the plan are already underway, while others will be years in the making.

One of the most tangible changes on campus if the plan is to succeed is an expansion to the International Center, the home to UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education, Global Affairs, community and study spaces and classrooms that opened just two years ago. The additional space would serve as a hub where students could have access to global learning resources across campus, and faculty and staff members could find resources to add global aspects to curricula and programs.

In the meantime, the campus is taking stock of existing programs that give students exposure to various cultures, like a student-run veterinary clinic in Knights Landing, a small community north of Woodland.

Many of the animals treated there belong to migrant farm workers who primarily speak Spanish, said Monica Figueroa, a veterinary student and co-director of the Knights Landing One Health Center.

Liz McAllister is wrapped in a scarf during a New Year’s ceremony at a monastery in Pokhara, as the group headed back to Kathmandu to leave Nepal.

Simon Han

“This provides our veterinary students, pre-vet students and even our faculty veterinarians with the opportunity to learn how to communicate with clients across language and cultural barriers without having to travel to a different country,” Figueroa said.

But UC Davis will need more options if all its 39,000 students are to have global learning experiences. Regulska estimates the university would need somewhere north of 7,000 such options; it’s unknown how many currently exist.

Students are involved in the work to plan the overall initiative, but have also laid the groundwork for a project to get the entire campus thinking globally. A group of 15 undergraduates spent this fall serving as U.N. Millennium Fellows, planning events to be held during the 2019–20 academic year to spur discussion about ways to reduce hunger locally and around the world. That topic will rotate in the future, as part of a new program under Global Education for All.

The fellows had access to professional development, U.N. mentors and peers from the 29 other campuses selected for the program, but the planning process itself gave those involved exposure to fellow UC Davis students with varied global backgrounds and experiences.

Nehal Jain, the fellowship’s campus director and a junior managerial economics major, was born in India and said she got involved with the fellowship because international exposure is important to her.

Rina Singh, a senior triple majoring in international relations, economics and Italian, was born in Italy to Indian parents who closed their jewelry factory three times in anticipation of emigrating to the United States, only to be rejected or delayed. She finally moved to California in 2012, and said global exposure has given her more empathy.

“You see people from all walks of life, but you don’t feel any different from them,” she said. “You’ve lived some aspect of what they might be going through.”

Maria Arteaga, a senior majoring in managerial economics, said she’s glad to be exposed to the Millennium Fellows (McAllister and another student who went on the Nepal trip are also fellows) because she isn’t able to study abroad.

She said being involved in the initiative’s planning process has taught her more about herself and others.

“Collaboration among people who are different from you is important,” Arteaga said. “It’s really about enriching your life. You’re exposed to other people’s problems, other people’s joys.”

The students who have been gaining global exposure have benefited in other ways, too. McAllister is currently working on a University Honors Program thesis with Origin Materials, a startup based in West Sacramento focused on developing renewable alternatives to plastics and other materials. When the company asked if she had experience working with international projects, she had an answer ready: “Well, this one time when I was in Nepal …”

This is one of several Big Ideas, forward-thinking, interdisciplinary programs and projects that will build upon the strengths of UC Davis to positively impact the world for generations to come. Learn more.