The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Developing a global perspective

“Get a passport!” urged Commencement speaker, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, this past spring. Travel, he told SMU graduates, gives insight that makes us better citizens of this country and of the planet.

Ambassador Kirk has it exactly right. Frankly, I think it’s advice students ought to hear, not at graduation but at matriculation.

In fact, as undergraduates, you need two kinds of passports. Not only do you need the travel document the U.S. State Department issues, you also need a mental passport: a traveler’s mind. You should be thinking and looking outward. Not later, but right now.
Why? What’s so important and urgent about being outward looking? The phrase you’ll hear again and again at SMU is “global perspective.” What does it mean? Why has SMU’s Centennial Strategic Plan identified “broadening global perspectives” as one of its key goals?

Yes, globalization has something to do with it. Globalization demands a whole new way of engaging with the world around you. Let me explain.

Globalization describes the high level of integration that now characterizes the world’s economic activities. From food supply chains to high finance, people on a daily basis rely on goods and services from all over the world. Humanity has become interdependent as never before.

Technological innovations and falling barriers to movement are making the world “flat.” That’s award-winning journalist Thomas Friedman’s metaphor for rapidly increasing economic competition. Individual jobs are gained and lost, and national economies rise and fall, in unprecedented ways.

At the same time, such a borderless environment allows people to share their ideas at dizzying speeds across wide distances. There are astonishing scientific breakthroughs. Entrepreneurial opportunities abound. It is likely you will change careers many times in your life, and some will be jobs we cannot even yet imagine.          

If you can discern the dynamic forces at work in this brave new world, you have a critical advantage. Will you be the next Blake Mycoskie, the SMU graduate whose visit to Argentina inspired him to start an “ethical shoe” business? It outfits poor children with free footwear while creating a name brand that rakes in millions.

Having a global perspective, however, isn’t only about economics.
With competition comes conflict. People fight over limited resources. With growth and economic crisis come social dislocation and political instability. People are challenged by changing levels of income, immigration, and new expectations of government.

With extensive interactions come misunderstanding and disagreement, sometimes to explosive effect. Those who believe their cultures are threatened occasionally respond in violent ways. Remember riots in France where farmers trashed McDonald’s outlets?
These consequences directly affect us. Ordinary citizens suffer or die because of conflict. We are vulnerable to crime across borders. We experience terrorist attacks from jihadi networks. Isolation is not an option, and willful ignorance is downright dangerous.

Resolving these problems requires a keen perception of their root causes. You must grasp how societies are closely linked. You can’t limit yourself to knowing only local or even national issues. As never before, you must learn how the geography, history, and cultures of various parts of the world all hang together.

Such broad knowledge isn’t only about understanding and connecting events. You also need to contemplate worldviews very different from your own. For example, to understand why the fight against terrorism faces immense obstacles, students in my Islamic Politics course consider the multiple factors that complicate how other people view U.S. foreign policy. Standing in another’s place takes imagination grounded in knowledge.

The global perspective also cultivates an appreciation for human diversity. It creates empathy for individuals whose life experiences differ from your own. It builds tolerance for varied and unexpected ways of doing things. These qualities enable you to make ethical decisions and help you make the world a better place. Without them, your best intentions would founder, or even worsen the problem.

How would you begin to acquire a global perspective at SMU? Start by seeking out the unfamiliar. Learn about Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia. Master a foreign language. Read literature by authors unknown to you. Befriend international students. Sign up for study abroad.  

Get your passports, both the paper one and the mental one. Develop a global perspective – from day one.

Professor LaiYee Leong is the 2009-2010 Tower Center post-doctoral teaching fellow. She can be reached for comments or questions at [email protected].

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