Join our Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Soni Adhikari as she shares part one of her two part piece on the importance of emphasizing global perspectives in her students’ writing!
This essay is my attempt to expand upon a section that I contributed to a blog post written together by several PWR colleagues in fall 2016. I also presented another version at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Portland, Oregon in March 2017. Here I share specific assignments and teaching strategies, including the use of literacy narratives of transnational scholars, research work, and my own cross-cultural experiences and perspectives, for illustrating how I foster global perspectives in my students’ writing. I also discuss why I think we must integrate global perspectives. Let me begin with an anecdote that highlights the power of cultivating the sense of global citizenship, no matter where people belong to by birth, culture, or nationality.
A few months ago, my family invited an American couple living on Long Island for a dinner. The scholars had lived in my home country Nepal for 25 out of last 50 years, with the wife serving as Director of the American Lincoln School in Kathmandu and her husband serving as Director of the Fulbright Commission office in Kathmandu (among various other positions). The first voice I heard when my husband opened the door was of a man who spoke Nepali with amazing perfection. My two children, eight and six, spoke a few Nepali sentences, heavily accented like English, with the guests, before giving up and switching to English only.
As we sat for a Nepalese dinner, I learned from them that there has always been a sizable community of Americans in Kathmandu for decades and that it is growing. And what I know about Americans whom I had encountered in Kathmandu as I grew up was that they loved it so much that many of them spent their lives there. From the shoeless hippies of the 1970s to the diplomats who live in luxury in the capital, and from the missionaries whose number has dramatically increased in the last few years to visiting professors and Peace Corps volunteers, Americans who have been to Nepal just love it.
When listening to the couple who had lived, learned, and worked in different places around the world (during the other 25 years), I could not help thinking that my students (and especially American citizens) have the same kinds of privilege for experiencing the world if they want to. I could not dream, and still cannot, the same kind of mobility that my domestic students have in terms of travel access, resources, and language to travel the world. Even if my students cannot physically travel the world, they are more able than most people around the world their age are to expand their intellectual horizons by reading, connecting to people virtually, and working in professions that will allow them to connect and learn about the larger world. I thought that my students would be interested in doing so if teachers like me encourage them and teach them about the world.
The next day, as my first-year writing class discussed Suresh Canagarajah’s literacy narrative titled “The Fortunate Traveler: Shuttling between Communities and Literacies by Economy Class,” I was surprised that students expressed sympathy for the character in the narrative. In his story about moving back and forth between Sri Lankan and American academic communities, Canagarajah describes how he returned to the United States after teaching for a few years in his home country. For the students, both domestic and international, the story fit a perfect mold: they thought that the character escaped a developing country that was in political turmoil and violence and into an advanced country with greater opportunities as well as peace and security. However complex the actual issues may be, students read the text as a story of migration where there is a one-way street where a person goes from violence to safety, restrictions to freedom, lack of resources to abundance of them, and so on.
When I pointed out that Caranagrajah’s story actually explores complex social, political, linguistic, and cultural issues, students started to see that the story had issues that went beyond the traditional migration narrative. They started seeing how Canagarajah describes how people navigate, negotiate, and succeed when they cross borders and not just a story of “coming to America.” So, what began as sympathy for the character of the story turned into appreciation, and their own sense of self-sufficiency as citizens of a super power nation grew into an interest in global citizenship.
From challenging students to think about the complex dynamics of power and privilege, cross-cultural navigation and communicative negotiations in Canagarajah’s story, I have found that by reading stories like this, both domestic students and students from abroad can learn about the world and develop an intellectual courage that may some day help them live, work, and succeed abroad like the American couple I described earlier.
Moreover, reading stories from writers around the world provides students unique opportunities to develop their critical thinking and reasoning skills for their own writing. If, in the past, generations of immigrants like Canagarajah brought their knowledge and experiences to America, new generations of American students are also likely to go elsewhere in the world and make their own impact—indeed, our American students deserve the opportunity, like my American-Nepali guests had!
Be sure to check back soon for Soni Adhikari’s second installment as she continues to discuss the wide-ranging rolls of teaching cross-cultural and transnational/global perspectives in the classroom!