Strangers and Global Citizens
by Marlene Bylenga, International Education Coordinator ◊
What does it mean to be a global citizen? In a society that is becoming increasingly diverse, how do we develop meaningful cross cultural relationships that will make an impact on our communities both locally and overseas? Do we model what it means to be a Christian community that is striving to become a beautiful tapestry showcasing the diverse ways in which God has created us?
After attending a recent conference and listening to a presentation on British Columbia’s International Education Strategy, I have been challenged to think about how we as Christian schools reflect our Christian worldview in an ever changing world, particularly in the global arena. One of the BC government strategies is to create a globally-oriented education system. As Christian schools, how do we demonstrate a distinct Christ-centred global perspective?
Over the past few years we have experienced a significant enrolment increase of ELL and international students. I am wondering how these students have impacted our communities. Are new immigrants and international students truly welcomed? Is there mutual learning occurring in our classrooms? Are students being truly embraced, or are they viewed as sojourners?
In his books Learning from the Stranger and The Gift of the Stranger, David Smith stresses over and over again the need to embrace the stranger, and explores in depth what that means both personally and in an educational context. He says that “loving the stranger is not about putting up with the inferior ways of others; it involves realizing that I am a stranger too.” 1
Using the illustration of an embrace, he talks about how a hug is a way of asking an individual to become part of your life. Smith says, “In an embrace I open my arms to create space in myself for the other. Open arms are a sign that I do not want to be by myself only, but an invitation for the other to come in and feel at home with me. In an embrace I also close my arms around the other. Closed arms are a sign that I want the other to become part of me while at the same time I maintain my own identity. By becoming part of me, the other enriches me. In a mutual embrace, none remains the same because each enriches the other, yet both remain true to their genuine selves.”2 Imagine the difference it would make in our communities if we genuinely embraced the stranger and acknowledged our need to learn from them.
The students and parents who are entering our schools have stories which need to be told. They have perspectives and experiences which can broaden and enrich our own faith lives and they also can grow and be enriched by being invited into our story.
I believe we need to cultivate an attitude of hospitable openness and loving respect not only in the classroom but in every aspect of our school community.
Shaping and casting a vision for International Education/ELL requires at its very core the attitude of respect for the other as an image bearer of God, an eagerness to hear the other. It must be driven by love for God and for one’s neighbour.
We are blessed to have a community of schools that wish to glorify God. Let’s continue to challenge each other to strive to become communities who model the hospitality our Lord has extended to us by inviting us to become His sons and daughters.
1 Smith, David I. Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. p. 121.