Building teen's civic toolbox – Part 2: Thinking and acting globally

One youth’s perspective on building teen’s civic toolbox to help engage with the world in a globally conscious way.

Emily Kurburski at the 2015 World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute.
Emily Kurburski at the 2015 World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute.

We are constantly hearing about, and personally experiencing, the growing interconnectedness of our world. With increasing access to air-travel and prevalence of international vacationing, in addition to the exposure to other cultures via the Internet or television, today’s youth are more aware and connected to one another around the globe than ever before. Today’s technology and social media platforms facilitate dialogues and relationship-building between people across continents with the click of a mouse. As our personal and professional networks grow, it becomes more likely that we’ll meet a new person who has a common acquaintance. While the global population is growing, the world feels like it is getting smaller because our connections to one another are also growing.

Many of the challenges we face today are global challenges, and solving these challenges will take transdisciplinary efforts from people all over the world. It is important we engage youth in critical thinking about these issues and empower them with consciousness and skills to engage in making an impact. Emily Kurburski is a Michigan teen hailing from Emmet County who is already using her skills and knowledge to make a difference in Michigan and the world. I first met Emily at 4-H Capitol Experience where she was a youth participant and later helped me as a member of the program steering committee. Here I saw Emily and her peers explore the field of public policy from a statewide lens, asking questions, identifying issues and brainstorming to solve problems in Michigan. Last year, I witnessed Emily expand her critical thinking from a state perspective to a global perspective at the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute. Here are some thoughts from Emily:

Makena (M): As a young person, why do you feel it is important to be civically involved?

Emily (E): I believe it is so important for youth to be civically involved because we need to be a step ahead in our knowledge of what is going on around us. In order for us to be civically prepared to make decisions in our local community and come up with informative opinions, we must insert ourselves into an atmosphere where we can become aware of the decisions and actions that are being made around us.

M: Do you feel like you are a part of a local, national and global community?

E: Absolutely! Having sat down and met with local commissioners as well as having the unique opportunity of meeting our local tribal council officials, I felt that my age didn’t make a difference when sharing my viewpoints. I was able to share what was important to me and knowing that my opinion will eventually have an impact on the decisions our elected officials make, it was crucial for me to present myself in a matter that showed professionalism, maturity and activism. Knowing I voiced my opinion made me feel as if I was an important member of my community that reaches out to both the national and global levels.

M: Why is it important for teens to think beyond their local and national community, to their global community when they're making decisions or taking action?

E: It is so important for youth to think beyond their local and national community because we must learn to assimilate and work towards a common goal. The situation we, as a country, are dealing with is far different than that of another country. In order to understand each other, we must have respect for their cultural and developmental levels and without that understanding we struggle to accomplish our goals. Compromise and educational awareness are the key to productivity!

M: Do you have any advice, tools or tips for other youth who might want to be globally conscious in their thinking and actions, but don't know how?

E: My advice to other youth would be to find a topic you feel most passionate about. In order for you to put your best effort forth, you need to feel confident about what you are taking a stand on. After you have selected a topic, visit your local commissioners at the local level, or even send a letter or take a phone call with your state representative or senator. This will help give you a perspective on how the issue is currently being dealt with. Finally, reach out to others who may have lived in another country or see what organizations you can find online that are trying to address the same concerns you have. After you have learned from as many people as you can, formulate a take action project on how you can address that issue and bring about awareness. If there is anything I have learned from my experiences through 4-H and any other organization is it is not about what you know, but who you know. Create those networks of individuals and organizations that share the same passion as you and you never know, one day you could be working alongside that person in another country advocating on behalf of your topic!

The World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute is free for high school participants. The youth investment is a short research paper on a global food security issue facing a developing nation. On May 12, 2016, youth will come to Michigan State University’s campus and present their papers to a roundtable of peers, MSU faculty and community experts. Emily’s outgoing attitude, paper quality and public speaking skills earned her a spot representing Michigan at the 2015 Global Youth Institute, an international event held in Des Moines, Iowa.

To learn more about the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute and see how to get your teen involved in this global thinking program, visit MSU Extension’s World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute program page. Registration for this year’s event ends April 8, including paper submission, so share this opportunity with teens in your life today!

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