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VIEWPOINT: The Value of Global Studies

By Scott Ehrenburg ’09

Scott Ehrenburg ’09 earned his doctorate in Hispanic and Lusophone literatures and cultures from the University of Minnesota, where he also taught a broad spectrum of courses in global studies and Spanish studies. He currently teaches bilingual gifted and talented fifth-graders in one of the poorest-performing public schools in Washington State where 99% of the student population lives in poverty. In anticipation of this special issue of Moravian College Magazine, the editor reached out to Ehrenburg for his views on global education.

Your degree from Moravian was in Spanish language and literature. What drew you to these academic disciplines?

My love of travel, languages, and—more broadly—learning was most prominently unearthed when I first studied abroad in Spain during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I was hooked after that. I zeroed in on Moravian as the best fit for my college experience in part because of my passion for the humanities and a liberal arts education. In addition, my participation in the Add-Venture program gave me the flexibility to take classes in so many different areas I knew would enhance my understanding of the globalized world. I took courses in almost every language offered at Moravian at the time: Spanish, French, Italian, and Arabic. I minored in political science and even took a class in nursing that I thought was relevant to my Add-Venture course of study. Although I was drawn to certain coursework, I was more drawn to the professors that taught it. Their passion and enthusiasm for their field of study was infectious!

What is your perspective on the value of global studies and/or study abroad for today’s college students?

Whenever I have taught a global studies course, I have confessed on the first day of instruction my bias towards the discipline. In my opinion, it is the most important field of study you could choose in the liberal arts. Essentially, its interdisciplinary nature forces one to investigate the question of “How the World Works” (which is also the title of the life-changing course offered by Professor Emeritus Gary Olson). Any conversation about the globalized world we live in could start with the concepts of movement and mobility. Like many other fields, most of us default to what is known and familiar, which is usually our lived experience in the current, contemporary moment, but is globalization or the “global citizen” a recent/contemporary phenomenon? I think that the implications of “global studies” are just as far-reaching as the historical implications of the “global.” To illustrate this point, I’d like to offer an example about a recent archeological discovery.

Not too long ago, the remains of a Bronze Age Mediterranean boy wearing an amber necklace was discovered at Stonehenge. Would this boy then be considered a “citizen of the world” or a “global citizen,” given the tremendous journey he took to arrive there? How was his experience as a sightseer/pilgrim traveling a significant distance different from the selfie-taker who visits the site today? How would we compare this boy’s journey versus the route goods take today by means of e-commerce? What were the social conditions that prompted his journey? Was his imperative to travel any different than someone like me who gets bit by the travel bug?

Part of the beauty of global studies is that you can take your curiosity in so many different directions. This discipline is a lot of things to a lot of different people. In my role as an instructor for undergraduate majors, asking these fundamental questions to students about what it means to study “global studies” through examples like the journey of “amber necklace boy” primes a deep interrogation about the limits of the terms that the field of study is built on. Despite students arriving to my class with different experiences of mobility and wanderlust, one of my goals for them has been pragmatic and constant: to breathe life into the material so that they could answer for themselves the question of why they chose the major—and furthermore answer the “So what?!” by the hiring manager at their future job questioning their academic background.

“Part of the beauty of global studies is that you can take your curiosity in so many different directions.”

In what ways did your experience studying in Spain impact you?

My experience studying abroad brought with it not just culture shock or simple exposure to food, fabric, and folklore. It altered my life path. Studying in Spain for a year while at Moravian and then again for graduate school gave me the opportunity not only to gain a greater depth and breadth of understanding of the language, but also to reflect why I had had zero exposure to Portuguese literature and culture in all of my academic professional life. I realized that the culture of the Iberian Peninsula had been presented to me as if Spain was the only country that comprised it. My curiosity about Portugal led me on many more adventures to a new area of interest that had so much in common with my studies in Spanish but also a unique richness unto itself. Ultimately, that led me to a PhD program that allowed me to study both “worlds.” My doctoral dissertation included the two, and my subsequent research now always includes them also. I’ve realized it’s actually really difficult to separate the two histories from each other.

The phrase “global citizenship” is often used to describe a worldwide community. Does it fit?

Global citizenship is a thorny topic. Who does the term serve? On the one hand, if you live in the right country and you have the right resources, you can live a jet-set life. In any case, it pre-supposes attachment to a nation-state. One of the reasons this term makes me uneasy is that there are countless people who don’t have the privilege of attachment to a state. Not everyone enjoys the luxury of a passport. The best example I can give is yet another area of my Spanish studies that was never discussed until I was deep into my doctoral studies and own research: the Western Sahara. The Saharawi people have been stateless for decades as a consequence of longstanding colonial oppression. Tied to their precariousness is the fact that the discourse of human rights is linked to the nation-state. How can you cite human rights violations if there is no nation-state to sanction? There is much more that I’d like to say about this area, but to circle back to the question, anyone who is confident enough to offer a definition (I’m not one of them) should check all their blind spots first.

What does it mean to be a “good global citizen”?

A “good global citizen” is one that is responsible. Someone who is constantly questioning their own place in the larger global landscape. On my own personal checklist would be ideas such as my engagement with cultural relativism, how I can be a good steward of the environment, and how I can shift the global consciousness by my actions every day in my own life and the lives of my students. Contrary to popular belief, the “global” is in the “local.”