Global and cultural education programs for youth

Opening minds to new ways of thinking, new perspectives, other cultural values and endless possibilities.

Diversity Buttons activity
Youth sorting buttons during Diversity Buttons activity. All photos by MSU Extension.

Sharing information with youth about other cultures is heartwarming, enlightening and encouraging. Young people are so receptive. Educating them on new ways of thinking, cultural norms from around the world makes one feel that world peace is achievable. As the world continues to globalize, it is increasingly important youth are proficient in cultures other than their own. Michigan State University Extension begins to plant the seeds of cultural competency preparing youth for their future.

MSU Extension staff Renee Carroll, 4-H program coordinator in Newaygo County, and D’Ann Rohrer, MSU Extension educator, reached 125 fifth grade students in Grant Public Schools in Newaygo County through a recent global and cultural education program. These fifth graders were the first to receive this education, and now have a better understanding of their culture and what helps form all the cultures of the world.

The global and cultural lessons included an animal sounds video, focusing on how different cultures hear the animal sounds differently. The students viewed a video and had the following comments:

  • “I learned in some countries they think animals make different sounds.”
  • “I learned that the sound a pig makes ‘oink’ can be ‘humba’ in another country.”
  • “I learned that people from different places hear things differently.”

Each lesson had a quote to engage the students thinking, including:

  • “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” - Anaïs Nin
  • “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” - Cesar Chavez
  • “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” - Henri Bergson

Creating lessons with movement kept the youth engaged and brain cells fueled. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements, they would move from one side of the room to the other. This lesson focused on “How culture influences our values.” Here are a few statements read to the students. If they agreed, they moved to one side of the room, and if they disagreed, they moved to the other side.

  • Humans are part of nature and must integrate with and adapt to nature.
  • Taking it easy is just as important as doing something.
  • Be dependent on others, encourage and strengthen relationships among people.

Some reflective comments from the fifth-grade students after the lessons were:

  • “We see things differently depending on our culture.”
  • “Raising children is different in different cultures.”
  • “That in some cultures you can make an appointment at 1:00 and they wouldn’t care if you arrive at 1:30.”
  • “I learned how different cultures change how you think.”
  • “I learned that some countries influence others to work together.”

Another great way to teach about culture is through books. During the fifth-grade lessons, we included the following books:

  • “What does it mean to be global?” by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Chris Hill
  • “Off to Class Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World” by Susan Hughes
  • “Barefoot Books – World Atlas” by Nick Crane, illustrated by David Dean

Special guests were invited into the classroom in person or through video conferencing. Jennifer Pippin, MSU outreach coordinator of the Asian Studies Center and Tongxin and Chinese MSU international student, shared a lesson on Chinese culture. Ms. Pippin taught Chinese characters and their meaning, the students learned to use chop sticks and the fifth graders were able to ask questions of the Tongxin about Chinese culture.

Another guest from Italy, Angelo Marano, visited the classroom through video conferencing from his apartment in Sicily. Marano was a Michigan international year-long student in 2014-2015. This lesson was a wonderful way for the fifth graders to answer questions about their culture on their culture tree art project, but also ask Marano the same questions and compare Italian culture with American culture. Some questions we discussed included:

  • What do you consider fashionable?
  • Do you spend a lot of time doing family activities?
  • How do you express your opinions, especially of others?
culture tree blue
Culture tree blue.

The youth were very receptive to each lesson and looked forward to the lessons each week. Their interest in learning about global cultures provided hope to the staff as the youth took an interest in promoting world peace, both now and in the future.

In conlusions of the five weeks, the fifth graders shared:

  • “I learned what culture was.”
  • “I learned that Japanese students have to clean their own school. I had a lot of fun today, the best day ever.”
  • “People have different foods, religion and values.”
  • “There is a country with no animal control, so there are a lot of dogs with rabies and are wild.”
  • “I learned it doesn’t matter what we look like, we are equal and we do different stuff and look different.”
  • “MSU is the best! And that it does not matter what the world is like but do the right thing.”
  • “One thing I learned is to stand up for others.”
  • “A lot of the time, if you see someone that is different you imagine wow that person is weird but really it is just a different person and they are an amazing person too!”

Curriculum used during these lessons included:

If you’re interested in building a community of strong, open-minded, loving youth who appreciate and learn from the differences in our world or would like more information about 4-H international exchange programs, reach out to the MSU Extension office in your county, or contact D’Ann Rohrer at or 231-845-3361.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs read our 2017 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016 can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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