It’s never too early to become a global citizen and start doing what you can to make the world a better place. If you’re worried about nurturing your child’s interest in global affairs because you’re afraid they’ll rush off to a Bangladeshi refugee camp, I empathize. At one point, I was in eastern Congo on a conflict prevention work trip for the State Department and my brother was in Baghdad on a detail with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
Now being a mom myself, I totally empathize with what my Mom has gone through as my brother and I have worked all over the world. But I can reassure you that, in most international situations, your child is absolutely safe and will use their wits, just as they do in the U.S., to keep themselves safe.
You’re never too young (or too old!) to start helping to make the world a better place. Whether it’s volunteering in your community, calling your congressional representative, or donating money to a non-governmental organization (NGO) – all of this is helping. You don’t have to fly off to a Bangladeshi refugee camp, but you do need to care. Global affairs is a fascinating, meaningful, and impactful career field.
5 Tips for Nurturing A Teen’s Interest in Global Affairs
If your child has the drive to help make the world a better place, and you think this could be the right fit for them, here are some helpful ways to encourage them to do so.
1) The first step is understanding what’s going on in the world – encourage your child to read the news about other countries, have them choose a random country and learn more about it, travel with them as much as possible (as a parent who has taken her children all over the world – it’s possible and fun, trust me!).
2) If your child is in high school and has the “global citizen bug,” there are summer volunteer programs that they can do with Habitat for Humanity or Amigos De Las Americas where young people can travel abroad to help communities in need. Or, if you’re not ready to let them fly off quite yet, find a family opportunity or an opportunity in your community with refugee families, a homeless shelter, or a domestic hunger alleviation organization (yes, unfortunately, a lot of “global issues” also affect the U.S.).
3) When your kid starts applying for college, encourage them to look into the many amazing undergraduate programs in international affairs. College is a great time to get an academic foundation in international affairs and to study abroad. Encourage your kid to study abroad so they can explore whether they even like living in other countries or not. They can still have a career in global affairs even if they don’t want to live abroad–there’s a lot of great work going on from the U.S. through NGOs, the U.S. Government, and multilateral organizations.
College is also the best time for your kid to start interning if they haven’t already started. Encourage them to intern as much as possible – it is the best way that they can explore career options, see what they’re good at and enjoy doing, meet good professional connections and build their resumes. A college degree is not enough to get a job; they’ll need real life experience.
4) One way to get experience is through Peace Corps, which your kid can do after they graduate from college. For many people with careers in global affairs, this is the first time they gain fieldwork experience and it is the stepping-stone for many people into international development. I would suggest doing Peace Corps between college and graduate school (as many do), because having a bit of real-world exposure will help your child decide which technical area they might want to specialize in. Of course, they can do Peace Corps at any point, but by the time your kid is done with grad school, they might not be satisfied with the Peace Corps stipend and want to find a paying job.
5) And that leads us to the next step in your child’s process to a career in global affairs: graduate school. I always say you don’t need a master’s degree to do your job, but you need one to get your job. And it’s a great way to take a deep dive into the issues your kid is passionate about, and to develop technical skills.
There are great global affairs graduate programs–some more general and some more targeted. If your kid is still trying to decide what to study in graduate school, encourage them to do Internet research to find the right program. They can even use websites such as LinkedIn to reverse engineer the problem: find people with the job they want in ten years’ time and then see where they went to school. And, of course, encourage them to intern more during graduate school–it really will lay the foundation for their global career.
I firmly believe in the saying–if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Sure your child is not going to alleviate global poverty and suffering by volunteering at a local homeless shelter, but they are going to make a difference in someone’s life (and start building their resume!). And that matters.
The ripple effects of positive change can be immense. I always go back to that old story about the kid throwing washed-up starfish back into the ocean. An old man walks up and tells the kid that she’s never going to save them all and, as she’s throwing one back into the ocean, she says “I made a difference for that one.” When focused on change, encourage your child to think of that one starfish. Because, one starfish at a time, we really can help make the world a better place.
What most inspires your child? Is it working on preventing human trafficking, getting more girls in school, improving sweatshop labor conditions, increasing food security, reducing female genital mutilation, building climate change resiliency and on and on? All of these issues and more are just waiting for ordinary heroes to focus on them. Globally and domestically there are tons of great organizations out there doing amazing work.
The opportunities are endless. All you need to do is to help your child take the first step.
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Lyla Bashan serves in the diplomatic corps for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is the author of Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes. Over the course of her two-decade career in international affairs she has crisscrossed the globe, living in Armenia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, and Tajikistan and working throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Working for USAID, the Department of State, and non-governmental organizations, she has committed her career to being an ordinary hero and strives to help others to do so too. The views expressed are Lyla’s own and do not reflect the position of the US Government.